First Drive: The Hyundai Santa Fe Plug-In is a big and useful seven-seat hybrid SUV

Hyundai is expanding the line-up of its largest SUV with a PHEV model. Ted Welford sees if it’s worth considering.

First Drive: The Hyundai Santa Fe Plug-In is a big and useful seven-seat hybrid SUV

What is it?

(Hyundai)

There hasn’t been that much continuity at Hyundai in the past couple of decades as the South Korean brand has worked hard to transform its image, and successfully so. But one of the few products that has remained in that time is the Sante Fe.

It’s Hyundai’s largest car in the UK and also now its only seven-seater, bringing vast levels of space to the family SUV segment. Although the latest generation only launched a couple of years ago it’s already been facelifted, as the firm has worked to give it a more ‘premium update’. But has it succeeded?

What’s new?

(Hyundai)

Hyundai’s designs have been getting increasingly bolder in recent years, and this latest Santa Fe is true proof of that. We’ll explore it in more detail later, but we’ve got a bold new front end headed up by a huge grille, while inside there’s access to the brand’s latest touchscreen.

There’s quite a lot of change in terms of powertrains too, with a pair of new hybrid systems introduced, helping to future-proof the Santa Fe and expand Hyundai’s already extensive range of electrified models.

What’s under the bonnet?

We’ve already tried the Santa Fe in its regular ‘self-charging’ hybrid guise, but this is our first time in the new plug-in hybrid model. Pairing a turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine with an electric motor, it puts out 262bhp and 350Nm of torque. A new six-speed automatic gearbox is also used, with power sent to all four wheels on this plug-in hybrid model (all-wheel drive is optional on the regular hybrid).

Getting up to 60mph takes 8.6 seconds, with a top speed of 116mph possible. Of more interest in this PHEV is its claimed 37-mile electric range, which could allow for some very impressive efficiency figures if charged regularly – Hyundai quotes 173.7mpg, with CO2 emissions of just 37g/km.

What’s it like to drive?

(Hyundai)

The absence of a noisy diesel engine in the Santa Fe is welcome, and when on electric running it’s a very serene way to travel. Unless you physically switch it into ‘EV’, though, it has a habit of favouring petrol power, so if you largely do small trips it’s worth making sure it’s put in electric-only mode. The range itself is very good too, and means plenty of shorter trips could be done without having to rely on the engine.

On paper, the Santa Fe’s 262bhp looks pretty healthy (it’s more than a Volkswagen Golf GTI, for example), but it never feels anywhere near as powerful as the figures suggest, although this is a big family bus after all. The ride, while being very comfortable at higher speeds, is a bit unsettled around town, too.

How does it look?

Hyundai has made quite a lot of tweaks to this Santa Fe as part of the update. It undoubtedly makes this SUV look bolder and more noticeable than before, with a large, wide grille introduced alongside sharp LED lights that help to modernise the design.

Although the front is a bit divisive, the rest of the Santa Fe isn’t, with its neat lines and perfect proportions (for a car of this size) helping to give this Hyundai quite an elegant appearance. The large 19-inch alloy wheels fitted as standard to the plug-in also add to the appeal.

What’s it like inside?

(Hyundai)

Hyundai has worked hard to improve the quality of the Santa Fe’s interior, and it feels like a big step up. The dashboard has a more sculpted look, while it feels more upmarket inside, thanks to a host of new materials. There’s plenty of technology, too, including Hyundai’s latest 10.25-inch touchscreen, with higher-spec models benefiting from a digital instrument cluster. The only gripe is that the dashboard is a bit button-heavy, making it look a touch dated.

There’s a vast amount of space inside the Santa Fe, with clever packaging ensuring this plug-in model is no less roomy than other versions. Unlike other plug-in models in this class, it retains seven seats, as well as a completely flat floor in the boot. Although the third row is best reserved for children, this remains a very spacious and versatile family SUV.

What’s the spec like?

(Hyundai)

Just two trim levels are now available on the Santa Fe, with the range beginning with the Premium. Standard equipment is very generous, including 19-inch alloy wheels, adaptive cruise control, keyless entry and a Krell sound system.

The Ultimate model lives up to its name, coming with just about every feature physically possible, including a head-up display, full-length panoramic roof, surround camera system and full leather upholstery. Paint aside, the only option you can choose is a ‘Luxury Pack’, bringing Nappa leather upholstery, body-coloured wheel arches and aluminium interior trim.

In terms of price, the Santa Fe Plug-In costs £45,865 in Premium trim or £49,160 for the Ultimate. That’s a lot of money but it does well to justify it, with only a £3,000 rise on the standard hybrid, which is low by market standards.

Verdict

Hyundai now has one of the widest ranges of electrified models, and this Santa Fe Plug-In is a very welcome addition. It’s smooth, highly efficient and has been brilliantly engineered so as not to disrupt cabin space – an area where this large SUV excels.

Now boasting a higher-quality interior and generous equipment levels, it could be a very appealing choice for families looking for a greener option, especially with only a limited number of electric seven-seat SUVs on the market.

  • Facts at a glance
  • Model: Hyundai Santa Fe
  • Price: £40,240
  • Model as tested: Hyundai Santa Fe Ultimate Plug-in Hybrid 4WD
  • Price as tested: £49,160
  • Engine: 1.6-litre petrol-electric plug-in hybrid
  • Power: 262bhp
  • Torque: 350Nm
  • Max speed: 116mph
  • 0-60mph: 8.6 seconds
  • MPG: 173.7mpg
  • Emissions: 37g/km
  • Electric-only range: 37 miles

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