As society goes through the process of vehicle electrification, it’s not exactly something that happens overnight, and while many families are happy to consider a fully electric vehicle in the future, their driving habits and needs don’t quite allow for one just yet – not to mention the fact that pricing and availability won’t be down to earth for a while. Choices like the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Luxury AWD are touted as candidates to fill that gap between now and the future, and today’s DaddysDigest.com car review takes a deeper dive into just how well this crossover sport utility understands its assignment.
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First and foremost, it’s a little difficult to classify the Santa Fe as a compact CUV – it teeters towards but doesn’t venture too far into the midsize class. While Hyundai does run the risk of putting this offering in no man’s land in between two lines in the sand, it does offer more two-row space and practicality than the actual compact crossovers (Hyundai Tucson, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, etc.) without being too big on the outside. It’s on a similar wavelength as the Ford Edge, Toyota Venza, and Subaru Outback, which are all ideal if prospective buyers find full-blown three-row crossovers to be too unwieldy.
Pricing for the 2021 Santa Fe starts at $31,399 Canadian for a base Essential trim with front-wheel drive, before taxes and fees. The Luxury Hybrid AWD tested out today is three quarters up the price scale, and is $43,799 (increased to $43,899 for 2022). Luxury’s features include dual-zone automatic climate control, an 8-inch touch screen infotainment display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, a 12.3-inch fully digital instrument cluster, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats, manual sunshades in the rear door, a power panoramic sunroof, LED taillights, and a proximity-activated power liftgate. For those who want all the bells and whistles, the Ultimate Calligraphy is about $3,700 more and gets more goodies, but ditches the hybrid for a higher-performance 2.5-litre gas engine and dual-clutch transmission.
The hybrid-equipped Santa Fe powertrain is a 178 horsepower, 1.6-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine combined with a 44.2 kilowatt (about 59 horsepower) electric motor. Combined system horsepower is 226, paired with 258 pound-feet of torque. The battery is a lithium-ion polymer type and has 1.49 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of capacity. Compare this to the 64 kWh battery of a Hyundai Kona electric or 54 to 82 kWh rating of a Tesla Model 3, and it starts to make sense why hybrids are generally in greater supply at less cost – the Kona electric needs 43 times the battery capacity, which makes it a much bigger demand on sourcing raw materials for the batteries.
Both power units are routed through a six-speed automatic transmission, which is relatively uncommon – most hybrids make use of a continuously variable transmission (CVT) to smooth out the swap in between the gas engine and electric motor. Unlike plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) or full battery electric vehicles (BEVs), conventional hybrids don’t need to be plugged in to charge. The small battery pack is charged in one of two ways – either under braking when the electric motor runs in reverse as a generator, or by siphoning a portion of available gas engine power to charge the battery directly.
The result is fuel consumption that’s about 25 percent better than the base AWD gas-only Santa Fe; nominal Canadian government peg city consumption at 7.1 litres per 100 kilometres, and highway economy is rated at 7.9 litres per 100 kilometres. With a careful foot, observed economy over 400 kilometres of mixed driving came in at an even-better 6.9 litres per 100 kilometres (34 miles per US gallon). Getting to this figure didn’t involve driving excessively slow, but rather took smooth driving and a bit of attention paid to what the hybrid system is doing. Under light load situations (slight downhill, or steady-state cruising), easing up on the throttle for a moment or two encourages the gasoline engine to shut off, and driving around in electric-only mode for up to a minute or two at a time can help economy greatly.
Inside, the Santa Fe Luxury Hybrid features a smartly designed, if not a bit monotonous grey/black interior that takes care of business relatively well. While the pushbutton shifter takes some getting used to, the climate controls and centre console area feature plenty of hard buttons, which are much more preferable in terms of reducing driver distraction. The infotainment is easy to use, and Apple CarPlay and Android Audio capabilities are very useful.
Seating and cargo capacity are spacious, especially when compared to compact crossover SUVs, and the extra space is most felt in the rear cargo area. Where many of the compact offerings have rear cargo areas that are a little lacking in length, the Santa Fe offers length that’s more typical of a midsize sedan, while also offering the practicality perks of an SUV body format. Translation – you can fit your giant stroller in the back and still have room for other things, too.
On the road, the 2021 Santa Fe Luxury Hybrid doesn’t feel too fast, but that’s generally accepted when it comes to hybrid powertrains that prioritize efficiency. While puttering around in electric mode is silent, the gas engine is a little gruff when summoned. The six-speed automatic makes pretty quick work of shifting, but is a bit more perceptible compared to a Toyota hybrid CVT. Ride quality is excellent and is probably one of the bigger surprises with the Santa Fe – road imperfections are soaked up with ease, making the Hyundai feel a little more premium than its price point suggests.
For safety, the Luxury trim gets most of Hyundai’s SmartSense system. Driver assists include forward collision alerts with automatic braking, pedestrian, cyclist, and junction turning detection, lane departure alerts with steering assist, blind-spot monitoring with collision avoidance steering assist, adaptive cruise with stop-and-go capability, automatic high beams, and an ultrasonic rear occupant alert. Compared against the top Ultimate Calligraphy trim, the Luxury misses out on a front and rear park distance warning system, a parking collision avoidance braking system, blind view camera monitor, remote smart parking assist, and the excellent Highway Driving Assist that almost borders on autonomous highway cruising (driver attention still required at all times).
As with many other cars on the market today, Hyundai does offer their BlueLink telematics system, which integrates many vehicle controls within a smartphone app. The system offers remote vehicle start with climate control, SOS emergency and roadside assistance, collision notifications, remote locking and unlocking, vehicle location tracking, local search, and real-time diagnostics. All Santa Fe models are equipped with a complimentary three-year subscription to BlueLink.
If considering a practical, spacious, efficient family car, the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Luxury Hybrid AWD is pretty hard to beat. Its size is perfect for those who only need two rows (five passengers) of seating, and is just about all the car most people will ever need. With all that you get, the hybrid powertrain doesn’t result in a fuel mileage penalty, and this hit at the pumps used to be a real drawback to sport utility vehicles. Price-wise, its closest hybrid competitors are likely a fully-loaded Toyota RAV4 or a mid-trim Venza – the Hyundai will be more spacious and ride better than both, although the Venza will feel a little more upscale with its interior. The Santa Fe Hybrid lineup should be considered as a good alternative – the Korean automaker delivers a bit more value for the money, with a solid driving experience to boot.