2023 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid review – Australian launch (video)

Brett Davis

In the market for a smooth, economical large seven-seat SUV? Hyundai Australia has just launched a hybrid version of its Santa Fe for 2023 which could be just what you need. It comes in Elite and Highlander forms, featuring pretty much everything that’s available to the current generation model.

The Santa Fe Hybrid is late to the party (in Australia), with its platform-sharing cousin, the Kia Sorento, launching in hybrid form in Australia back in May, and even a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) option in October last year. Although there is a PHEV version of the Santa Fe overseas, the local arm says production in right-hand drive for Australia is not available.

As we found out during our test of the Sorento PHEV though, the drawbacks of the system can outweigh the benefits. For example, the towing capacity is reduced from 2000kg in the diesel to 1350kg in the PHEV (1650kg in this hybrid). The real-world electric range isn’t near the official 68km figure, either. It’s also much heavier and more expensive than the regular petrol or diesel equivalents.

Hyundai is working on its next-gen ‘MX5’ Santa Fe and we’re thinking it is using this hybrid as a bit of a taste-test for the new model. Even though the Santa Fe has been available with hybrid power for some time overseas, in Australia, we seem to be relatively slow adopters of the new technology. There’s also the fact Australia does not have strict emissions laws like what is presented in Europe and USA, so production of electrified vehicles is usually focused on those regions.

2023 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Highlander– THE SPECS

[column width=”47%” padding=”6%”]Engine: 1.6-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder
Output (combined): 169kW@5500rpm / 350Nm@1000-4500rpm
Transmission: Six-speed auto
Drive type: All-wheel drive
Wheels: F: 19×7.5, 235/55
ANCAP: Not tested
Tare weight: 1940kg
Power-to-weight: 11.47:1 (kg:kW)
Official fuel economy: 6.0L/100km
Economy during test: 7.2L/100km[/column] [column width=”47%” padding=”0″]Fuel capacity/Type: 67L/91 RON
Power efficiency: 24.14kW:L/100km
0-60km/h: 4.09 seconds*
0-100km/h: 8.19 seconds*
60-110km/h: 5.37 seconds*
1/4 mile: 16.15 seconds at 142.6km/h*
Max acceleration: 0.784g
100-0km/h braking: 2.96 seconds at 37.58 metres*
Max deceleration: -1.155g
Decibel at idle (on standby): 24*
Peak decibel at 60-100km/h: 78*
Priced from: $69,550 ($63,000 for Elite)[/column][end_columns]

* Figures as tested by PerformanceDrive on the day. Factory claims may be different

So, what’s this hybrid all about and what’s it like to drive? We drove both the Elite and Highlander variants during the recent media launch event, although we mainly drove the Highlander (including for our performance tests). Both feature the same 1.6-litre turbo-petrol hybrid powertrain developing a combined output of 169kW and 350Nm. Prices start from $63,000 for the Elite Hybrid and from $69,550 for the Highlander Hybrid. These figures are exactly $3000 more than respective diesel versions.

It doesn’t offer a specific electric-only driving range as the battery is small, with a capacity of only 1.49kWh. That means it isn’t as heavy as a full PHEV setup. For reference, the Sorento PHEV is 108kg heavier than the regular HEV (hybrid) version. But there is some electrical assistance here to basically knock the top off the economy, helping during initial take-off when the load is hardest to lift.

From there, a 1.6-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine kicks in and supplies 132kW and 265Nm. This is the same unit that powers the Tucson, essentially, and the i30 N Line. We’re not sure why it misses out on the 150kW tune offered in the i30 but it does provide a pleasant shove and it’s quiet and very refined.

Helping with refinement and, more critically, smoothness, the 1.6 turbo is not matched to its usual dual-clutch automatic like in other applications. Hyundai decided to go with a conventional six-speed torque converter automatic. At first you might think that is not enough gears. However, since the electric motor, which generates 44.2kW alone (mounted with the transmission), fills in any ‘nutritional gaps’, the system is able to pull through longer gears without an issue.

It also means it doesn’t need to change gears as much as a seven- or eight-speed unit, further improving smoothness. Hyundai Australia’s senior product planning manager, Jonathan Lam, said during a presentation that the hybrid Santa Fe is the “smoothest and most refined” powertrain in the lineup. We were initially skeptical but after driving it, we can confirm that statement is completely accurate.

Off the line it will try to utilise the electric motor as much as possible, which means a very smooth take-off, and then the petrol engine seamlessly merges in. You can only just hear the petrol motor start up and engage during take off. However, out on the highway, when the car sometimes falls into EV mode while cruising or especially while coasting, there is a slight shunting sensation as it transitions between the power sources.

