Caraganza Review 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid: Ignorance is bliss indeed


Some say that knowledge is power, while others that ignorance is bliss. I like to think that both could be applied in different situations. Like skydiving for example: If you have the proper knowledge, you’d know where and how to pull the ripcord, if you were ignorant, I guess you’d have a great view for all but the last few moments.

This same philosophy can work very well for cars. Truth is I’ve never been a fan of the evolution of hybrids, electrics and such. Sure, we need to save Mother Earth, but I didn’t think I’d ever be all on-board with it.

Hyundai is working hard to change my mind.

It’s already been firmly established that Hyundai makes very good cars. All types, sedans, hatchbacks, compacts and SUVs.

Like the rest of the world, Hyundai is also all in on the hybrid, plug-in market and even the all-electric. I’ve some great weeks with many Hyundai models over the years; even recently. But I have to go all the way back to 2016 when I had a week with a 2017 Santa Fe, their midsized SUV.  I liked it then, and when I learned I was getting a week with the 2021 model, I figured it would be a good one. Until I learned it was the all-new-for-this-year hybrid version. It was then I decided I would need to withhold my judgement, and enthusiasm.

The Santa Fe has changed in the years since my last week. The fourth generation was introduced for the 2019 model year, and it got a facelift for 2021. Oh, and they introduced the hybrid version which will be followed up by a plugin hybrid later this year.

On the outside the refresh focused on the front grille which was stretched a bit and the foglights are now incorporated and are part of a T-shaped LED signature that connects to the main lamps above.

Inside the updates consists of a new drive-by-wire system which includes a pretty spiffy push-button shifter mounted to the center console.  And for the record that center console is very nicely positioned, slanted away from the dash with buttons and controls within easy reach. It’s a definite improvement over the flat setup I remembered in the 2017.

The 2021 Santa Fe lineup consists of the SE, SEL, Limited and new for 2021 Calligraphy. The hybrid lineup is the Blue, SEL Premium and Limited.

The SEL Premium has a bucket of upgrades including a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated/ventilated front seats, leather seating surfaces, leather-wrapped steering wheel, a larger 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen (8-inch is standard), navigation, and a 12-speaker/630-watt Harman Kardon surround-sound system.


The Limited, my tester for the week, adds a heated steering wheel, heated rear outboard seats, remote Smart parking, a 360-degree camera system, front and rear parking sensors and 19-inch alloy wheels. There’s also a 12.3-inch screen and a cool drop-in slot for the wireless charger.

Overall, the inside of the Santa Fe is a very nice place to be.

But what about on the road?

Under the hood the Santa Fe hybrids get a turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine and a pair of electric motors running off a lithium-ion polymer battery pack. The total system output is 226 horsepower. One of the best things to me is the fact that the usual CVT has been dropped in favor of a 6-speed automatic transmission.

I took the family on a short road jaunt of 86 miles round trip. I knew that’s where the good, bad, and ugly of a hybrid would show up. On the highway, which was part of the trip, Hyundai’s great lane keeping assist worked as fantastic as ever. I am normally not a fan of such things, but Hyundai has developed theirs to the point where it effortlessly keeps the vehicle between the white lines without bouncing around like a pinball. The lane keeping is so good in fact that it can even take shallow turns with your hands off the wheel (which of course you should never do). Combined with the adaptive cruise control any similarly equipped Hyundai is about as close to driverless as you can get (though again don’t you try it).

Off the highway, on a gravel road we drove on, the all-wheel drive met the challenge. And my wife, who nears the 6-foot range, was pleasantly surprised at the way the back seat reclined giving her more room than she said she had seen in any other midsized SUV she had been in.

When we got home that night, I realized something: I forgot that this was hybrid. I really did. I never noticed any sort of lag, no lack of performance, in fact I really couldn’t tell I was driving a hybrid. Then I noticed something else that made me raise an eyebrow: the gas gauge still read full. Yes, that’s right, an 86-mile trip with highway speeds of 75 at times, and there was still a full tank. I never expected that. The range had gone from 501 miles to 473 but the fuel gauge still read full. Amazing.

