2023 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Review: A Perfectly Inoffensive Family Hauler

Hyundai knows what the mainstream wants and knows how to do it well.

byLewin Day|
Hyundai Reviews photo
Lewin Day


Once upon a time, a handsome sedan or wagon was the family transport of choice. Those days are long gone. Today, it's SUVs all the way down. The 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe is the Korean automaker's quarterback, battling for the attention of families across America.

The Santa Fe has been a crucial model for Hyundai since it first dropped in 2000, and this latest model follows on in that grand tradition. As a mid-sized crossover, it's available in the U.S. as a five-seater while packing seven seats in most other markets worldwide. Either way, it's earned its stripes as a capable kid and dog hauler.

The latest hybrid models promise to do their suburban duty with better fuel economy than ever. Terms like "handling," and "excitement" don't enter into the equation here. For an SUV like the Santa Fe, the driving experience is ideally largely invisible while its practical design makes life as seamless and easy as possible.

2023 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Specs

  • Base price: $37,545
  • Powertrain: 1.6-liter hybrid turbo-four | 6-speed automatic | all-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 226 @ 6,000 rpm
  • Torque: 195 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
  • Seating capacity: 5 (7 as tested in Australia)
  • Curb weight: 4,227 pounds
  • Towing capacity: 2,000 pounds
  • Cargo volume: 72.1 cubic feet behind front row, 36.4 cubic feet behind second row
  • EPA fuel economy: 33 mpg city | 30 highway | 32 combined 
  • Quick take: A perfect appliance for getting you and the family around the suburbs and beyond.
  • Score: 8/10

The Basics

The fourth-generation Santa Fe was launched in 2018 for the 2019 model year, intended to compete against mid-sized rivals like the Toyota Highlander and Subaru Ascent. It lives in between the Tuscon and Palisade in Hyundai's own lineup. The 2021 model year saw the Santa Fe receive a facelift, along with updated drivetrains and hybrid models.

From an exterior design perspective, the Santa Fe continues Hyundai's future-forward approach, utilizing the brand's design language to create a sleek aesthetic. The front end sports the now-signature patterned grille, flanked by sharp LED headlamps that do a lot to convey modernity. The side profile features a compelling character line joining the front headlights to the rear taillights. The rear end is tasteful, if generic. Overall, the Santa Fe Hybrid presents itself as an elegant, well-proportioned SUV. It's just a shame that it lacks the daring design choices the company displayed so well on the Staria van.

Inside, the cabin is well laid out to serve the driver's needs. Audio, HVAC, and drive mode controls are all neatly accessible on the raised center console, along with Hyundai's lovely push-button transmission selector. Underneath, there's a convenient storage nook for keeping medium-sized objects out of sight but close at hand. Overall, the seating is comfortable and well-proportioned and should seat five adults without complaint. This Australian market model also features third-row seating good enough to seat smaller adults in a pinch. Sadly, the U.S. doesn't get this option. American Hyundai buyers looking for three rows will just have to make do with the Palisade

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The hybrid powertrain is the star of the show for the Santa Fe, giving it admirable fuel economy and a responsive driving experience. While a 226-horsepower 1.6-liter turbo might not sound like much to haul around a 4,200-pound SUV, the low-down torque of the electric motor goes a long way to make that problem go away. Of course, traditionalists wanting more power can consider the 178-hp 2.5-liter inline-four or 276-hp 3.5-liter V6 instead. Plus, beyond the regular hybrid reviewed here, there's also a plug-in hybrid model, too. It boasts a higher 261 hp of combined output, thanks to a more powerful 90-hp electric motor versus the 59-hp unit in the regular hybrid.

Driving the Hyundai Santa Fe

The Santa Fe is one of those easy, breezy commuter cars that demands nothing from the driver. It's got light, well-assisted steering and a compliant throttle pedal, and neither generates any nasty surprises. It's designed for navigating supermarket parking lots and school dropoffs with a minimum of fuss and delivers on that promise. It's quiet and comfortable on the road, and it quickly drifts into the back of your mind behind the radio or whatever else you happen to be thinking about.

In hybrid form, the Santa Fe offers a driving experience more transparent than even the solely ICE-powered models. It's practically silent in low-speed situations, bar the futuristic whirr the car makes to warn pedestrians of its presence. The instant-on torque of the hybrid drivetrain is welcome, too. Overall, acceleration is adequate—no more, no less. The Santa Fe's target audience isn't about matting the pedal and quarter-mile times. They want to waft up to highway speed without a hassle, and the hybrid does that just fine.

Few would consider a car like the Santa Fe for rugged off-road duties. Crossovers simply don't get put to that kind of use. However, in my testing, the Santa Fe handles some light-duty off-roading rather ably. With the tire pressures dropped, it handles sand with ease. With the sunroof open and the windows down, it's honestly great fun to punt it down the beach. The AWD system also has modes for dealing with mud and snow, with the latter likely to prove particularly useful for those in colder regions.

