Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid emerges as Toyota Kluger rival

Home Technology Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid emerges as Toyota Kluger rival
Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid emerges as Toyota Kluger rival

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).

VERDICT

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

THIRST 6L/100km

CARGO 571 litres

SPARE Full size

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