HYUNDAI is late to the party with its first hybrid SUV in Australia, the Santa Fe hybrid electric vehicle (HEV), which arrives in two models, Elite and Highlander in AWD only, priced from $63,000 plus on road costs. It joins various petrol and diesel Santa Fes in an extensive 2WD and AWD line up.
Group stablemate Kia has offered a choice of three hybrid Sorento large SUVs since earlier this year in HEV (with 2WD and AWD) and PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) with AWD albeit starting at a pricier $66,750 + ORC for the entry model.
Despite sharing much under the skin, buyers are getting a ‘deal’ with the Hyundai as it costs less and has AWD over the Kia though the Kia has a seven year warranty as opposed to the Hyundai’s five years.
This will be the last new Santa Fe variant before a completely new generation arrives in 2024 that is based on similar ICE architecture but assuredly with more electrically assisted variants available.
Inside and out, the Santa Fe hybrid looks nearly the same as other equivalent models save for the flat-faced, forged 19-inch alloys that are specified for lower drag and presumably to sustain the hybrid’s greater weight.
Using Hyundai’s ubiquitous 1.6-litre T-GDi Smartstream turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine assisted by a 44.2kW electric motor, which draws power from a 1.49kWh lithium-ion polymer battery, the Santa Fe hybrid delivers a combined 169kW of power and 350Nm of torque while achieving a claimed combined fuel economy rating of 6.0 litres/100km.
Drive to all four wheel wheels is through a revised six-speed automatic instead of the newer eight speed auto filtering through the brand’s range.
The AWD is Hyundai’s HTRAC system that apportions torque to each axle and wheel on demand according to input from sensors. It also has a locking function for more challenging surfaces.
Multiple driving modes are offered: Comfort, Sport, Eco and Smart. The latter is electronically controlled by sensing the driving style and conditions to optimise traction, comfort, stability, acceleration and fuel economy.
Additionally, the model has a choice of terrain driving modes – Snow, Mud or Sand – which apply specific settings for engine, braking control and torque vectoring.
Data for local dynamic calibration has been collated by Hyundai Australia such that the Namyang facility in South Korea can now carry out all necessary changes to suit Australian driving conditions.
It means the Santa Fe hybrid features a ‘unique’ suspension tune developed in Namyang and proven locally across the full spectrum of challenging Australian city, highway, country and gravel roads.
“This is our first-ever turbo-petrol Santa Fe and of course our first hybrid SUV, so it’s quite an exciting proposition for us,” said Hyundai Motor Company Australia product development manager Tim Rodgers.
“The petrol/electric powertrain obviously changes the mass at the front, and with the battery in the rear, and all-wheel drive, Santa Fe Hybrid has a specific weight distribution, which in turn called for a specific chassis tune.’
Both hybrid models are equipped with range-wide standard equipment including an extensive SmartSense active safety and driver assist tech suite, Apple CarPlay and Android auto smartphone mirroring, wireless phone charging and LED headlights and DRLs.
Also standard across the range is a rearview camera, rear park distance warning, tyre pressure monitoring, and air-conditioning outlets for all three rows of seats.
Hybrid variants get leather upholstery, smart key with push-button start, shift by wire, front parking distance warning and safe exit assist systems, and automatic dual-zone climate control.
The Elite has Harman Kardon premium audio, rear occupant alert, powered and heated front seats, ‘smart’ power tailgate, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, 10.25-inch navigation unit featuring DAB+ digital radio and a rear occupant alert system.
Range-topping Highlander trim steps up with Nappa leather upholstery, driver’s seat position memory, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear outboard seats, a heated steering wheel, and a panoramic glass sunroof.
Additional safety kit includes parking collision-avoidance assist-reverse system, blind-spot view and surround view monitors, a head-up display and remote smart parking assist.
Besides the hybrid-specific 19-inch alloy wheels, both have minor styling differences compared to petrol and diesel models, as well as the six-seat option with second-row captain’s seats available with Highlander in lieu of seven seats.
In the metal, Santa Fe Hybrid is attractive to look at from all angles; perhaps not as masculine and squared-off as its Kia Sorento stablemate but nevertheless a good looker.
The impression continues inside, with large digital screens and subdued styling to the dash and fascia enhanced by supple leather upholstery with highlight inserts.
Hyundai provided an unusually long drive program for the Santa Fe Hybrid, covering almost 1000km of mixed city, country and motorway driving.
It was a good representation of what owners will undertake and demonstrated the benefits of a hybrid drive system.
Access is easy through wide and high door apertures and the ride height isn’t too high.
Both models offer comfortable seating, with the middle captain’s seats in the Highlander optimal for long-distance travelling.
Power from the petrol-electric driveline is never lacking and is readily available with minimal lag thanks to the electric traction motor engaging to deliver immediate response.
The diminutive 1.6-litre turbo-petrol engine is audible when full throttle is applied, remaining so until the right foot is lifted.
Multiple drive modes provide a choice of vehicle responses from relatively relaxed through to frenetic. The driver can amp it up further by utilising Santa Fe hybrid’s paddle-shifters, although these are sometimes overridden at the vehicle’s discretion.
Cruising is accomplished in near silence with minimal noise intrusion from the usual areas of tyres, exterior mirrors and engine.
The Santa Fe Hybrid sits on the road well through corners taken at speed without excessive body roll, backed up by strong braking and grippy tyres.
However, over-active driver assist technology tends to intrude when you may not want or expect it, applying the brakes or steering halfway around a corner when swerving to avoid a pothole or crossing a road marking line without applying the indicators to achieve the same.
Driving on dirt roads is punctuated by random application of individual brakes in concert with steering intervention if the vehicle decides driving parameters are being exceeded.
It can be annoying to say the least as the Santa Fe lurches and props in tune to sensors that detect a touch of slip here, a bit of drift there or a big rut or road defect they don’t like.
This prompts the question as to what information was used to calibrate the vehicle… real world? Hyundai says so.
However, on the extremely badly potholed back road from Nowra to Canberra, the Santa Fe proved to be a handy, fast and safe tool easily avoiding most of the bad bits and if unavoidable, soaking up some fairly nasty road irregularities without flinching.
It has plenty of grunt underfoot for rapid overtaking and on the other side of the coin, delivers a serene, luxury drive feel if desired and everything in between.
The Harman Kardon audio is epic and the generous amount of luxury features in both hybrid variants adds significantly to travel comfort.
After zeroing the fuel consumption reading at the start of the drive, it was interesting to see the average rate drop but only to a best of 7.9L/100km and that was in mixed driving. It claws back tenths on long downhill runs but eats them up on the other side. Perhaps a larger battery and more powerful electric motor would make a worthy improvement.
Both models were driven and the pragmatist would go for the lower-cost Elite as differentiation between the two is negligible, unless you really want those captain’s chairs.
One potential major downside is that the Santa Fe Hybrid tows a maximum 1650kg, which is useful but falls short of petrol and diesel variants, not to mention a major competitor, Toyota’s Kluger Hybrid, at 2000kg.
Sometimes, those extra kilos make all the difference.