While Hyundai was once known for inexpensive, drab economy cars, the Korean automaker’s lineup now features some of the most distinctive designs on the market. The shift, led by design chief SangYup Lee, is perfectly encapsulated by the 2024 Santa Fe. Just a few years ago, the Santa Fe was a fine-looking but unimaginative crossover, but a facelift for 2021 brought an unorthodox, catfish-like face that helped it stand out. Now the 2024 Santa Fe distinguishes itself even more within the crowded mid-size-SUV segment with a bold, boxy look that fits into Hyundai’s design language while still looking different than the rest of the lineup.
Compared with the smoothly styled outgoing Santa Fe, the 2024 model is all hard edges and straight lines, with a rectangular body shape and an assertive stance thanks to trapezoidal wheel arches. The 2024 Santa Fe’s length has grown by 1.8 inches, and the boxy profile helps it appear bigger and more imposing than before. A nearly 2.0-inch-longer wheelbase also gives it a more planted look.
The sharper styling falls in line with many recent Hyundai products, but the Korean automaker has impressively avoided the Russian-nesting-doll strategy employed by many other companies. Mercedes-Benz, for example, is particularly egregious with its “same sausage, different sizes” philosophy, with the CLA-, C-, and S-class sedans virtually indistinguishable to the average person outside of their overall dimensions.
Hyundai, meanwhile, has managed to keep a common design theme while giving each car a unique look. The Santa Fe shares its razor-edged creases with the smaller Tucson crossover and electric Ioniq 5 but keeps the lines straight and horizontal. The other two cars create triangular indentations that give a more dynamic, sporting appearance versus the butch, tough look of the Santa Fe. Even the Ioniq 6, with its curvier profile and smoother surfaces, looks like it is part of the same family as the Santa Fe thanks to its sleek, unorthodox design and expressive lighting and trim pieces.
It certainly appears that Hyundai cribbed some design features from other automakers, but the end product still looks distinct. The overall boxy shape and the body-colored trim on the rear side windows recall the current Land Rover Defender, but the front and rear fascias make it clear that this SUV hails from Seoul, South Korea, not Coventry, England. The squared-off body also gives hints of the Ford Flex, although we doubt Hyundai looked to that deceased crossover/station wagon mashup for inspiration.
Along with sharp surface treatments, Hyundai has set itself apart from other automakers with its striking lighting elements. The current Tucson, Santa Cruz pickup, and Palisade feature a shield-like array of lights that blend into the grille, while Hyundai’s Ioniq electric vehicles have adopted an ’80s-themed pixel lighting style that recalls old 8-bit video games. The Santa Fe straddles that boundary—the headlights are integrated into the grille with a thin light bar connecting the two main units, which feature a blocky “H” graphic that looks similar to the pixel lights on the Ioniq lineup. That “H” motif also appears in the front bumper and the taillights, which are particularly unusual for how low they sit in the bumper.
Styling is, of course, subjective, and not everyone will love the look of the 2024 Santa Fe. But there is no denying that Hyundai has created a distinctive-looking crossover and has crafted a family of vehicles that share common traits without all looking the same. Even if you’re not a fan of the styling risks the Korean automaker is taking, Hyundai has undoubtedly come a long way since the days of bland, A-to-B transport in the early 2000s.
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Associate News Editor
Caleb Miller began blogging about cars at 13 years old, and he realized his dream of writing for a car magazine after graduating from Carnegie Mellon University and joining the Car and Driver team. He loves quirky and obscure autos, aiming to one day own something bizarre like a Nissan S-Cargo, and is an avid motorsports fan.