Car Reviews

First Drive: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid

New again.

By Kunal Dsouza Wheels.ca

May 12, 2021 5 min. read

Article was updated a year ago

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Hyundai’s design team has to be one the fastest in the industry. The pace at which they pump out all-new models and thorough refreshes is an example of an automaker that’s capable of moving at light speed.

Take the current Santa Fe that went on sale two years ago. Everything about it was brand new, but now there’s a newer version. And as usual, it’s more than just a quick nip and tuck.

The front and rear fascia including the bumpers, grille, and lighting have been redesigned. Inside, there’s a new centre stack, a new digital instrument cluster, and they’ve also added a new hybrid powertrain option. More choice is good, and if you need a family crossover, Hyundai has a veritable buffet of options ready to meet your needs.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Luxury Hybrid

The Santa Fe competes directly with other midsize crossovers like the Ford Edge, Honda Passport, and Toyota Venza. This class of vehicle typically offers a bit more in the way of style and content, inching closer to the entry-level luxury segment. They’re a good compromise for those that want some premium features but don’t necessarily want to pay for a premium badge on the hood.

Thanks to the ongoing pandemic Hyundai was nice enough to trailer an untouched and fully sanitized Santa Fe in Luxury Hybrid trim right to my doorstep. In exchange, I would drive it around the neighbourhood for a few days so I could render my opinion on these pages.

There aren’t many hybrid options to chose from in this class. The Toyota Venza is one of the few and probably the Santa Fe Hybrid’s closest competitor. The Santa Fe, however, is bigger than the Venza in nearly every dimension, especially on the inside where it feels nearly as spacious as the larger three-row Hyundai Palisade.

Because there isn’t a third row, the cargo area benefits big time. With over a thousand litres of space before folding the rear seats down, it could serve as a cozy apartment for an urban hipster.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Luxury Hybrid

Occupants in this highly-optioned Luxury Hybrid trim will be treated to a premium experience from the soft leather seating to the sophisticated looking new floating centre console reminiscent of the one found in the Palisade. It’s finished in a textured material that feels great to the touch and doesn’t show fingerprints.

There’s an abundance of safety and driver-assist tech on board as well, like forward collision and junction turning detection, blind spot collision avoidance, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, rear occupant alert, and safe exit assist that will warn you of oncoming traffic when opening a door.

Like the Palisade there’s a new push-button gear selector and a nifty drive mode wheel that’s fun to operate. Standard on the Luxury Hybrid trim you can get a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster with Hyundai’s innovative blind view monitor built in. It feeds a camera image of whatever’s in your blind spot directly onto the cluster. Every vehicle should have it.

The 8-inch centre screen, however, felt small and dated and without a native navigation system, you’d have to use your smartphone data while running either Apple Car Play or Android Auto. At this price point, you’d expect a bit more, and the smaller and cheaper Tucson was optioned with a much better system. It’s worth noting that a larger 10.25-inch screen with navigation is available on the range-topping Ultimate Caligraphy trim but there’s no hybrid option on that one.

On the road, laminated front glass keeps things hushed inside and the ride is creamy smooth with the suspension making quick work of the winter-ravaged roads. You don’t get much in the way of a sporty drive, but that was never the intention here. The Sante Fe is cushy, well-trimmed, and does a good job of convincing you it’s a luxury vehicle at a price point that undercuts the premium brands.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Luxury Hybrid

Adding electrification will help it appeal to more, especially those families that are looking for greener options but aren’t ready to commit to cutting that fossil-fueled cord just yet.

The 1.6-L turbocharged 4-cylinder is combined with a 44 kW electric motor, a 1.49 kWh battery, and a 6-speed automatic transmission. It makes for one of the better hybrid drivetrains, mainly because there’s no CVT to mention. When you have real gears, you get a much better driving experience and that’s exactly what you get here. The transition from gas to electric power is seamless and the engine is quiet and stays in the background. The brakes, usually a sore point for many hybrids, feel natural here, another bonus.

This was the same powertrain I experienced in the new Tucson and it felt just as good here and was nearly as efficient on the same drive route. With little effort, I was able to score an average of 7.5L/100 km. For a mid-size AWD vehicle like the Sante Fe, it’s a very good figure. I did a bit better with the Toyota RAV4 hybrid and the Venza but we’d be splitting hairs here.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Luxury Hybrid

The Santa Fe Hybrid does little to advertise that it’s a fuel-sipping model. Just a small hybrid badge on the rear is the only identification you’ll find.

In a world that’s rushing towards electrification of all vehicles, hybrids offer an interim solution until EV prices come down and the charging infrastructure improves. The new Santa Fe hybrid makes an appealing choice for families or anyone looking for a comfortable and well-optioned crossover that also has the benefit of a fuel-efficient powertrain.




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