Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV – Luxurious and economical

The upgraded Hyundai Santa Fe, introduced by the automaker in 2021, has only just arrived in our newsroom for the first time, at the end of its model life. Currently, the Santa Fe is the largest Hyundai model that can officially be bought on the European market. So let’s take a look at the qualities of the plug-in hybrid variant, which is the imaginary top of the range.
The current generation of the car has already undergone a facelift a long time ago, but it could be boldly considered as a sort of transitional step to the new generation. In fact, the chassis platform has also changed and a 265bhp plug-in hybrid version has entered the range, which we tested during the past week.
The most striking part about the Santa Fe is undoubtedly the front end, which gets a wider and more robust grille, a modified lower bumper opening, distinctive chrome bezels and, last but not least, modified headlights with a unique light signature in the shape of the letter T. Meanwhile, the vertical portion of the LED strip extends into the headlights, which are already equipped with Bi-LED technology as standard.
Although these lights are quite a futuristic feature, they don’t offer any more intelligent features and so you can count on at most the ability to automatically switch from dim to high beam, which is quite a shame. Matrix headlights would certainly be deserved by such a luxury SUV.
The rear end is particularly striking with its redesigned and optically connected lamps, the reflector stretching across the entire rear bumper (no, it’s not a light strip) and also the redesigned shapes of the rear bumper, which has been given a more pronounced chrome finish and hides the exhaust tips, whereas the pre-facelift version wasn’t ashamed of them at all. There’s nothing special about the side profile, and the only interesting feature here is perhaps the thick chrome mouldings in the lower parts of the doors.
In as part of the Luxury Pack of extra equipment we can find here things like: radiator grille in dark chrome, semi-gloss trims around the side windows, fender trims, body-coloured wheel arches and lower bumper trims, dashboard with polished aluminium elements, Nappa leather seat upholstery, perforated leather-wrapped steering wheel, suede-covered headliner and sun visors, PCA parking collision avoidance assistant and RSPA remote intelligent parking assistant.
The interior delights with a special package that offers premium Nappa leather seat upholstery with diamond-shaped stitching, decorative interior trim and aluminum center console trim, suede upholstery for the pillars and ceiling, and LED interior lighting. Also standard are memory for driver’s seat and mirror adjustments, a driver’s seat with adjustable seat cushion length, a ventilated front seat system, a leather-wrapped perforated steering wheel or the RSPA remote-controlled autonomous parking and a 360° camera system for monitoring the vehicle’s surroundings SVM.
Technology-minded individuals will be pleased in the Santa Fe with, for example, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, a 10.25-inch infotainment system, a 10-speaker Krell audio system including an amplifier and subwoofer, or a heads-up display with information projected directly onto the windshield. Some might be intimidated by the flood of buttons on the center stack, but I don’t mind and I’m glad for them. The driver always has an overview of what’s where and doesn’t have to hunt around in the car’s on-board system for anything.
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There’s no shortage of interior space here, and the trunk with its stowed third row of seats has a large carrying capacity. In fact, the tested piece also received this extra packet and can easily fit small children up to about 130 cm in height, or in emergency mode, one adult. Finally, the interior space can be further enhanced by the optional panoramic sunroof, which I rather missed here.
In addition, the third row is connected to a separate air conditioning system, and there’s no shortage of USB charging ports or smaller storage compartments. The car also automatically gets a rear ground clearance system with this package, which is a big plus even if you never drive anyone there. In seven-seat configuration, though, the boot shrinks to an annoyingly small 130 litres. On the other hand, folding down the third and second rows of seats reveals a space of 1,649 litres. Those who occasionally tow a braked trailer should bear in mind that the plug-in hybrid version can only tow 1,350 kg, while the diesel can handle up to 2.5 tonnes. The most important aspect, however, is the powertrain, which is among the most powerful that can be procured for the current Santa Fe.
Under the hood of the plug-in hybrid Santa Fe operates a 1.6-liter Smartstream direct-injected, turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine, which is complemented by a permanent magnet synchronous electric motor. The internal combustion engine alone offers a peak power output of 132.2 kW and a peak torque of 265 Nm. The plug-in hybrid has an electric motor that offers a peak output of 66.9 kW and a respectable 304 Nm of torque.
This results in a system output of 195 kW (265 hp) at 5,500 rpm and a peak torque of 304 Nm between 1,500 and 4,500 rpm. Despite the higher paper power, however, the Santa Fe PHEV does not impress with excess power, as indicated by the fact that it accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 8.8 seconds and reaches a top speed of “only” 187 km/h. The weight of 2,080 to 2,187 kilograms, depending on the equipment, which was practically full on our car, can’t be too deceived.
The powertrain is mated to a conventional, hydrodynamic six-speed automatic, and power always travels through the HTRAC all-wheel-drive system, which helps with traction. The Santa Fe PHEV is primarily a rear-wheel drive vehicle on almost every run, and the all-wheel drive connects based on an electronics evaluation. This happens virtually instantaneously, so you’ll enjoy the 4×4 drive on a variety of surfaces, including cornering. The Santa Fe PHEV automatically launches into Eco mode, which thinks primarily about economy and, as with other modern vehicles with a focus on reducing emissions, limits the power onset quite sharply. Switching to SPORT mode, however, is a different story, and the big SUV can also drive quite nimbly around corners.
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Switching between the internal combustion engine and the electric motor, which even with a dead battery the Santa Fe tries to make the most of during, for example, coasting or slow shifts, was then completely smooth and seamless virtually all the time, much like the shifting of a six-speed automatic. What’s more, the powertrain is superbly soundproofed, as is the entire cabin. The combustion engine only really starts to make itself known at higher revs, especially when it needs to accelerate hard.
The Li-Pol battery has a capacity of 13.8 kWh and is stored under the passenger seat. On a full charge, I drove about 40 km with a lighter foot on the gas pedal. But once I forgot about some ecology, the battery lasted barely 25 km, which was especially true for short highway transfers. My average gas mileage was down after driving approx. 900km stopped at 3.8 liters per 100 km, which I consider a good result, but you have to add to it seven full charging cycles, during which the battery was slowly charged for more than 5 hours after each ride. The power of the on-board charger is a maximum of 3.3 kW, which is really too low for today’s standards. The smaller fuel tank, which holds only 47 litres of fuel, is also disappointing.
The powertrain tech works great and the interior treatment really keeps up with the premium competition. Even the combination of plug-in hybrid powertrain with all-wheel drive and seven-seat option is something you won’t find so easily in the competition. Ironically, then, the closest competitor is the Kia Sorento, which is based on the same Concorporation technology. The chassis is tuned comfortably, neither too hard nor too soft. It also handles bigger bumps and rutted roads very decently. However, there is a lack of recuperation adjustment when the throttle is released, and the car actually feels like it’s just gliding. There’s no adjustment for recuperation force, and the paddles under the steering wheel are solely for shifting the internal combustion engine’s gears.&nbsp
The Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV moves into the large SUV category with a plug-in hybrid powertrain. And since SUVs haven’t been performing the function of what they were originally created to do for a long time, it’s actually a good thing they’re getting an electric powertrain. After all, the majority of these giants take kids to daycares and schools in the morning and take up space in crowded city parking lots in the afternoon. A couple of times a year it’s taken on a family holiday, but most of the time it’s practically ‘around the chimney’ and that’s where a plug-in hybrid can make sense. The test vehicle was priced at €55,250 and you can buy a Santa Fe with this motorisation from €51 090. Of course, that’s not exactly low, but you’ll still be hard pressed to find a similarly capable, spacious and luxuriously equipped vehicle at this price level…