Hyundai is Quietly Becoming a Leader in Hybrid Vehicles
We talk a lot about all-electric cars as the wave of the future, but a lot of folks just want to get the most miles out of a gallon of gas today. And that's where the tried-and-true gas-electric hybrid technology comes in. Hyundai is no stranger to hybrids and now has one for the fast-growing mid-size utility segment with the Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid.
The 4th generation Hyundai Santa Fe arrived just 2 years ago; bringing a more rugged shape, improved technology, and of course better value than ever. For 2021, Hyundai adds a hybrid option for the first time ever for any of their SUVs.
Based around a 178-horsepower 1.6-liter turbo-4, the Santa Fe Hybrid gets a unique 6-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel-drive. Then a small 13-kW starter/generator and a larger 44-kW drive motor are added into the mix for a total output of 226-horsepower. Like most modern hybrids, it’s basically imperceptible that you’re driving a hybrid; and it seems much quieter in operation than the non-hybrid Santa Fe.
And, that’s not all that’s new, as in addition to the hybrid powertrain, all ’21 Santa Fe’s are significantly updated inside and out. Still 5-passenger only, but there is a new front end featuring the Palisade’s big bold grille; in fact all of the changes, both up front and in back, favor the Santa Fe’s larger sibling.
Even more so inside; Hyundai exquisitely upgrading the things you touch and see the most. There’s even more here that reminds you of the Palisade; the high-rising center console with electronic gear selector, dash-top 10-inch infotainment screen, and 12-inch digital gauge cluster. All of the added hybrid mechanicals are smartly packaged so there’s no loss of cargo space; still 36.4 cubic-ft. in the cargo area, expanding to 72.1 with rear seatbacks folded.
Now, there are a few hybrids that have a performance bent to them; not so much here, this one is all about fuel economy. Though unlike some competitors, Hyundai’s HTRAC all-wheel-drive system is a full mechanical system, rather than relying on electric motors to power the rear wheels.
Smart drive mode prioritizes fuel economy, only sending as much as 20% of the power rearward, while Sport mode allows for as much as 50%. Government Fuel Economy Ratings are 33-City, 30-Highway, and 32-Combined; we hyper-miled our way to 34.6 miles-per-gallon of Regular. That’s a much better than average Energy Impact Score, using just 10.3-barrels of oil yearly with CO2 emissions of 4.7-tons.
So, we weren’t expecting a whole lot at our test track. But, it actually jumped off the line with respectable haste, thanks to the all-wheel-drive grip and battery assistance; though things settle down just as quickly, and it’s a slower stroll to 60 of 8.5-seconds. The relaxed pace is matched by a quiet cabin and smooth unhurried shifts from the transmission; but the lack of CVT engine drone is a real bonus. ¼-mile completed in 16.4-seconds at 88 miles-per-hour.
With the Santa Fe not at all posing as a performance utility, we weren’t surprised by the amount of body roll through our cone course. But we were surprised at how much fun it was, thanks to a very predictable, easy to control nature, and heavy steering feel.
Available in most the same trims as the non-hybrid as well as a unique one, Santa Fe Hybrid pricing starts at $34,835. Those looking for even more battery assistance will be happy to know a Plug-in Hybrid is also available now in limited markets.
Hyundai is quietly becoming a leader in hybrid vehicles; but besides that, the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid is just a fantastic vehicle overall. And one that will take you farther on a tank of gas than any Hyundai SUV before it.
Engine: 1.4L Turbo-4
Torque: 258 lb-ft
0-60 mph: 8.5 seconds
1/4 Mile: 16.4 seconds at 88 mph
Fuel Economy: 33 City / 30 Highway / 32 Combined
MotorWeek Test Loop: 34.6 mpg