If you’re in the market for a midsize, five-seat crossover, chances are you have both the 2021 Subaru Outback and 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe on your test-drive list. Both vehicles are among the most popular in their respective class and offer a nice blend of practicality, space, and drivability.
The 2021 Subaru Outback and 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe couldn’t be more different in terms of looks. One looks like a raised wagon while the other has a more traditional crossover appearance complemented by a hungry grille and an angry mug. They’re priced closer to a compact crossover, too, because they come standard with a naturally-aspirated engine instead of a higher-powered turbocharger one or a six-cylinder. You also get a more sedan-like feel in the Outback hinting at its status as essentially a rugged wagon version of the Subaru Legacy. Both vehicles are equally spacious, easily accommodating lots of cargo and four passengers comfortably. The Santa Fe, however, gets you more flexibility thanks to the huge underfloor bin and rear seats that slide and recline. However, the Outback counters with a full-size spare tire in the Wilderness trim.
You also get unique versions of each one. The Subaru Outback is available in the Wilderness model, which gets additional ground clearance, all-terrain tires, skid plates, a more aggressive final drive ratio, and a standard 260-hp 2.4-liter turbo-four. Hyundai, on the other hand, pitches a more luxury-oriented version in the Santa Fe Calligraphy, which has a lot of extra niceties like quilted Nappa leather upholstery, ambient lighting, 20-inch alloy wheels, and a specific grille finish.
The Hyundai Santa Fe is also available as a fuel-efficient hybrid with up to 34 mpg combined on the EPA cycle. You don’t lose out much on power either because the Santa Fe Hybrid makes 226 hp combined from a 1.6-liter turbo-four coupled to an electric motor, a lithium-ion battery, and a six-speed automatic. AWD is standard on the Santa Fe Hybrid and it’s a mechanical setup with a driveshaft connecting the front and rear axles.
Hyundai offers a full suite of driver assistance features as standard equipment on the Santa Fe. Subaru, on the other hand, makes its EyeSight suite standard but blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear automatic emergency braking are optional. Hyundai’s infotainment system is user-friendly and intuitive regardless of which version you use. Subaru’s tablet-style layout has a larger 11.6-inch touchscreen but has a bit of a learning curve versus the Hyundai since nearly every function is lumped in there.
Both cars offer pleasant driving dynamics. Regardless of which one you choose, you’ll get good handling and a comfortable ride. The Hyundai Santa Fe, however, will get you a quieter cabin thanks to better sound insulation, and better braking performance. Its traditional transmission choices in the base and hybrid version will also feel more conventional on the road. The eight-speed dual-clutch automatic on the 2.5T variants, on the other hand, might be less ideal for off-road duty because it needs to slip the clutch packs to get over rocks and other debris. Subaru’s CVT will be smoother but keep in mind that neither vehicle is a hardcore off-road vehicle. The Outback’s extra ground clearance and softer suspension help it get farther than most crossovers will when the pavement ends.
Bottom line is that if you’re looking for something more car-like and relaxed, the 2021 Subaru Outback is the one to get. If you’re in search of a higher sitting position, a little more luxury, and/or a hybrid powertrain, the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe is the way to go. Regardless of which one you choose, you’re getting one of the strongest entries in the midsize two-row crossover segment.
2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid
0 to 60 mph: 7.8 seconds
60 to 0: 118 feet
Cabin Noise: A+
Fuel Economy: A+?
2021 Subaru Outback Wilderness
0 to 60 mph: 6.1 seconds
60 to 0: 131 feet
Cabin Noise: B
Fuel Economy: A-