We can’t quite confirm if it is the petrol motor kicking in or if it is the transmission moving into a new ratio. It could be a combination of both, especially considering the electric motor is mounted with the transmission. To reiterate though, it is only a minor surge that you feel, and some users might not even think anything of it.

During this launch event we drove an extensive test route from Sydney to Canberra… the back way. This included lots of ups and downs, extended dirt road sections, windy bits and rough-tarmac bits, as well as a full highway cruise on the way back. On the way down the trip computer showed an average consumption reading of about 8.7L/100km. I reset the computer for the return journey and by the time I arrived back at Hyundai, the computer showed a reading of 5.7L/100km.

An easy thing to do would be combine these two readings and divide them by two, for an average of 7.2L/100km. However, we think in the real world, with less aggressive/testing driving styles applied (the fact that it’s not our car probably means we drove with a heavier foot as well), we reckon you could get quite close to the official average of 6.0L/100km. Particularly if you spend lots of time in suburban or urban areas, where hybrids are usually in their prime.

We’ll use the official figures to do some comparisons on the economy for you. So the official average of 6.0L/100km using its 67L petrol tank means a theoretic average range of 1117km. It’s worth noting this engine tune only requires 91 RON fuel too, which saves some money.

Compared with the diesel alternative (Highlander), it uses a 67L tank and offers a fuel consumption average of 6.1/100km, translating to an average range (on paper) of 1098km. The V6 petrol isn’t even worth comparing, but we’ll do it anyway. Its average consumption is officially 10.5L/100km, with the same 67L tank translating to a theoretical average range of just 638km (it only needs 91 RON as well, but is front-wheel drive).

So as you can see, the new hybrid option is a bit more economical than the diesel, and there is certainly potential for improved numbers compared with our tough testing conditions. The longest range means it could be the ideal package for touring families. The smoothness of the powertrain is definitely one of its best traits compared with the diesel, too – not that the diesel is rough to begin with.

As for the rest of the vehicle and driving dynamics, the latest Santa Fe offers a soft ride that soaks up bumps and potholes brilliantly. It’s not quite as sporty or focused as some rivals, including the Kia Sorento, but it is more comfortable thanks to these characteristics. We encountered lots of ugly potholes during our test, and some, inevitably, couldn’t be avoided. But this drove over with a mere thud and very little disturbance to our desired trajectory.

There is a bit of body lean going into corners, but it holds this attitude steadily throughout the turn. There is adequate communication through the steering for this style of vehicle and target market. More enthusiastic drivers might like something more feelsome, though.

In terms of performance, we ran our usual tests on a private road in a Highlander variant and it clocked 0-100km/h in 8.19 seconds. It also covered the quarter mile in 16.15 seconds at 142.6km/h. The 0-100 figure is slightly quicker than what we achieved in the diesel Highlander (8.49 seconds) in 2021, but slightly behind the petrol V6 Highlander (8.00 seconds) that we also tested in 2021.

Visual distinctions over the petrol and diesel are limited to the special 19-inch, flat-face alloy wheels. These wear Continental PremiumContact 6 tyres measuring 235/55 front and rear, compared with the standard issue 20-inch wheels fitted on the existing Highlander range, wearing 255/45 versions of the same tyre. The narrower and taller tyre fitted here could explain some of the initial body lean during cornering.

Inside, it is exactly the same. The latest Santa Fe comes with a 10.25-inch touch-screen infotainment system, offering Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, digital radio and in-built sat-nav. It’s a good system in our opinion, with fairly intuitive menus and functionality, with nice graphics and displays to back it up. There’s also a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster on both the Elite and Highlander.

Passenger space is expansive and comfortable. This is a seven-seat SUV, after all. The front seat area feels a bit boxed-in due to the chunky centre console, but we do like the arrangement of physical buttons on top. You can easily jump to various settings without having to deep-dive into the touch-screen. Storage is plentiful, with a bonus shelf beneath the main console panel.

Rear passengers are presented with heaps of room, both leg and headroom. The bench slides forward and back too, so you can prioritise space for the third or second rows. Behind the seats you’ll find 571L of boot space with all rows up, or 782 litres with the third row down. These figures are the same across the board for all powertrain types.

2023 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Highlander– THE VIDEO

As suggested at the beginning, the Santa Fe Hybrid is a great option for those in the market for a large family-friendly SUV that’s smooth, powerful enough, and economical.

Offering the longest potential touring range of any engine option, and doing without some of the sacrifices often associated with plug-in hybrids out there (such as higher price, lower towing capacity, reduced boot space), this is a sound alternative to the existing options for families, and a fuss-free stepping stone into the world of electrification.

As always, if you’re thinking about buying a new car don’t forget to click here to speak with our car buying specialists.

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