Hybrid power makes plenty of sense.
Refined and efficient, hybrids are greener than petrol or diesel rivals and cheaper than battery-powered alternatives.
Yet there aren’t many hybrid options to customers looking for a high-riding SUV – the most popular type of car on the road. Hyundai Australia hoped to introduce a hybrid crossover a long time ago, but couldn’t secure supply until now.
The seven-seat Santa Fe range starts at $46,050 plus on-road costs for a front-wheel-drive V6 (about $50,500 drive-away), with all-wheel-drive turbo diesel power arriving for a further $3500.
But the cheapest Santa Fe isn’t available with hybrid power – you have to step up to the generously appointed Elite model with leather seats that are heated in the front row joining a powered tailgate, 10-speaker Harman Kardon stereo and other luxuries for $63,000 plus on-road costs – about $68,000 drive-away.
The hybrid presents well, with a hi-tech cabin home to a 12.3-inch digital dash and 10.2-inch infotainment screen. Physical buttons for key controls are easier to get on with than rival machines that hide features within menus on a touchscreen.
There are plenty of safety features, including auto emergency braking and a centre airbag positioned between the driver and front passenger.
Customers who want one with the lot can upgrade to the range-topping Santa Fe Highlander Hybrid delivering better leather, ambient mood lighting, a 360-degree camera, panoramic sunroof, head-up display and the addition of heated seats in the rear and cooled seats upfront.
Highlander customers pay $6550 for the privilege, choosing between layouts for six or seven people. Hyundai’s hybrid blends a 132kW turbocharged 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol engine with a 44.2kW electric motor and 1.49kWh battery.
The combination is good for 169kW and 350Nm of combined power, returning 6.0L/100km claimed economy. Power goes to all four wheels through a conventional six-speed automatic transmission – not the stepless CVT auto found in Toyota hybrids.
The all-wheel-drive hybrid treatment costs $3000 more than the Santa Fe Elite with a diesel engine, or $6500 more than a V6 petrol. That sort of premium isn’t usual in this class. Toyota’s Kluger starts from about $53,000 drive-away as a front-drive V6, rising to almost $60,000 with all-wheel-drive and petrol-electric power.
Kia will sell you a Sorento powered by the same hybrid motor as the Santa Fe, but with a choice of all-wheel-drive or front-wheel-drive traction in a single high-spec trim priced from about $72,000 drive-away.
Hyundai reckons customers will be drawn toward the hybrid’s urban efficiency – it uses just 6.2L/100km around town, some 17 per cent less than the all-wheel-drive diesel.
It says customers aren’t likely to compare it to the cheaper V6 version that attracts less than 10 per cent of sales – largely because it only drives the front wheels.
The V6’s 10.5L/100km claimed fuel economy is thirsty – folks driving 10,000 kilometres per year will spend about $1950 to feed the V6, while the hybrid is closer to $1100. That means you need to drive for almost eight years to pay the difference, though the benefits of all-wheel-drive traction and hybrid refinement can be felt every day.
Near-silent on start-up, the Santa Fe Hybrid is much more pleasant at low speeds than its more agricultural diesel cousin. It’s a smooth and quiet machine and the petrol engine’s turbocharger helps muffle the sound of its exhaust. Slick stop-start running from the six-speed auto adds to its appeal, though the transmission isn’t as snappy as the diesel’s eight-speed dual-clutch on the open road. Hybrid models use smaller 19-inch wheels than the big 20-inch rims found on equivalent combustion-powered Santa Fe models.
The lighter rims with chubbier tyres deliver a more comfortable ride than the diesel or V6 Santa Fe, taking the edge off sharp bumps.
But the hybrid’s extra weight and taller tyres make for a slightly less precise experience in the bends. Inch-narrower rubber at each corner releases its hold on the road earlier than the more tenacious all-wheel-drive diesel and hybrid towing is limited to 1650kg (the diesel and V6 pull 2500kg).
Three and a half stars
Refined and efficient hybrid power adds to the Santa Fe’s appeal but a high asking price makes it less access accessible than conventional power.
HYUNDAI SANTA FE HYBRID
PRICE About $68,000 drive-away
ENGINE 1.6-litre 4-cyl hybrid, 169kW and 350Nm
WARRANTY/SERVICE Five-year/unlimited km, about $2500 for 5 yrs
SAFETY 7 airbags, auto emergency braking, active cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, rear cross-traffic alert
CARGO 571 litres
SPARE Full size