The Hyundai Santa Fe Plug-in Hybrid offers up to 31 miles of electric-only range, seven seats, all-wheel drive and some off-road capability.
Hyundai has made rapid progress with its products and image over recent years, especially in the area of electric cars. However it doesn’t quite have an all-electric 7-seat SUV on sale yet, so in the meantime the Santa Fe Plug-in Hybrid is the closest you can get to a 7-seater EV, offering 31 miles of electric range.
The Hyundai Santa Fe Plug-in Hybrid is a seven-seater, with full-size seats in the third row, and a large 571-litre boot if the third row of seats are folded down.
It’s also a plug-in hybrid, combining a 1.6-litre petrol engine with a 66.9 kW / 90hp electric motor and a 13.8 kWh battery, with ‘HTRAC’ all-wheel drive provided via a 6-speed automatic transmission.
Most new electric cars have virtually nothing on the dashboard apart from a touchscreen; buttons have been banished. Not so in the Hyundai Santa Fe Plug-in Hybrid however: there are lots of buttons, especially in the wide centre console. Too many new cars have lots of car controls hidden in sub-menus on the touchscreen, so clear and easily accessible buttons are a refreshing change.
One of the many physical controls is the drive and terrain mode selector. The drive options are Eco (which sends power to the front wheels only, until conditions become slippery), Sport, and Smart (Smart mode adapts to your driving style and road conditions) (note that there’s no obvious ‘normal’ setting, although a ‘Comfort’ mode does exist). The terrain options are Snow, Mud and Sand (there are no settings for gravel or rocks). There are also hybrid and electric modes, and you can drive off-road on electric power.
Eco mode reduces responses, and Sport mode is revvy. There’s no obvious way to lock the car on petrol to save battery charge for later, and there’s no ‘charge’ button, although Sport mode appears to charge the battery. There’s also no way to keep the car locked on electric power 100% of the time – if you accelerate in EV mode, the car can switch to petrol power all too easily.
Compared to a pure EV there are no instant reactions from standstill. The electric motor only has 90hp of power, so there’s not much performance in electric mode. However the Santa Fe is better to drive in electric mode than petrol, because you’ve got instant torque, and the engine often sounds noisy and strained.
Buttons continue in the gear selector department; and you can use steering wheel-mounted paddles to change gear. And there’s a button on the steering wheel to switch off the lane departure warning system.
If you’re at a junction and indicating left, then a camera helpfully shows you the view to the left and rear of the car on the touchscreen.
The cabin may be full of buttons and therefore unfashionable in some people’s eyes, but we like it; but what about the rest of the driving experience? Well, the ride quality is comfortable, and handling is perfectly fine, but it’s what you’d expect from a seven-seat SUV with an internal combustion engine resulting in a high centre of gravity. The Santa Fe even coped with some mild off-roading – although this ability will ultimately be limited by the road-focused tyres.
Bear in mind that this a fairly long car so you’ll sometimes find that it overhangs over parking spaces.
The Hyundai Santa Fe Plug-in Hybrid 4WD has an electric range of 31 miles and this results in an official combined WLTP fuel economy of 173.7 mpg.
Throughout the week on test the car displayed an electric range of 35 miles following a full charge, thereby exceeding the official range figure. After a week of mixed driving (our typical mix of 80% long journeys and 20% short journeys), the Sante Fe averaged 54.5 mpg, and promised a total range of 382 miles.
The Hyundai Santa Fe Plug-in Hybrid 4WD is available in Premium trim from £48,385, or Ultimate trim, as tested, from £51,680. Ultimate trim includes a wide range of equipment including a panoramic sunroof, a head-up display and heated and cooled seats.
If you’re looking for a spacious SUV with seven decent-sized seats, and you want good fuel efficiency, then the Hyundai Santa Fe Plug-in Hybrid 4WD should definitely be on your short list. And if you’re also fed up with the controls of lots of new cars all being hidden in a touchscreen, then the cabin’s generous array of buttons should be another reason to consider the Santa Fe. The Santa Fe is a good all-rounder, with some useful off-road capability, and it’s competitively priced, although we would prefer more control over the operation of the hybrid system. And of course we would ideally recommend a pure EV rather than a plug-in hybrid, but you’ll have to wait a bit longer for Hyundai’s 7-seater BEV (the IONIQ 7). In the meantime the Hyundai Santa Fe Plug-in Hybrid 4WD gains a Green Car Guide rating of 8/10. Also consider the Kia Sorento as a rival, which is based on the same platform as the Santa Fe.