The Hyundai brand has gained some serious notoriety in America as a viable competitor to many mainstream vehicles with something to fill just about every segment there is. On the side of electrification, which will come hot and heavy in the next few years, Hyundai continues to improve upon their hybrid lineup to get us ready for a brave new electrified future. This week, I had a chance to experience the latest in hybrid tech in the form of the Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid in the top Limited trim.
The latest Hyundai Santa Fe remains mostly unchanged from its fourth-generation redesign for the 2019 model year. For the 2021 model year Hyundai unleashes the new Santa Fe Hybrid in three available trims, the base Blue trim, SEL, and Limited. Each trim level gets a set of included features and amenities where the top Limited trim test vehicle I get to check out has a variety of highly desirable features that makes it worth its price of admission.
Powered by a combination of a 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and a 59-horsepower electric motor where power is sent through a 6-speed automatic transmission. Total power output at 226 horsepower makes the Santa Fe Hybrid a little quicker off the line over its gas-powered non-hybrid counterpart with thanks to some of the instant torque from the electric motor. However, the non-hybrid Santa Fe using the more powerful engine, the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine with 277 horsepower, will ultimately make it to 60 mph in a shorter time. All Santa Fe Hybrids have an HTRAC all-wheel-drive system and offer an AWD lock that activates an electronically controlled rear coupler if you ever have the desire to take the Santa Fe off-road and need a little extra traction.
The power is respectable and the transitions from electric power to the gas engine are seamless. The only drawback is the system has a slight hiccup when you start to slow to around 10 mph or so and then decide to accelerate again. At such times it feels like the system is confused and delays power delivery for a second or two, which can be scary if you’re wanting to jump out into traffic or go through a busy intersection. Otherwise, the hybrid system on the Santa Fe Hybrid works like a charm hitting its EPA estimates of 33 mpg city, 30 mpg highway, and 32 mpg combined all without fail. I saw a steady 32.4 mpg with mixed driving on commutes taking my daughter to school throughout the week.
In heavy traffic, the Santa Fe Hybrid really shined to slightly best the EPA fuel figures provided that you often applied the gas pedal softly as to utilize the hybrid battery reserves, which the system sorted out to retain quite a bit of a charge. The regenerative braking, for the most part, felt predictable without much of a transition from regen braking to the use of the friction brakes. Changing the drive mode, a total of four of them (Eco, Sport, Smart, Snow), to the Sport mode not only changed the 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster’s look to fit a Sporty theme, but it added additional declaration for a sportier feel and at the same time seemed to charge the battery faster upon coasting than in the default Eco drive mode. Overall, the hybrid system of the Santa Fe is nearly on par with those from Toyota but lacks the definitive point of reference from the power meter in the gauge cluster to determine how much throttle input will turn over the gas engine versus attempting to utilize more electric power for low-speed approaches.
The interior of the Santa Fe Hybrid takes a simplistic approach but has plentiful physical buttons for the dual-zone automatic climate control and audio system and a large 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen. The system is straightforward for its use but has numerous icons on screen for its variety of functions. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration is included and accessed through a USB connection. There is a wireless smartphone charging slot and the expected Blue Link vehicle telematics connectivity.
Other interior highlights include a heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, and heated rear outboard seats. The digital gauge cluster allows for the blind-spot view monitor live feed to be displayed upon using the turn signal but I found the video feed to be slightly delayed in my Santa Fe Hybrid test vehicle for some reason, which is uncharacteristic for Hyundai.
The interior space is decent, but the driver’s seat seems to be a little shorter on legroom than I expected. The rear seating area is good as is the cargo volume with the rear seatbacks up you get just over 34 cubic feet to work with. Fold the rear 60/40-split seatbacks down and you get 72.1 cubic feet of cargo space all accessed from the smart liftgate that can be set to automatically open upon detecting your key fob at the rear of the vehicle for a few seconds.
In all, the Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid in the Limited trim is packed full of desirable features and does what it is advertised to do in the fuel consumption department. However, there are other hybrid crossovers of the same size or slightly larger that have slightly better EPA fuel consumption numbers.
The as-tested price for my Santa Fe Hybrid Limited comes to $41,290 including a $1,185 inland freight and handling charge. The base Santa Fe Hybrid Blue trim starts at a price of $33,750 for the 2022 model year and has slightly better EPA fuel consumption numbers at 36 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.