The Highs and Lows

The magic of the Santa Fe is its no-fuss driving experience. The fact is that most people don't want a car with character. They want one that makes getting around as easy as possible. Modern commuter cars have strived to be so innocuous, so neutral, that they fade into the background of life. The Santa Fe does this well. It's spacious and comfortable, and everything you need is just where you'd expect to find it. Touches like physical volume knobs and HVAC controls go a long way toward making it an intuitive vehicle to use. It doesn't matter if you're driving to the grocery store around the corner, or to a town four states over. The Santa Fe will get you there without a care in the world.

It's hard to find many lows with the Santa Fe. It's well-built to serve its target market, after all. However, it could certainly be improved in some ways. More power wouldn't go astray, though this would come at a cost to efficiency. It's just not a quick vehicle in a straight line, though few Santa Fe owners will ever notice. It could also benefit from some sort of command dial for the infotainment system. Having to lean over to use the touchscreen is a pain, particularly compared to luxury vehicles with physical navigation controls.

Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Features, Options, and Competition

In the U.S., the base model Santa Fe Hybrid is the Blue trim ($37,545), which actually boasts slightly improved fuel economy compared to the higher SEL Premium ($41,405) and Limited ($43,205) models. As standard, all models get all-wheel drive, heated front seats, a bevy of USB ports, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. However, the SEL Premium and Limited models score the panoramic sunroof and 19-inch wheels instead of the 17-inch wheels on the base trim. The Limited also scores a leather interior, along with power folding door mirrors, a heated steering wheel, and heated rear seats.

In this case, it's worth noting I was behind the wheel of the slightly confusingly named Highlander model built for the Australian market. Its equipment level largely lines up with the Limited model in the U.S., though adds the international seven-seat option. It's also available in a six-seat layout with captain's chairs in the second row. Either way, it'll set you back $75,313 AUD ($50,230 USD) as seen here with the black interior and Magnetic Force exterior paint. The closest configuration of a U.S.-market Limited trim model costs $43,605 in comparison, minus the third row of seats.

The Santa Fe Hybrid comes in a little cheaper than its hybrid rivals in the price stakes. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid starts at $41,555 for the LE, stepping up to $51,810 for the top Platinum trim. The Kia Sorento Hybrid starts at $38,015 for the 2WD model, stepping up to $43,815 for the AWD SX Prestige model, before options.

In the U.S., and for my own money, I'd spec an SEL Premium model. I've got no need for the heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, or other modcons of the Limited trim, but I'm in love with the panoramic sunroof. Color-wise, I'd go with the Stormy Sea finish, since blue cars are easier to spot in the parking lot than the usual whites, blacks, and greys. I'd also spec the cargo cover, roof rack crossbars, and carpeted floor mats, at $190, $315, and $210 respectively. I'd be out the door at $42,120 including the $1,335 destination fee.

Fuel Economy


The Santa Fe Hybrid can't deliver the same economy as Toyota and Kia’s offerings, but it handily dispatches pure ICE SUVs in the same size bracket.

On paper, the Santa Fe Hybrid delivers good fuel economy, but not great. It's simply a touch behind rival hybrids at the top of the charts. Both the Toyota Highlander Hybrid and Kia Sorento Hybrid dispatch the Santa Fe in this regard, offering 36 mpg and 34 mpg combined to the Santa Fe's 32 mpg. It does better compared to pure ICE rivals in the midsized SUV segment, which typically offer numbers in the mid-twenties.

In testing, the Santa Fe delivered fuel economy largely on par with the EPA ratings. Given a few hundred miles of driving across suburban, urban, and rural contexts, it delivered an average of 34 mpg. That's including 10 miles of beach driving in soft sand, which is no picnic when it comes to fuel economy. It's a solid achievement, right in line with the official numbers.

Value and Verdict

When it comes to the value of the Santa Fe Hybrid, it all comes down to personal taste. It's got a great aesthetic on the outside, and the interior feels more premium than some of its competition. In the top models, the panoramic sunroof really does add a bougie feel over and above its rivals. However, absent dealer markups, you may pay more for a Santa Fe than a comparable SUV from someone else. You'll likely also pay more at the pump. If the design lights you up, it's probably worth it. If not, the more budget-friendly options are for you.

Overall, Hyundai has done well with the Santa Fe. Where it was once considered a budget offering, it's now a classy, attractive SUV on par with the best from Japan and abroad. And, as much as it is designed for daily duties, it's not afraid to go muck around in the mud or sand if you get a little daring on your next family holiday. Even if you do spend a little more to get yourself a Santa Fe, it's hard to imagine that you'd regret the decision. It's a really solid choice if you're looking for a mid-sized SUV to lay down the miles in.

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