If you were to ask a passerby what company is best known for hybrid SUVs? The chances are good that most respondents will say Toyota and typically leave others like Hyundai in the back of their minds. While Hyundai has made great strides in enhancing its green-vehicle presence with models like the Ioniq hybrid lineup, their SUVs have been late to the party when it comes to hybrid technology. But the firm is aiming to change that and has done so in many ways, including models like the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Limited. But does an infusion of hybrid tech make the Santa Fe an even better family pick?
2021 Santa Fe Brings New Styling To Buyers
One of the fundamental changes for 2021 is that the Santa Fe received some new clothes to help it stay fresh for the new model year. When taken at face value, the styling here is a mixed bag depending on what part of the car you’re looking at. The front fascia is reminiscent of what you would find at your local fishmonger, with the catfish-like snout being infused with plenty of chrome and two-part headlights. The side profile is typical SUV, but the windows feature a snazzy-looking piece of border trim that follows the glass, and it even has a nice swoop as you move closer to the rear.
The rear of the Santa Fe is tweaked with new headlights with a light bar that runs along the middle to unify them. The look here is a bit busy looking, but with the bulk of the segment mainly doing the same thing, we’ll give our tester a pass in this regard. Limited models like our example are the way to go if you’re looking to maximize the Santa Fe’s bling factor, but even the entry-level Blue model looks upscale in its own right.
Part Palisade, Part Tucson, Santa Fe Interior Is Curious Mixture
Range-topping Limited models like our tester truly flex their luxury muscles when occupants have a chance to slip inside. While our tester had no wood trim like some other luxury models, the modern cabin makes up for it with exceptional design. The door panels feature diamond shapes, while the dashboard has a nice balance of curves and angles. The quilted leather seats in our tester were also comfortable and came with heated or cooling capability. The central part of the dash also has the same set of controls that see duty in the larger Palisade. This part of the interior is also where the bulk of our complaints resided, with designers cramming way too many buttons into the space, especially since this downward flowing piece also houses the button-operated selector for the transmission.
The interior also did an excellent job of keeping unwanted sounds out when we cruised around town in our tester, with wind and road noise being kept to a minimum. The only sounds entering the cabin were occasional tire noise and when the suspension had to deal with some of the nastier sections of Michigan’s pockmarked tarmac. The second row is a bit of a mixed bag, with the space back there being a bit cramped for taller adults. However, shorter passengers and children will be very comfortable back there. They will also appreciate the view delivered by the large panoramic sunroof and the sounds generated by the excellent Harmon & Kardon premium audio system.
We recommend folding them down when they are not used to haul people since it allows the Santa Fe to show its versatility. While we didn’t have any extensive opportunities to cram our tester to the outer limits of its 72.1 cubic feet of cargo space with the second row folded. It was picked to do our final spring water run of the year, which allowed us the opportunity to try out some of the hidden rear storage areas that lurk underneath the cargo floor. Our one-gallon water jugs managed to fit inside the larger cubbies with no problem and even had room for a few other items that we happened to be hauling alongside the fore-mentioned jugs.
Green Performance That’s Competent Around Town
Like other hybrid mid-size SUVs, the Santa Fe Hybrid is not out to set the world on fire with its driving dynamics and instead focuses on delivering the maximum amount of green mileage possible. Performance comes from a turbocharged 178 hp four-cylinder engine which is paired with a 59 hp electric motor. The combination produces 226 hp and is enough to help launch our tester to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds. As mentioned, these figures won’t exactly set the world on fire, but they do allow the Hyundai to be in virtual lockstep with its main rival, the Toyota Venza.
Handling in our tester is adequate, but buyers will be impressed with the seamless transition that takes place between the gasoline engine and the electric motor. Most of the time, folks won’t notice that it’s even happened though there are times where a slight thud enters the cabin but that usually happens if the Santa Fe is asked to do things abruptly versus taking things at its own pace or stopping.
As far as mileage goes, the Santa Fe Hybrid still comes up short compared to the Venza, but the gap is not as large as some may assume. The Venza gets 40 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the freeway, but the Hyundai is not too far behind, with the Korean upstart achieving 33mpg in the city and 30 mpg in freeway driving.
The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid pricing starts at $33,650 (the lightly updated 2022 model raises that up slightly to $33,750), which will get you a base Blue model. This trim is focused on value, and as a result, Hyundai chose to focus on value-centric packaging. In this instance, it means giving buyers some popular standard equipment, including Blind-Spot Monitoring, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, and standard all-wheel drive.
The $37,600 SEL Premium model is the bread and butter model of the bunch and builds on the Blue’s primary theme. This trim introduces 19-inch alloy wheels, a 10.25-inch infotainment system, and a massive panoramic sunroof. Rounding out the Hybrid trio is the range-topping Limited model, which manages to stay just under $40,000 with a base MSRP of $39,950. Our well-equipped tester only had an optional set of $155 floor mats which helped nudge the final total to $41,290. That’s a pretty good price to pay for a borderline luxury SUV, especially since this trim comes with a surround-view camera, as well as Hyundai’s Remote Smart Parking Assist.
The Santa Fe’s main problem in life is that it’s sandwiched between two of the company’s best-selling SUV offerings. The smaller Tucson has the same hybrid packaging, and the Palisade has the same level of equipment (Calligraphy trim excluded) while also offering an extra row of seating for passengers. This sandwich effect creates internal competition and generates unwanted pressure as a result.
While the automotive industry as a whole is rapidly moving towards electrification (This author will soon be an electric motorcycle owner), hybrid offerings like the Santa Fe hybrid will serve as an initial step for buyers that want to enter the green vehicle market but don’t want to pay the higher price tag associated with electric vehicles and still want a usable real-world range. When looked at in this particular light, the Santa Fe emerges as a potent family-hauling candidate.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.