A 2021 Chevy Equinox is driving through a city after winning a 2021 Chevy Equinox vs 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe comparison.

Battle of the 2021 Compact SUVs: Equinox vs Santa Fe

The battle of imports versus domestics continues to rage on in 2021 and no more aggressively than in the competitive compact SUV segment. It’s by far one of the most popular categories for new vehicle buyers. Two of the most popular options that regularly compete for market share are the 2021 Chevy Equinox vs 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe. But is one superior?

The Santa Fe, manufactured by South Korean automaker Hyundai, was first launched back in 2001 as the company’s first SUV. It’s a best seller for Hyundai and part of a larger SUV lineup that includes the smaller Tucson and the full-size Veracruz. The just-right-sized Santa Fe appeals to buyers looking for a little more room without the hassle of a full-size, three-seat configuration.

The Equinox is a Chevy bestseller, drawing legions of fans for its roomy interior and affordable starting price tag. Chevrolet launched the Equinox in 2005, just a few years after the Santa Fe, and today it’s in its third generation, having last received a full redesign in 2018. The Santa Fe was also last redesigned in 2019, marking the start of its fourth generation.

We compare these two vehicles in detail to see which offers the most bang for the buck, but also how they stack up in all the important areas, like safety and technology. It’s a race to the top in the compact segment, which means attracting buyers with class-leading features. Which one is better? Let’s find out.

Pricing and Available Trims

The story always begins with the price tag. It doesn’t matter if you’re buying a junker or an Italian sports car: price matters. The 2021 Chevy Equinox sets the stage for a value winner with a starting MSRP of just $23,800 for the base L trim. By contrast, the base Santa Fe SE will set you back $27,000. That’s a big difference that you’ll see in your monthly payment.

Looking at the entire Equinox lineup, you’ll find four trims: the aforementioned L, the mid-range LS with a starting price tag of $26,300, the LT at $27,500, and the top-of-the-line Equinox Premier, which has an MSRP of $31,400. Several appearance and equipment packages are available for an additional cost.

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe is available in five trims: the base SE, the SEL at $28,800, the $38,750 Limited, and the ultra-high-end Calligraphy and Calligraphy 2.5T AWD, priced at $40,750 and $42,250, respectively. It’s hard not to notice that the Equinox’s highest trim level – the Premier – is less expensive than the Santa Fe’s mid-range Limited option. Is it apples-to-apples feature-wise? Probably not, but in a segment where the price is incredibly important, the difference is significant.

Both vehicles offer a range of interior finishes and equipment that get more luxurious with each trim level. Still, for the budget-conscious buyer, it’s hard to justify a $3,200 price difference at the entry end. It’s also pretty difficult to swallow paying roughly $10,000 more for the Santa Fe Calligraphy vs the Equinox Premier.

A white 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe is driving through a muddy field.

Safety and Driver-Assist Features

All 2021 Equinox trims come standard with Chevy Safety Assist, a suite of five different driver-assist technologies designed to help keep occupants safer and help the driver avoid potential hazards while on the go. These systems use cameras and radar to monitor the area around the vehicle and alert the driver of potential hazards or collisions.

Chevy Safety Assist includes Forward Collision Alert and Automatic Emergency braking, which alerts the driver when a collision is likely and automatically applies the brakes to reduce the severity of an imminent crash. The system also provides a tailgating alert. Other features include Front Pedestrian Braking, Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning, a Following Distance Indicator, and automatic high beams.

The Santa Fe doesn’t come with quite as many standard driver-assist features on the lower-end trims. The base SE includes Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection and Lane Keeping Assist, along with a rear occupant alert and a Driver Attention Warning feature that alerts the driver when it senses their eyes are not on the road.

If you want the full suite of safety systems, you’ll have to upgrade to the SEL, which adds Blind Spot Collision Avoidance Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Avoidance Assist, along with a Safety Exit Assist, which acts as a blind spot monitor when the vehicle is parked. Bump up to the Limited or Calligraphy trims, and you’ll get even more safety features, but it’ll cost you.

Technology, Luxury, and Convenience Features

The 2021 Equinox offers a cadre of connected services via the myChevrolet app and an onboard 7-inch infotainment touchscreen. The Premier goes a step further and comes standard with an 8-inch HD touchscreen and navigation. The 8-inch touchscreen is available as an option on the LT trim by selecting the Infotainment Package. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity are standard, and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi Hotspot is also standard across the entire trim lineup.

As for convenience features, the Equinox Premier comes with a hands-free liftgate, while lower trims offer an available power programmable liftgate. Other available features include a panoramic power sunroof, adaptive cruise control (Premier trim only), and an upgraded 7-speaker Bose audio system.

Technology is where the Santa Fe shines, but at a significantly higher cost than even the most expensive Equinox. All Santa Fe trims include an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. The serious technology features can be found on the Limited and Calligraphy trims.

The Limited includes a Blind-Spot View Monitor, which is a camera view of the vehicle’s blind spot displayed on the digital gauge cluster, as well as a surround-view camera. A 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen with navigation is also standard on the Limited. The Limited also features a standard panoramic sunroof, hands-free liftgate, and an upgraded Harman Kardon premium audio system. The wildly luxurious Calligraphy adds ambient lighting, a head-up display, ventilated front seats, 20-inch wheels, and Nappa leather seating.

A blue 2021 Chevy Equinox is parked on cement in front of a forest.

Which SUV is the Best?

In the end, it boils down to price and value. The 2021 Chevy Equinox and the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe differ in a few key areas. First, the Equinox is simply more affordable. While it can’t compete with the Santa Fe on high-end luxury finishes, it still manages to offer plenty of plush appointments on the Premier trim for nearly $10,000 less.

If you’re looking for a compact SUV, ask yourself what’s most important. If you’re a luxury-minded buyer who doesn’t mind shelling out $40,000 for a small SUV, you may want to check out the Santa Fe. However, budget-oriented buyers and those looking for a well-appointed SUV at a reasonable price will find everything they want and need in the Equinox.

We mentioned it before: the compact SUV category is vast and extremely popular. The fact is, there are buyers that fit the profile for both the Equinox and the Santa Fe, but our money’s on the better value. If you have $40,000 to spend, you might want to bump up a category and get a little more size and towing capability. We just don’t think the extra luxury features are worth such a sizable increase in price.

Our vote is for the 2021 Chevy Equinox. It’s the absolute best value with a trim range that will appeal to a full spectrum of compact SUV buyers. Standard driver-assist features put the focus on safety, and tech features like the Wi-Fi Hotspot are also included at every price point. You can’t beat the mix of features for the price with the Equinox.