2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Limited AWD Review

You've come a long way, baby


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Refined exterior and interior styling, good driving manners, solid build quality, very quiet inside, smooth gas/electric operation, upscale materials.
Negatives: Not as quick as the gas version, unimpressive efficiency compared to competitors.
Bottom Line: The Santa Fe Hybrid might not be the most efficient hybrid crossover out there, but it drives well, looks and feels like it costs way more, and has ample space for a family of five. It's one of our favorite crossovers for sale today.
The Hyundai Santa Fe has changed tremendously over the past few years. It has been redesigned, refreshed, had its trim names changed, had its third row chopped from the set, and added a new hybrid powertrain. Shoppers may not realize it, but it shares a platform with the redesigned Kia Sorento, and that vehicle has also received a new hybrid powertrain, the same one found here (the Santa Fe makes 2 fewer horses). The 178-hp turbo four gets mated with a 59-hp electric motor for a total of 225 horses. We drove the Limited-trimmed hybrid for a week. Read our full review below.
 

Driving Experience

7.5

 

Most mainstream hybrid crossovers aren't especially compelling when it comes to driving excitement, so we usually settle for competent. That's where the Santa Fe Hybrid comfortably rests on the scale. It's quick enough to do what's needed, and it certainly rides very nice. We just wish the turbo lag wasn't as bad.

Ride Quality: The Santa Fe is a smooth operator. It manages undulating pavement really well, and dampening is very good. The only time it feels a little slappy is over big pavement gaps while turning, but it's not terrible.

Acceleration: 0-60 comes in 7.5 seconds. While that's not especially quick, it's also not the worst in the segment. It has similar turbo lag off the line as the Kia Sorento Hybrid we tested, and that aspect is annoying.

Braking: The combination regen and traditional brakes aren't bad at all, and we had no trouble bringing the vehicle to a stop with good pedal progression.

Steering: Steering lacks feedback, but turn-in is responsive. We'd like to see more effort since it's on the light side.

Handling: The Santa Fe manages its weight pretty well. There's a modium of body roll, which isn't unexpected for a family crossover, but it's not overwhelming.

Technology

8.4

 

In-car tech for the Santa Fe Hybrid Limited is very good. The digital instrument cluster is wonderful and changes appropriately depending on the drive mode you select. The infotainment system also looks great but could be improved in terms of response to inputs.

Infotainment System: Hyundai makes a great infotainment system that looks good and is easy to navigate. It's not overly complex like most other systems, and they don't rely on too many colors to make things confusing. Our only issue was the responsiveness of the system. The 10.25" landscape-oriented touchscreen looks great and is plenty big.

Controls: The buttons and knobs for climate and audio on the center console are some of the best in the segment, and controls are nicely knurled for great control. We're glad the haptic feedback version in the new Tucson isn't present here, only good ol' physical controls. We don't like the responsiveness of the pushbutton transmission, but it's one of the better systems out there.

Styling

8.7

 

The 2019 redesign of the Santa Fe didn't last long, and we don't blame Hyundai for refreshing it two years in. That crossover looked good but not all that distinct in a highly competitive segment. This one goes upscale inside and out, and the result is a vehicle that turns heads. The good thing is that the refreshed Santa Fe, the redesigned Tucson, the three-row Palisade all look very different from each other.

Front: Yes, the grille is huge now, but it looks quite good with the sophisticated mesh pattern and the thin DRLs and the big integrated headlight units built into the outer edges of the grille. It also helps that the lower grille isn't overly complicated.

Rear: Not much has changed about the back end during the refresh, but the chrome bar that joined the taillights is now an LED strip. The lower valence has changed with a long single reflector strip across the back.

Profile: The Santa Fe manages to pull off both a rugged and refined look with great body creasing and chunky fenders. We don't love the Hybrid's complex wheels, but at least they look sporty with their thick five-spoke pattern.

Cabin: The Santa Fe's cabin is unequivocally beautiful thanks to the floating center consolem, the layered dash, and the gorgeous quilted leather seats that look like they belong in a European luxury car.

Comfort

9

 

There's a lot to love about the Santa Fe's interior. It has improved with each generation, and the current Santa Fe in Limited trim is on par with premium brands. The material quality is excellent, and the second row is truly spacious for tall adults.

Front Seats: We loved the seats in our tester. The quilted leather is well-padded, and the seats were very supportive.

Rear Seats: There's a spacious 41.7 inches of rear legroom here, which means a six-footer can sit behind another six-footer without a problem.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The cabin is hushed thanks to a good amount of sound deadening. Wind and road noise are kept to a minimum. The build quality is also solid with no errant noises.

Visibility: There are no overly thick pillars on the Santa Fe, and the seating position also helps. We had no problem adjusting for the right sightlines out the front.

Climate: The Santa Fe's climate system works really well, and the large vents in the dash moved big air volumes with no problem. We also loved the heated/ventilated seats that were quick to operate, and the controls are well-placed, too.

Safety

9

 

The Santa Fe is one of the safest small crossovers on the road today with excellent crash test scores, as well as a comprehensive set of safety technology features that put it at the top of the heap.

IIHS Rating: It earned the Top Safety Pick rating, just shy of the top award. It received "good" in all crash tests but received mixed ratings of headlight performance, depending on trim. LATCH ease of use received an "acceptable".

NHTSA Rating: Not tested.

Standard Tech: The Hybrid Limited trim tester came standard with Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist w/ Pedestrian Detection, Blind-Spot Collision-Avoidance Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision-Avoidance Assist, Lane Keeping Assist & Lane Following Assist, Ultrasonic Rear Occupant Alert, High Beam Assist, Smart Cruise Control w/ Stop & Go, Rear View Monitor, Lane Following Assist, and Highway Drive Assist.

Optional Tech: None.

Storage/Cargo

8.7

 

Even with the stylish interior, the Santa Fe Hybrid has thoughtful spaces for in-cabin storage, and the rear cargo section has ample amounts of space, along with a flat load floor.

Storage Space: The center console has two large cupholders, a big tray, and a deep rectangular binnacle. The armrest is also-well sized, as are the door pockets. There's even a long shelf in the dash for smaller items. Everything's in reach, too.

Cargo Room: The hybrid has the same cargo space as the gas version, which is great. It has 36.4 cubic feet behind row two and 72.1 with the seats folded flat. That's bigger than the Ford Escape and the Toyota RAV4 but a tad smaller than the new Nissan Rogue.

Fuel Economy

7

 

Surprisingly, the Hybrid trim doesn't fare as well as the competition. Even the three-row Highlander Hybrid gets better gas mileage, and it has more space. The Santa Fe Hybrid is rated at 32 combined, but the Highlander Hybrid gets 35. Our numbers in combined driving conditions were lower than we expected.

Observed: 26.2 mpg.

Distance Driven: 184 miles.

Audio

8.8

 

The premium Harman Kardon system is great, and it's even better because it comes as standard equipment on the Limited trim. The sound is excellent, and there's plenty of bass and good clarity.



Final Thoughts

If you're not looking for the most efficient hybrid crossover but still want something that's a little bit better than conventional gas, you'd be hard-pressed to go wrong with the Santa Fe Hybrid. In base trim, there's a rather large $6,450 price difference between the two and only an 8 mpg delta. That number isn't hard, either, so you have to consider if it's worth it. The Santa Fe in gas or hybrid Limited trim is superb inside and out, however, and anyone will be as pleased as punch to drive it and sit in it for hours at a time. Regardless of which one you choose, Hyundai has made a truly premium crossover for a non-premium price.
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