Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid — A solid compact SUV

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

(October 31, 2021) Hyundai is a bit late to the hybrid game, but based on four new vehicles — the Santa Fe and Tucson crossovers and the Sonata and Elantra sedans — the Korean company has mastered the gas engine/electric motor concept quite well and now offers a viable alternative to Toyota, the king of hybrids.

We discuss the Santa Fe hybrid for this review based on driving a well-equipped Limited trim. A couple months ago we drove a standard gas engine Santa Fe with a 191-horsepower four-cylinder engine. The comparison between the hybrid and the standard powertrain is eye opening. Not only is performance significantly better with the hybrid, but gas mileage with AWD — which is standard throughout the lineup — is 32 mpg combined, significantly better than the 24 combined EPA rating of the gas engine. If you opt for the base Blue model the combined rating is 34 mpg.

The Santa Fe hybrid has 226 horsepower from a 178-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder and a 59-hp electric motor mated to a conventional six-speed automatic transmission. The hybrid's performance has been measured at 7.5 seconds from 0-to-60 with a 15.7-second time at 90 mph in the quarter mile. The standard four-cylinder, which we figure most people will choose, takes about 9.0 seconds to reach 60 with the pedal to the metal.

We found performance adequate with the base engine, but we seemed to be wanting just a bit more, especially during merging situations. With the hybrid, we felt totally satisfied with the performance in all eventualities. And we were delighted that Hyundai has included a standard six-speed transmission with its hybrid — most manufacturers include a less satisfying continuously variable transmission (CVT) with their gas/electric models.

We found the hybrid not only quicker, but with better handling traits and more confident road manners than the standard engine version. The well-appointed interior with its noteworthy tranquil living room borders on a luxury SUV.

The standard Santa Fe comes in four trim levels — base SE, SEL, Limited, and new-for-2021 Calligraphy — starting at $28,615. The hybrid version discussed here comes in Blue, SEL Premium and Limited trims starting at $34,835. Our top-trim Limited carried a bottom line of $41,290 with no options necessary. You can save cash by buying the hybrid Blue beginning at $35,450 or the SEL Premium beginning at $39,400. The Blue actually comes well equipped and may be just right for you while saving a few thousand bucks. And the Blue as noted above has been rated at 2 mpg better than the other models.

The Santa Fe, which was all-new for the 2019 model year, is a stylish and practical crossover that offers a roomy two-row cabin, an ample selection of features, decent performance and gas mileage from three engine choices, and very competitive pricing. And all Hyundai vehicles come with one of the most generous warranties in the industry.

The Santa Fe has undergone exterior styling upgrades getting a bold, new face highlighted by a wider, three-dimensional grille and a T-shaped lighting package that includes daytime running lights. The silhouette sports a horizontal cabin profile, scalloped lower door panels and a highly defined hood, with character lines extending from front to rear.

The interior has also been reworked featuring a high-position console design adding a more spacious feel throughout the cabin. Hyundai has done a good job putting soft-touch padding in strategic places wherever an arm touches. The infotainment screen has grown from 8 inches to 10.25 inches.

The Santa Fe’s overall proportions are slightly more SUV-like than in the previous generation, with a longer hood, a more upright windshield, and a trimmer front overhang. The Santa Fe has a slightly wider stance than its predecessor and at 187.8 inches is longer by 2.8 inches, giving it a bolder, more aggressive profile.

With the extra length, front legroom is expanded from the last generation to 44.1 inches from 39.6 and second-row legroom to 40.9 from 39.1. Overall passenger compartment volume is 110.7 cubic feet compared to 108.0 in the last Santa Fe, though cargo capacity remains the same — 35.4 cubic feet behind the second row, 71.5 with the second-row seats folded.

In addition to a generous amount of standard equipment across the board, the Santa Fe has been endowed with a remarkable amount of standard safety including forward collision mitigation, a lane keeping assist system, trailer sway damping, and adaptive cruise control. While we think blindspot warning with cross-traffic alert should have been included in the base model, it comes as standard equipment on all other trim levels.

A good selling point for the Santa Fe is the generous warranties Hyundai has maintained for years. They include a five-year/60,000-mile basic warranty and 10-year/100,000-mile drivetrain warranty. Free maintenance is provided for three years/36,000 miles.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid


Base price: $35,450; as driven, $41,290
Engine: turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder, electric motor
Horsepower: combined 226
Torque: 195 pound-feet
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 108.9 inches
Length: 188.4 inches
Curb weight: 4,226 pounds
Turning circle: 37.4 feet
Luggage capacity: 36.4 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds
Cargo capacity: 72.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 17.7 gallons (regular)
EPA rated: 33 city, 30 highway, 32 combined
Also consider: Toyota Venza, Ford Escape Hybrid, Honda CR-V Hybrid

The Good
• Abundant standard features
• Best warranty among mainstream brands
• Standard all-wheel drive
• Most fuel efficient Santa Fe

The Bad
• Touchscreen can be slow to respond

The Ugly
• MPG lower than some competitors