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One could mistake the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe for a Land Rover Defender, were it not for the daring H-shaped headlamps and taillights.Doug Firby/The Globe and Mail

Just when you think you have the brand pigeonholed, Hyundai turns its image on its head. For 2024, the automaker has thrown out pretty much everything we knew about South Korea’s most popular mid-sized SUV, the Santa Fe.

Gone are the generically inoffensive looks in favour of big, bold and square – very square. Although the fifth generation in this SUV’s 23-year history is loaded with new technology, safety and convenience features, what’s most telling about this book is its cover.

The 2024 Santa Fe looks so different, you’d be forgiven for questioning its parentage. At a quick glance, you could mistake it for a Land Rover Defender, were it not for the daring H-shaped headlamps and tail lights. It is a moonshot advance from the slightly awkward, humble family SUV that made its debut back in 2000.

Hyundai is offering North American customers 11 exterior colours and no less than five interior colours to choose from.

Alloy wheel sizes range from 18 to 21 inches, depending on which of the five trim levels you choose. The wheel wells were kept round as one of several strategies to achieve a remarkably slippery 0.29 drag co-efficient, but the fender flares are squared off to enhance a rugged, off-road look.

Beyond the hey-look-at-me styling jolt, there are practical reasons for squaring off a vehicle, said designer SangYup Lee, who visited packed Costco parking lots to figure out how he could make the new Santa Fe stand out visually. “This car is truly driven by functional design.”

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The panoramic dash display is curved toward the driver and encompasses a 12.3-inch digital cluster and infotainment system.Doug Firby/The Globe and Mail

Lee said the vehicle was designed from back to front – challenging engineers to create the most spacious interior in a mid-sized vehicle.

Passenger and cargo space have been optimized. With a slightly longer wheelbase over the 2023 model (2,815 millimetres versus 2,766), the Santa Fe offers third-row seating for the first time – an average-sized adult does not feel cramped – and has increased second-row legroom by 35 millimetres to 1,075. Headroom has been improved too. Cargo room is rated at 725 litres, which means golf clubs can go in sideways instead of at an angle. The rear hatch opening is very generous – wide enough to fit a sheet of plywood.

The dramatic image change was driven by a trend in Europe and South Korea toward a more outdoor-oriented lifestyle. “We saw very strong potential there,” Lee said.

The spacious interior features practical leatherette seats, or luxurious Nappa leather in the top Calligraphy trim. The panoramic dash display is curved toward the driver and encompasses a 12.3-inch digital cluster and infotainment system.

Hyundai officials said you can expect wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The electronic shifter control has been mounted on the steering column, leaving the console area wide open to store your purse or shoulder bag and accommodate two wireless (and air-cooled) mobile phone chargers. The console can be opened from either the front or back.

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The centre console and front seat of the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe which comes with either leatherette seats or Nappa leather in the top Calligraphy trim. And the centre consul box opens from front or back.Doug Firby/The Globe and Mail

Designing the vehicle during the pandemic led to several innovations, said Chadd Price, president of the Hyundai Kia America Technical Center in Michigan. The two grocery bag hooks on the back of each front seat, for example, were initially designed to hang COVID masks, and the UV light on top of the glove box was initially created to sanitize them.

The safety features range from practical – forward collision avoidance, lane following assist, lane keep assist and smart cruise control – to near nanny state: The driver attention system warns you when you appear to be nodding off. Cameras allow for 360-degree exterior views and a digital centre mirror allows you to see behind the car even when the kids are blocking the view from inside.

Powertrains will largely be carried over from the current model but with refinements to meet strict super ultra-low emissions vehicle (SULEV) standards in the United States. Hyundai confirmed the North American versions will be offered with a 2.5-litre turbo four (rated at 277 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque) and a 1.6-litre turbo hybrid (achieving 177 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque). A naturally aspirated 2.5-litre four, and a plug-in hybrid option, scheduled for Europe, are also under consideration for Canada.

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The rear hatch opening on the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe is a gaping 1,275 millimetres (4 feet, 2 inches) wide.Doug Firby/The Globe and Mail

Company officials said to expect a six-speed automatic with the 1.6-litre engine, and eight-speed with the 2.5 engine. The Santa Fe will be offered in two- and all-wheel drive, but didn’t say which drive configurations will come to Canada.

Although the Santa Fe remains a strong seller in Canada, the company is reaching to gain market share in the fiercely competitive mid-sized SUV market. In the first six months of this year, Hyundai sold 6,305 units of the SUV, up 8.2 per cent from 2022. The Honda Pilot, by comparison, sold 3,530 vehicles in the first six months of this year.

North Americans will have to wait until next year for the new Santa Fe. It will appear on roads in South Korea this fall but the North American version, assembled in Montgomery, Ala., will not be available until early 2024, the company states.

Prices for Canada won’t be announced until early 2024, but will certainly be up from the 2023 model, which ranges from $37,999 to $48,899.

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The wheels wells are rounded in the 2024 Hyundai Santa Fe, but the fender flares are squared off.Doug Firby/The Globe and Mail

Tech specs

2024 Hyundai Santa Fe

  • Price range: To be announced, but expect about $40,000 to $50,000.
  • Engines: 1.6-litre turbo four-cylinder with hybrid boost; 2.5-litre four
  • Transmission/drive: Six-speed automatic (with 1.6-litre engine), eight-speed (with 2.5 engine); two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive
  • Fuel consumption (litres per 100 kilometres): Not yet rated
  • Alternatives: Kia Sorento, Honda Pilot and Passport, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Ascent, Mazda CX-90

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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