Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

SUV Review: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Luxury Hybrid

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After years of playing with the Santa Fe formula, Hyundai has found it “just right”.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe luxury hybrid2021 Hyundai Santa Fe luxury hybrid Photo by Stephanie Wallcraft

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More than most vehicles in recent times, the Hyundai Santa Fe has been going through something of an identity crisis in recent years.

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A decade ago it was a three-row SUV, and a short-wheelbase two-row variant called the Santa Fe Sport was sold in North America. Later, when the larger three-row Palisade was released and the larger Santa Fe had outlived its usefulness, the remaining units were renamed the Santa Fe XL as the final model year rolled on. Meanwhile, a new generation of the Santa Fe Sport was released and Hyundai decided to call it… the Santa Fe.

Still confused? Nobody would blame you.

But all you really need to know is this: The Santa Fe hasn’t been a three-row SUV for a few years. It’s a mid-size double-row SUV, and an excellent one at that. With the mid-cycle refresh carried out for the 2021 model year, introducing both hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains and a striking new front-end design, the latest car to bear the Santa Fe name doesn’t just do for proclaims itself to be the best-looking vehicle in Hyundai’s current lineup, but it’s one of the better-looking SUVs on the road right now, period.

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Hyundai’s current styling approach is hit or miss, and every set of eyeballs out there will have a different perspective on which vehicles are doing the former versus the latter. In my opinion, the 2021 Santa Fe is a perfect fusion of classic side profile and window lines with front and rear styling and lighting treatments that are handsome yet clearly differentiated. In a way, it’s almost a shame that this styling has landed on the SUV that Hyundai is likely to sell the least. As much as the brand’s dedication to out-the-box design deserves praise, this one is the most visually appealing of them all and it would be nice to see more of them.

Interestingly, Hyundai is also working against the grain when it comes to hybridizing its offerings. Not only does the brand not offer hybrid powertrains on all trim levels, but the trim levels in which they are offered vary by vehicle. On the smaller Tucson, for example, the top two panels come standard with hybrid power. However, there is lower trim in the Santa Fe that can be upgraded to hybrid (or plug-in hybrid), and the near-top luxury trim we’re looking at here is strictly hybrid trim, but the most expensive Ultimate Calligraphy trim is just gasoline.

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Still confused? Nobody would blame you.

But all you really need to know is this: If you’re looking for a mid-size hybrid two-row SUV and have $45,000 to spend — $46,155 including a $1,925 destination charge, to be exact — these are the ones Chances are good is the one you want. Between its styling, drivability and feature content, it’s one of the best value for money in its segment.

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Hyundai’s hybrid powertrains are based around a 1.6-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder internal combustion engine that produces 178 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque alone. Combine that with a 44.2 kW electric motor mounted on the front axle and the total output of this system jumps to 226 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, 195 of which the electric motor makes available from a full stop. Rather than using an electric motor to power the rear axle for all-wheel drive as seen on that vehicle’s main competitor, the Toyota Venza, the Santa Fe uses standard mechanical four-wheel drive regardless of the drivetrain. This doesn’t have to be a selling point in itself; I’ve yet to find a situation where Toyota’s electric all-wheel drive underperforms in everyday driving compared to a mechanical setup, and unless you live in a 4×4 country, you probably won’t either.

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  1. Millennial Mom recap: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe

    Millennial Mom recap: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe

  2. SUV comparison: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe versus 2021 Toyota Venza

    SUV comparison: 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe versus 2021 Toyota Venza

Where the Santa Fe outperforms the Venza, however, is in its power delivery. This is partly helped by Hyundai’s decision to give this powertrain a six-speed automatic transmission, as opposed to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) typically used on hybrids. The Santa Fe is much more comfortable to get going and cruise through the full acceleration band. The downside to this is less efficient fuel economy, and the difference isn’t negligible: the Venza uses an average of 6.1 L/100km combined, according to Natural Resources Canada, while the Santa Fe Hybrid is rated at 7.4. In practice, we observe a consumption of 7.1 L/100 km, including around 300 kilometers of fair-weather motorway driving with four passengers and a full load, without any particular effort. With current gas prices averaging over 12,000 miles, that’s an annual difference of about $300. I think premium is worth more joy under my right foot but your mileage may vary.

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As for the cargo just mentioned, the Santa Fe does very well in that regard too, with 1,032 liters of cargo space behind the second row. This is more than enough to hold the gear for two adults and two children for a week long getaway. Compared to other mid-size double-row SUVs we’ve put on similar adventures, tucking everything in the back rather than having to sit with luggage in the footwell made the difference.

The price you see is all-in, which is typical for Hyundai. The only option listed is a $200 paint fee, which applies to the selection of any exterior color other than white. For that amount, the Luxury Hybrid gets you heated and ventilated front seats, heated outer rear seats, 19-inch wheels, a very nice 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, wireless smartphone charging, and a power-operated panoramic sunroof. By opting for this class, rather than going all the way to the Ultimate Calligraphy and losing the hybrid powertrain, you’re giving up 20-inch wheels, upgraded nappa leather seats, a 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, a head-up display and a Overhead camera, Hyundai’s camera-projected Blind View Monitor system and the semi-autonomous Highway Drive Assist feature. For the $3,700 difference, the hybrid is by far the better choice, not only for its better fuel efficiency, but also because the luxury class has Hyundai’s old and much more livable 8-inch infotainment system instead of the newer 10.25-inch widescreen system used, which I have already complained about extensively on these pages.

With excellent driving dynamics and fuel efficiency, plenty of interior space, and a great features list for the price, the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Luxury Hybrid feels like a family-oriented SUV that’s finally found itself. Now all you have to do is wait for others to find it.

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