Auto123 reviews the 2022 Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV.
Even as Hyundai puts its considerable resources into entering the all-electric sphere a) quickly and b) with quality models, it has also decided it’s maybe wise to offer valid products to those motorists not yet ready to forsake a combustion engine altogether. And of course, any number of studies and polls will tell you there are a still a lot of those folks, particularly in North America.
So it’s a wise move indeed for Hyundai to do stuff like this: offer a pluggable hybrid variant of its two most popular SUVs (Tucson and Santa Fe), which will hold the fort until motorists and infrastructure and battery technologies and government regulations and all the rest evolve enough to make all-electrics the clear choice. Note that this is the first SUV Hyundai has fitted with such a system, having previously used it only with the Ioniq car.
For now, this variant becomes the most fuel-efficient model in the Santa Fe lineup, which is a drawing point for value-loving Canadian motorists to be sure. Buyers can get the PHEV variant in two trims, the Preferred (MSRP $44,999) and the Luxury ($48,699). Don’t forget that the model is eligible for a $2,500 federal EV discount and at least some of the provincial EV discounts out there right now.
Plugging in to success
Initial discounts aside, just how much money someone can save by going with the PHEV variant as opposed to one of the gas-engine-only Santa Fes depends on a lot of factors, of course, starting with the driver’s habits and how assiduous they are about plugging the vehicle in every night.
I say that because the maximal range of the Santa Fe PHEV is about 50 km, which is decent and about par for the course with PHEVs at present (though it falls short of the Toyota RAV4 Prime’s 68 km). This range will allow you to do most of your short daily commutes and trips to school or the grocery store on electric power. If that’s all you do, and you’re good about plugging the thing in regularly, you can avoid drinking any of the gas in the tank at all. Hit the highway, though, and that range will melt away right quick.
For me, one big plus in the Santa Fe PHEV, in contrast with some other hybrids and PHEVs, is that you can mostly control whether you ride on gas or electrical juice, and thus maximize fuel economy. I made a point of staying in all-EV mode whenever I was driving on city streets, without concern about depleting the battery. On highway stretches, I’d switch to auto mode, which has the system decide on the optimal use of the two parts of the hybrid system, or to regular gas-only mode.
Using that playbook, I registered 8.8L km/100 km for the entirety of my test drive, in mixed driving (but know that if you drive only around town and are careful in your energy use, you can get far, far stingier results than that, along the lines of 3.0L/100 km or even less). The Santa Fe is not a small vehicle, nor is it particularly lightweight, especially in PHEV configuration, so that kind of fuel economy is something I’ll gladly take, especially in the dead of winter. By the way, it’s hard to know the exact figure, but my total when leaving it in auto mode and not bothering with recharging the battery hovered more around 11L/100 km.
The lesson? Put a little effort into maximizing fuel economy with a system like this, and you will.
The Santa Fe
There’s more to the SUV than the new plug-in hybrid system, of course. So what else is there to know about Hyundai’s compact-plus SUV? Well for one thing, it’s bigger than the average compact crossover, so it’s very roomy inside, in both rows, and cargo space is plentiful, offering 1,031 litres (and there’s a storage bin under the floor).
Also, Hyundai’s formula for success in recent years involves giving buyers a lot of stuff – standard equipment, namely – for the money, and it’s no exception here, and including elements that take the model some distance to upscale, for instance comfortable seats and good ride quality. Quality of finishing also feels right on, with few cheapish-feeling surfaces and pretty good sound insulation.
If you’re wondering about the difference between the Preferred and Limited version, the latter offers a few extra amenities and systems, for example cooled front seats and heated back seats, power-adjustable front passenger seats, seat memory for both front-row seats and wireless charging. Also the liftgate is power-operated, and the wipers are rain-sensing. One big bonus is the addition of the power moonroof, which really does create airier interior space.
Otherwise both versions come with leather seating, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, heated front seats and 8-way power-adjust driver’s seat.
The multimedia system accessed via an 8-inch touchscreen (the only size available no matter which trim you take) is overall intuitive to use, I had no real complaints there. The lower part of the central console contains a veritable smorgasbord of physical buttons and knobs, which some might bemoan but I love it. So much better than having to focus on navigating the onscreen menu when you should be watching the road…
I haven’t said much about the exterior of the Santa Fe PHEV, but that’s because it’s virtually identical to what we’ve seen with the regular version, which was of course given a makeover last year. Basically, in terms of its looks, I agree with the general consensus that that makeover was a success, the new Santa Fe being far less anonymous than the generation it replaced, without being too flashy or trying too hard to be mean- or sporty looking. The front end isn’t as snazzy as the new-look Tucson, but its more-sedate look is probably more in line with the demographic it’s going after (slightly wealthier, slightly older than the Tucson buyer).
You will find badging to identify the PHEV status of this model on the hatch, and of course there’s a second port for charging (passenger side, to the rear), but that’s about it for the distinguishing features.
The numbers on the powertrain are as follows: the variant gets standard all-wheel drive and a 6-speed auto transmission (not a CVT) managing power from a turbocharged 1.6L 4-cylinder gasoline engine plus an electric motor fed by a 13.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, good for total output of 260 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. The available drive modes include Sport, Smart and Eco, and terrain modes as well (Mud, Snow and Sand).
On the road
I’ve touched on the on-road performance of this Santa Fe PHEV above, so suffice to say the drive it delivers is solid, with more than enough power on hand to move a heavier-than-average vehicle, but if you’re expecting a dynamic ride, you’ll be disappointed. Sportiness is just not part of the model’s mandate. That said, the SUV handles well, the transmission is excellent, and there are enough horses under the hood to make passing on the highway a ho-hum experience.
I did note some slight initial sluggishness when coming off the line (when not in EV mode of course), though the cold weather may have been playing tricks on the powertrain. Otherwise, steering is decent though not overly responsive.
Here’s one other element to consider if you’ve got buying a plug-in hybrid SUV on your to-do list for early 2022. Visit a Hyundai showroom and you’ll find there not just this PHEV, but also the new plug-in version of the smaller Tucson. Now, that model is flashier looking and slightly sportier, but you’ll get less space. On the other hand, the two models use the same powertrain and have the same output, which advantages the smaller and lighter Tucson. Given that the price difference is under $3,000, however, the Santa Fe might just be a more attractive option.
On that note, let me just say how nice is to be able to now have so much choice for a plug-in hybrid SUV in Canada that you can find two of them in the same showroom.
Upscale feel in our tester
Fuel economy (with a bit of effort)
Lots of cargo space
We like less
Not the most dynamic powertrain
The seat heating is slow to really get going in cold weather
No way to get a bigger screen, even if you’re willing to pay