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2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid review: Big, bold, and value-packed

Mid-cycle refreshes are the times when automakers polish an existing model to keep them competitive. Some are more extensive than others and in the case of the Hyundai Santa Fe, it was a thorough one. This popular crossover is on a new platform shared with the latest Sonata and Tucson, and it has a revamped range of powertrain options including a hybrid and plug-in hybrid. We got our hands on the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid to see where the electrified version without the plug stands.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid exterior

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid rear three quarters 03
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

The Hyundai Santa Fe was already one of the most distinctive vehicles in its segment and that gets amplified thanks to the refresh. While the upright greenhouse remains, the crossover gets big changes to its front and rear fascia. Its headlights are now integrated with the grille, creating an angry maw that results in a divisive look that you’re not mistaking for anything else. The split LED daytime running lights up top remains but it now forms a T shape that splits the two projectors on the main headlight cluster. Hyundai also reshaped the taillights, giving them an angular appearance and connecting them with a single red accent strip. If you’re looking for hints at the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid’s electrified nature, you’ll find the only hybrid badge on the tailgate.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid interior

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid dash 01
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Changes for the refreshed Santa Fe aren’t limited to the outside because the cabin got a major overhaul. The center stack is now reminiscent of the larger Palisade and you get more storage for small items. There’s a cubby under the center console and a handy slot for your smartphone with an integrated wireless charger to the left of one of the cup holders. Hybrid models get slightly less underfloor storage in the back because the 12-volt battery takes up some of the space.

Thanks to its size and flat floor, the Santa Fe Hybrid easily accommodates five adults and their gear. Even with all the seats up, cargo capacity is generous and you can recline and slide the rear seats for added flexibility. Fold the second row via the levers in the cargo area and you get a flat load floor and a squared-off space for bulky items. Rear doors that open to nearly 90 degrees make getting in and out of the Santa Fe a cinch and it’s easy to load things like baby seats.

One of the highlights of the Santa Fe Hybrid’s interior is the build quality, which encroaches into luxury car territory. Everything you touch feels expensive and there’s a lot of softly padded surfaces on touchpoints. The controls are satisfying to use and have a nice click every time you push a button or turn a knob. Touches like the headliner and sun visors made of woven material and diamond patterns on the seats make the cabin feel special. In most driving situations, the cabin stays quiet. However, there’s a lot of wind noise on the highway. Additional sound-deadening would help keep everything hushed at higher speeds.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid tech features

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid dash 02
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

The Santa Fe Hybrid retains a more conventional infotainment system with physical controls. As a result, it’s easier and more intuitive than the newer unit found in the Tucson, which has capacitive buttons. The main 10.25-inch touch screen is responsive, quick, and its layout doesn’t bury everything in layer after layer of submenus. Upper trims get a 12-speaker Harman Kardon audio system that sounds good and are reasonably clear. However, the volume doesn’t increase consistently, requiring you to turn it up quite high to get an even distribution throughout the cabin.

Hyundai’s latest driver assistance features are among the better ones in the Santa Fe’s segment. The collision prevention technologies work subtly and don’t jerk you back when you start to drift out of your lane. Highway Driving Assist bundles together adaptive cruise control, traffic jam assist, lane centering, and steering assist. Together, they allow the Santa Fe Hybrid to seamlessly follow traffic flow and will even help you navigate gentle turns on the highway. The distancing component does a great job of maintaining the gap set between you and the vehicle ahead. It’ll also brake when someone cuts you off or traffic ahead slows down.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid driving impressions

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid side 01
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

The best way to describe the Santa Fe Hybrid’s driving experience is calm and serene. It rides comfortably and glides down the road confidently without getting floaty. You barely feel any imperfection and harsh impacts because the suspension soaks them up nicely. Even with 19-inch alloy wheels, the Santa Fe Hybrid remains cushy. Good body control and light, accurate steering keeps it from feeling tipsy; this makes it predictable through turns and prevents it from feeling unwieldy. The Santa Fe Hybrid also has brake-based torque vectoring, allowing it to slow down the inner wheel when turning to keep it stable and track toward the driver’s intended path.

