Being the middle child is never fun, but the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid makes the most of it. Hanging out between the three-row Palisade and its ever-so-slightly smaller Tucson sibling, the Santa Fe relies on a fancier approach to family-friendliness in order to justify its existence, and a new hybrid powertrain gives people another reason to check out this midsizer, as well.
- Lots of standard features
- Comfortable ride
- Great in-car tech
- Just-OK fuel economy
- Not that different from more interesting Tucson Hybrid
The Santa Fe and Palisade rely on many of the same design staples, which is very much a good thing. The Santa Fe is a handsome midsize SUV. Its maw may be a little big for some people's tastes, but I think it integrates well with split-level headlights and various pieces of silver trim on the lower part of the body. It's handsome enough to earn a compliment or two without going too hard in the styling paint, which is more of the Tucson's arena. And now that hybrids are offered across nearly all of Hyundai's lineup, you're not going to find any garish brightwork signaling electrification; it's as normal as any other crossover out there.
The Santa Fe Hybrid's interior really ramps up the plushness. My Limited-trim tester rings in at $41,290 including $1,185 for destination, and despite hovering around the average new-car transaction price in 2021, it should make families feel like they've moved up a class. The leather seats are comfortable and supportive, and they're both heated and cooled. Soft materials cover all the relevant touch points, and build quality is high all-around. The textured finish of the front door speaker grilles might be my favorite part.
An electronic push-button shifter hangs out on a center console that rides kind of high, but it makes room for a positively cavernous storage cubby underneath. If that's not enough, there's a sizable pocket under the center armrest, and the door cards are deep enough for extra bottles, masks, snacks, you name it. Another clever touch here is the wireless phone charger, which you slot your phone into vertically, preventing it from sliding around and losing connection while driving. Out back, there's an ample 36.4 cubic feet of cargo space, which is on par with the outgoing Jeep Grand Cherokee, and it's light years ahead of the Chevy Blazer and Toyota Venza, but the Honda Passport has it beat with a shade over 50 cubes behind the second row.
Plush driving at a cost
The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid doesn't just look fancy, it feels it, too. The first thing I notice is how dang quiet the interior is at speed. Even over some of Michigan's gnarlier roads, the Santa Fe Hybrid permits very few aural annoyances into the cabin, and those that do make it inside come largely from the powertrain on the other side of the firewall. The ride quality is superb, with fixed dampers mitigating all but the harshest road surfaces, keeping up that luxury-adjacent feeling.
Under the Santa Fe Hybrid's hood is the same hybrid-electric powertrain that can be found in the slightly smaller Tucson Hybrid. A 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine combines with an electric motor to produce a net 226 horsepower, which is fed to all four wheels (standard!) through a six-speed automatic transmission. This powertrain isn't going to win any awards for sound quality, coming off a little tractor-ish for my taste, but there's a sufficient amount of forward motion on tap. Off-the-line acceleration feels potent thanks to that electric motor, and I can barely feel the transfer from electric to ICE propulsion. It only really trips up when I try to leave a stop sign too quickly, as the powertrain takes an extra couple of ticks to figure out what it wants to do. The Santa Fe Hybrid does come with a mode switch, but I find the car at its best when everything is left in its default state.
The powertrain will do a great job acclimating families to the hybrid life, but fuel economy leaves a bit to be desired. The EPA estimates the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid's hydrocarbon thrift at 33 mpg city, 30 mpg highway and 32 mpg combined. That's better than gas-only competitors will muster, but it pales in comparison to the crossover's primary competitor, the Toyota Venza, which can achieve 40 mpg in the city and 37 on the highway.
Hyundai has long offered one of my favorite infotainment systems, and its latest iteration in the 2021 Santa Fe Hybrid only makes it better. A 10.3-inch display rises from the center of the dashboard, carrying the latest version of Hyundai's telematics, which has been reskinned to match the latest from sister brand Genesis. The result is more visually appealing, with a minimalist home screen and a menu page that puts all the important stuff within reach.and are, as you may expect, standard across the lineup. A second screen resides in the gauge cluster, providing the usual speedometer and hybrid power meter, in addition to a configurable portion that lets me monitor fuel economy, hybrid system operation, what's playing on the radio, the usual.
Korean automakers have standardized a long list of active and passive safety systems, and the Santa Fe Hybrid keeps that going. Standard kit includes forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist and full-speed adaptive cruise control. Highway Drive Assist combines some of these features to hold the vehicle in its lane at the pace of traffic, and as far as hands-on systems go, it's a good one, controlling its position well without swaying or bouncing about.
Down to brass tacks
At $41,290 out the door, the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid is pretty darn affordable for something this fancy, even more so when you consider the base model can be had for a hair under $35,000. While gas-powered competitors abound, from the Chevy Blazer to the Honda Passport, its primary electrified competitor is the Toyota Venza, which has the Hyundai beat on fuel economy and overall luxuriousness, and the two are pretty evenly matched on price. It is, however, styled like a glass of room-temperature milk. There's also the matter of the Hyundai Tucson Hybrid, which gives up a tiny bit of space inside and out, but it has more evocative styling, presenting a case where a car's biggest competitor might be calling from inside the house.
The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid is totally worth your time. While the efficiency could be better, a smooth powertrain and a posh stature have the makings for quite the value play in its price range, offering families a great way to ease into electrification.