I can remember many years ago when I was forced to spend an agonizing week in an early hybrid. It was ugly, slow and on a highway drive I had to stop after 40 or so miles to fill up the tank.

Fast forward to now, and wow.

ignorance in this case really is bliss. If I had a vehicle that could get that kind mileage and be that nice, at an affordable price, I could be all in on hybrids.

Turns out of course you can. And that hybrid is the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe.

2022 Update

In February of 2022, Hyundai sent me a 2022 Santa Fe Calligraphy model. Still part of the fourth generation introduced for 2019 there were no major changes for 2022. There is a new XRT trim which adds rugged sort of exterior styling with side steps, skid plates, and a unique wheel design and the top-of-the-line Calligraphy (which as noted above was introduced last year) adds premium leather seating with quilted stitching, ambient interior lighting, faux suede headliner, and a head up display and 20-inch wheels.

(Updated see below) Perhaps the biggest change for 2022 is the addition of a plug-in hybrid; the 260-hp option can give you up to 31 miles of electric-only driving but for now can only be had in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, or Vermont. Hyundai says the Santa Fe PHEV will make its nationwide debut later this year.

My week with the 2022 Calligraphy only reenforced how good the 2021 hybrid model I spent a week with was. Yes, this Calligraphy was very luxurious, and yes it had a few more nice things that than the hybrid Limited, but I was able to finally compare the hybrid performance with that of the straight gas power, and you what? It was all the same. And that is a very good thing; indeed, a hybrid can stand up to one powered by an ICE, and that’s not something that I could have said just a few years ago.  The MSRP for the 2022 by the way was $44,480 and the fuel mileage from the 2.5 liter turbocharged engine (which puts out 277 horses) came out to 26 mpg combined (the EPA by the way rates it at 21 city, 28 highway and 24 mpg combined).

In November of 2022, another Hybrid Limited (a 2022) spent a week in my driveway, or should I say spent the week driving. Other than the price going up a bit from the 2021 model (to an MSRP of $41,580), the 2022 Hybrid Limited was as good as ever.

By June of 2023, the PHEV model was available everywhere and I was given a week with a 2022 PHEV, the top of the lineup Limited AWD. It was just as nice as the others that had cycled through my driveway over the years. This time however, I could actually plug it in and use the 31 miles of all electric. The MSRP for the top of the line PHEV came out to $47,450.

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited HEV
MSRP: $39,950
Engine: Intercooled Turbo Gas/Electric I-4 paired with two electric motors. Total output; 226 horsepower. 195 lb-ft torque @ 4000 rpm.
Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic.
Base Curb Weight: 4226 lbs.

Exterior Dimensions (inches)
Wheelbase: 108.9
Length: 188.4
Width, without mirrors: 74.8
Height: 67.3
Front Track Width: 64.8
Rear Track Width: 65.2
Minimum Ground Clearance: 8.2

Interior Dimensions
Passenger / Seating Capacity: 5
Total Passenger Volume (cubic feet): 110.7
Front Head Room (inches): 39.5
Front Leg Room (inches): 44.1
Front Shoulder Room (inches): 59.1
Front Hip Room (inches): 57.5
Second Row Head Room (inches): 37.8
Second Row Leg Room (inches): 40.8
Second Row Shoulder Room (inches): 58.3
Second Row Hip Room (inches): 56.3
Cargo Space/Area Behind Front Row (cubic feet): 72.1
Cargo Space/Area Behind Second Row (cubic feet): 36.4
Cargo Space/Area Behind Third Row (cubic feet): 36.4

5 Basic Years / 60,000 Basic Miles
10 Drivetrain Years / 100,000 Drivetrain Miles
7 Corrosion Years / Unlimited Corrosion Miles
10 Hybrid/Electric Components Years / 100,000 Hybrid/Electric Components Miles
5 Roadside Assistance Years / Unlimited Roadside Assistance Miles
3 Maintenance Years / 36,000 Maintenance Miles

Greg Engle