Building on the Santa Fe Hybrid’s chill demeanor is its powertrain. The 1.6-liter turbo-four gets paired to a 49-hp electric motor, a 1.49-kWh battery, and a six-speed automatic transmission. In total, the system makes 226 hp. Unlike in the smaller Tucson Hybrid, the version found in the Santa Fe Hybrid is more relaxed with its power delivery, adding to its comfort-oriented vibe. Despite weighing over two tons, the Santa Fe Hybrid gets out of its way without any fuss. Passing, merging, and climbing steep grades aren’t an issue thanks to the engine’s generous midrange torque and instant response from the electric motor. The gearbox doesn’t hesitate when you ask for more power. Hyundai did a great job smoothing out its parallel hybrid system, too. You don’t notice any shifts when the Santa Fe Hybrid is in EV mode and it seamlessly transitions between its multiple types of operation.

Unlike its closest competitor, the Toyota Venza, the Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid’s standard AWD system is mechanical. That means there’s a drive shaft connecting the front and rear axles. When you put your foot down, you don’t sense any bias to the front wheels. The powertrain immediately distributes torque between the four wheels to maximize traction for bad weather conditions or allow the crossover to grip the road better when you’re driving in a spirited manner. In addition to sharpening the throttle response and tightening the steering, Sport mode also makes the AWD system send more power to the rear, which is most apparent when accelerating from a standstill.

Braking performance is a standout in the Santa Fe Hybrid’s driving experience. Handoffs from regenerative to mechanical braking are impossible to detect, giving the crossover a natural feel. When you ease into the pedal, there’s no grabby sensation, enabling you to input the exact amount of stopping power and not get jolted during emergency stops. There’s not enough energy recuperation to bring the vehicle to a complete stop so it’s best to use regeneration to get down to city speeds when conditions allow.

For a vehicle that weighs over two tons, the Santa Fe Hybrid is surprisingly efficient. The EPA rates the base blue grade at 36/31/34 mpg city/highway/combined and the SEL and Limited trims at 33/30/32 mpg. However, those estimates trail the Venza, which checks in at 40/37/39 mpg.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid pricing

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid starts at $34,835 for the blue trim. Our test car was a range-topping Limited grade that costs $41,640. Like many of the latest Hyundai models, there aren’t any stand-alone options or packages to choose from; you simply pick the trim with the feature set you want. The range-topping model like our test car doesn’t come with any stand-alone factory options since it essentially comes with every single feature.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid final verdict

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid front three quarters 04
Photo credit: Stefan Ogbac / EV Pulse

Although value remains a key selling point, many other factors make the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid a compelling crossover. It brings comfort and space in spades, making it an excellent family vehicle for those that need extra space but don’t need three rows of seating. While it’s not as fuel-efficient as its nearest rival, the Toyota Venza, the Santa Fe makes up for it in practicality and an intuitive user interface. The fact that it’s also surprisingly luxurious adds to its overall appeal. Considering its mid-size dimensions and compact crossover pricing, Hyundai made sure the Santa Fe Hybrid had maximum consumer appeal. You’re not spending much to get what you want and Hyundai’s long warranties add even more value to a crossover that’s already checking a lot of boxes coming out of the gate. The question is, are you going to let the divisive exterior styling prevent you from putting one in your garage?

At a glance

  • Year: 2021
  • Make: Hyundai
  • Model: Santa Fe Hybrid
  • Trim: Limited
  • Type: 4-door mid-size two-row crossover
  • Combined output: 226 hp
  • MPG ratings (city/highway/combined): 33/30/32 (Blue: 36/31/34)
  • Pros: Cushy ride, luxury carlike build quality, user-friendly tech features
  • Cons: Love it or hate it exterior design, wind noise on the highway, lower fuel economy than its key competitor
  • Base price: $34,835
  • Price as tested: $41,640
Written by Stefan Ogbac
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