Last year, Hyundai announced that a refresh was coming for the 2021 Santa Fe with updated styling inside and out, new in-car tech, and most notably, the first-ever hybrid powertrain for the model. As part of the automaker's aggressive electrification plan, Santa Fe customers will soon be able to choose from a gas-powered, Hybrid (HEV), or Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV) SUV later this year. We got the inside scoop on all the changes during a virtual meeting with the Hyundai team. See what you can expect from the new Santa Fe Hybrid and PHEV and how these vehicles stack up to competitors in the hybrid SUV segment.
Fresh Design and Lighting Signature
The most notable changes for the refreshed Santa Fe are made to the front fascia. Hyundai gives the Santa Fe an aggressive and bold look with a wider horizontal 3D grille which strays from the automaker's signature cascading grille seen on other vehicles. The new grille is highlighted by a unique LED T-Shaped light design which gives the Santa Fe a sinister look as it approaches.
Hyundai gives the Santa Fe a rugged, yet refined profile with scalloped lower door panels and sharp shoulder creases that connect the front and rear LED lights. The Santa Fe rides on newly designed alloy wheels with a 20-inch alloy wheel option. The rear of the SUV follows the sculpted design of the front and profile for a continuous flow around the entire vehicle. From the back, the Santa Fe looks lower and wider thanks to a lower full-length reflector and rear diffuser.
Premium Interior with Upgraded Tech
Inside the cabin, the refreshed Santa Fe evokes an upscale and modern aesthetic. A high console and floating center console design create a premium and spacious feel for the driver. Premium materials are found throughout the cabin including soft Nappa leather-trimmed seats, soft-touch padding, and a large panoramic sunroof. Not only does the cabin feel more spacious, but there's also more tangible cargo space post-refresh. The rear cargo area volume increases by one-half cubic foot.
The Santa Fe's tech gets an upgrade with a larger 8-inch audio display and a larger 10.25-inch widescreen navigation display. There's also a new segment-leading 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster display added for 2021. Drivers will now have access to dynamic voice recognition, wireless charging, and remote Smart Park Assist.
Electrified Performance: Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid
The styling and technology updates are substantial, but the big news for the Santa Fe is what's hidden under the skin. As the first Hyundai Hybrid SUV, the Santa Fe will come with an all-new 1.6L turbo engine with a 6AT in its Hybrid and PHEV models. Hyundai's TMED architecture (Transmission Mounted Electric Device) is specifically designed to increase powertrain performance for SUVs.
The Hybrid model will arrive for the 2021 model year, pairing a 177-horsepower 1.6T 4-cylinder with a 60-horsepower electric motor for a total horsepower of 226. The PHEV will be sold as a 2022 model, pairing the 1.6T engine with a 13.8 kWh battery and electric motor for a total of 260 horsepower. Both the Hybrid and PHEV models come with Standard HTRAC All-Wheel Drive with 3 drive modes including Normal, Smart, and Sport. The Santa Fe HEV will get a combined fuel economy of 34 mpg, while the PHEV gets 33 mpg and an all-electric range estimated at 30 MPGe.
How Does the Santa Fe Hybrid Stack Up?
The Hyundai Santa Fe HEV and PHEV join the rapidly growing field of electrified crossovers. The HEV will compete with the Toyota Venza HEV, Toyota RAV4 HEV, Honda CR-V HEV, and Ford Escape HEV, while the Plug-in model will go up against the Toyota RAV4 PHEV, Ford Escape PHEV, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, and Subaru Crosstrek PHEV.
Using the performance specs Hyundai provided, we wanted to see how the Sante Fe will do up against some of the competitors (at least on paper). The new Toyota Venza comes with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and two electric motors for a combined 219 horsepower. It gets all-wheel drive, and a continuously variable automatic (CVT). Although the Santa Fe HEV is more powerful, the Venza is more efficient. According to EPA estimates, the 2021 Venza gets 40 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway.
The comparison to the Honda CR-V Hybrid tells a similar story. The CR-V HEV gets a two-motor hybrid system which includes a 2.0-liter DOHC Atkinson Cycle engine, generator/starter motor, and propulsion motor for a combined 212 horsepower. The CR-V Hybrid is EPA rated for 40 / 35 mpg (City/Highway) beating the Santa Fe's mpg.
What if we put the Santa Fe PHEV's specs up against the 2021 Ford Escape PHEV? The Santa Fe once again wins in the power race with its 260 combined horsepower. The Escape PHEV is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired to a hybrid system with a rechargeable battery for a total output of 221 horsepower. A 14.4-kWh battery pack gives the Escape PHEV an EPA-estimated 37 miles of electric-only driving which tops the Santa Fe PHEV's estimate.
The Hyundai Santa Fe HEV will hit dealerships in the spring of 2021, followed by the PHEV which will arrive in the summer of 2021 as a 2022 model. In addition to the hybrid powertrains, the Santa Fe is available with a gas-powered base 2.5-liter inline-four engine and a new turbo 2.5-liter inline-four.