The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe hybrid compact SUV looks terrific inside and out, but its improvements are largely skin deep, particularly the new hybrid drivetrain that trails competitors by several miles per gallon.
The Santa Fe was one of the vehicles that led Hyundai’s evolution from a mediocre brand that sold largely on the basis of price to a stylish and advanced brand that appealed to smart buyers. It’s one of Hyundai’s most important vehicles and popular with buyers.
The 2021 model got what automakers call a “midcycle” update. Those are usually dismissible — a bit of new chrome here, a new upholstery pattern there — just enough to prop up sales until a new model arrives in a year or two.
This year’s Santa Fe deserves more attention, thanks to the addition of hybrid and plug-in hybrid models, redesigned cockpit and new infotainment systems.
Hybrid and conventionally powered versions of the 2021 Santa Fe are on sale now. The plug-in hybrid is scheduled to arrive later this year.
The Santa Fe competes with SUVs, including the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Jeep Compass, Kia Sorento, Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4 and VW Tiguan. Surprisingly in such a popular class of vehicles, hybrids are rather scarce. In addition to the Santa Fe, only the Escape, CR-V, Sorento and RAV4 offer hybrids.
Prices for the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe hybrid start at $33,650 for a base model. All-wheel-drive, a 1.6L gasoline engine, electric motor and six-speed automatic transmission are standard.
I tested the up-level hybrid model, a Santa Fe Limited. Prices for it start at $39,950, but the Limited has a long list of standard features, including:
- 19-inch alloy wheels
- Leather-trimmed seats
- Heated and ventilated front seats
- 8-way power driver seat
- Memory for driver settings
- Panoramic sunroof
- Rain-sensing wipers
- Harman Kardon audio
- Wireless charging
- Wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- 10.25-inch touch screen
- Bluetooth compatibility
- 60/40-split folding rear seats
- 12.3-inch digital-imaging instrument cluster
The Santa Fe Limited I tested had one option: $155 carpeted floor mats. It stickered at $40,105. All prices exclude destination.
The Santa Fe Limited hybrid’s price compares well to similarly equipped competitors.
The 2021 Santa Fe has a new face, with a wider grille and T-shaped LED lights up front. The Santa Fe has a long roofline and sharp shoulder creases running from front to rear. Combined with the SUV’s 188.4-inch length and 108.0-inch wheelbase — both among the largest in its segment — they give the Santa Fe a substantial look. Other exterior changes for 2021 include an optional 20-inch alloy wheel, redesigned roof rails and power-folding side mirrors with turn signal indicators and puddle lamps.
If the exterior looks top of its class, the interior of the Limited model I tested felt like it came from a luxury brand. The dash and doors are covered in soft, grained materials, including a persuasive faux-suede headliner. The Nappa leather seats have diamond quilting, a floating center console with added storage and the center stack features new controls for audio, climate and shifter. The high resolution gauge cluster is attractive and legible.
The base touch screen grew an inch, from 2020’s 7 to 8.
An optional 10.25-inch side screen looks good and comes with the upgraded infotainment system, but oddly does not offer wireless Apple CarPlay, which comes standard with the smaller screen and less advanced infotainment system. I would’ve liked quicker responses from the big touch screen, but I can’t speak to how that compares with the 8-inch.
The interior is roomy and comfortable. Rear leg and head room are excellent and cargo space is among the best in its class.
2021 Hyundai Santa Fe hybrid safety and driver assistance
Front collision alert and assistance, including pedestrian and cyclist detection and junction-turning alert
Reverse automatic emergency braking
Navigation-based adaptive cruise control
Remote parking assist
Blind spot and cross traffic alert
Bird’s-eye view cameras
Automatic high beams
Ultrasonic rear passenger alert
Lane-following and highway assist
Parking distance alert
The Santa Fe’s hybrid system is unobtrusive the automatic engine stop and restart at traffic lights is quick and smooth. The system blends power regeneration and conventional braking effectively for intuitive deceleration and stops.
The Santa Fe hybrid comes with a 1.6L turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a single electric motor. Hyundai estimates total system power at 225 hp. That beats hybrid versions of the Escape, CR-V and RAV4, but the Santa Fe doesn’t feel particularly quick.
Perhaps that, and the disappointing fuel economy, is because of the Santa Fe Hybrid’s use of a six-speed automatic transmission. Most hybrids use a continuously variable automatic transmission, and even the all-gasoline versions of the 2021 Santa Fe get eight-speed automatics.
The Santa Fe Limited hybrid scored estimated EPA fuel economy of 33 mpg in the city, 30 on the highway and 32 in combined driving. The key combined figure is a 8 mpg lower than the all-wheel-drive hybrid Escape and RAV4, 6 mpg below the CR-V. It’s even 5 mpg worse than the Kia Sorento hybrid, the Santa Fe’s corporate cousin, which has the same engine and transmission. Even the entry-level Santa Fe Blue hybrid trails every hybrid but the Santa Fe Limited, with a projected 34 mpg combined fuel economy
Worst-in-class fuel economy is a significant drawback for a new hybrid. The 2021 Santa Fe hybrid will have to count on its looks, room and value to offset that.
2021 Hyundai Santa Fe hybrid at a glance
Base price: $33,410
All-wheel 5-passenger SUV
Specifications as tested
Model Tested: Santa Fe hybrid Limited
Price as tested: $40,105
On sale now
Powerplant: 1.6L turbocharged four-cylinder engine and electric motor
Output: Total system estimated at 225 hp
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy estimate: 33 mpg city/30 highway/32 combined. Regular fuel
EPA estimated annual fuel cost: $1,450
Wheelbase: 108.9 inches
Length: 188.4 inches
Width: 74.8 inches
Height: 67.3 inches with roof rails
Curb weight: 4,204 pounds
Passenger volume: NA
Cargo volume: 36.4 cubic feet behind rear seat; 72.1 with second row folded
Assembled in Ulsan, Korea