With electric vehicles making landfall Down Under like lightning strikes in a tropical summer storm, the Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid stands out from the deluge as one of the few family-size sports utility vehicles to take up EV status.
It’s not the ‘Full Monty’ electric model but retains in tandem an internal combustion power plant.
Until recently the only seven-seater SUV that had been hybridised was the Toyota Kluger.
Now the Santa Fe joins the Kia Sorento hybrid and Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid as part of the mix.
No plug-in hybrid here, with its interminable search for external charging points, the Santa Fe hybrid has the brains to charge its lithium-ion battery through conversion of kinetic energy while working in conjunction with the petrol engine and ‘regen’ brakes on the move.
What’s it cost?
What’s new? Not much.
A major facelift three years ago saw the Santa Fe put on a fresh face and interior.
The new Hybrid differs from the petrol and diesel versions only in the wheels – smaller 19-inch alloys with different design here – said to be more aerodynamic and save fuel.
Available only as upper-crust Elite and Highlander variants, the hybrid is kitted out essentially like its petrol- and diesel-powered cousins.
However, an electric shock comes with the price differences.
A high voltage $6500 over the petrol and $3000 over the diesel, which equates to $63,000 for the Elite and $69,550 for the Highlander (the test vehicle, without on-road costs).
Both are seven-seaters but can be reconfigured as a six-seater with two captain’s chairs in the second row instead of the bench.
The shapely Santa Fe exterior is well known for its so-called cascading grille, which in the Hybrid case covers a yawning chasm of a radiator.
In profile, looks are toned down a tad in readiness for a robust, yet shapely rear.
There’s a configurable 10.2-inch instrument display, which features a digital energy meter and a 12.3-inch infotainment dash-mounted touchscreen with wired Apple CarPlay and digital radio.
A 10-speaker Harman Kardon premium audio system is standard.
The Santa Fe Hybrid comes with all the latest safety systems from Hyundai.
These include automatic emergency braking, which operates at intersections, blind-spot warning, lane keeping assist, rear- cross-traffic alert, rear occupant alert automatic high-beam head lamps and adaptive cruise control.
The Hybrid Highlander also takes on 360-degree surround-view camera, blind spot monitor and reverse automatic emergency braking.
As with all Santa Fe’s, both hybrids are covered by a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, while the battery earns an eight-year 160,000-kilometre guarantee.
Service intervals are 10,000 km or 12 months.
What’s it go like?
With the Hybrid in the higher-grade Elite and Highlander corner, the interior has a classy look and feel, with Nappa leather in the latter and other quality materials shared.
An option for the Hybrid is six seats, in which the second-row bench is replaced with a pair of captain’s chairs.
With seven seats, the third row is fit only for littlies’ use with comfort.
Head room is restricted by the intrusion of the sun roof workings.
The boot has a spot for a full-size spare wheel under a flat cargo area with third row folded, there’s room for family shopping or a stroller.
With five seats in use there is up to 782 litres on offer.
A power tailgate takes away the trauma of loading in the rain.
Under the bonnet a 1.6 litre, four-cylinder turbo-charged petrol engine with a combined output of 169kW and 350Nm are hitched up to a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive.
While this compares favourably with petrol and diesel performance, when it comes to towing, the hybrid is left behind with 1650kg to the internal-combustion pair with 2500kg.
At a whisker less than 4.8 metres long, the Santa Fe Hybrid Highlander is on the cusp of bursting out of the mid-size SUV mob into the big time.
However, a well-sorted suspension and responsive steering come up with relaxed ride and handling.
Off the mark, there’s more than a hint of sporty performance, while a centre console dial is in charge of driving modes from Eco to Smart to sand, snow or other obstacles thrown up of road.
Over a fraction more than 400km of mixed urban/highway going the Santa Fe Hybrid Highlander recorded fuel consumption of 6.1L/100km, in line with the claimed 6.0 litres per 100 kays.
More buttons than the pantomime Cinderella’s eponymous family servant, known for having rows of gilt buttons down the front of his tunic, the floating centre console controls offered up a few missteps.