Want the Perfect Family Car? Get a Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid

It's big, it's fancy, and it's more efficient than most other family crossovers you might consider.

front grille of hyundai santa fe hybrid parked on suburban street
Tyler Duffy

Last fall, my family needed to buy a family car. My wife wanted an upgrade; her previous lease was a 2018 Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen S. We needed more space — we had a second kid in the interim — and wanted more luxury. My wife wanted more of an SUV, with some added ride height and the security of all-wheel drive. And ideally, we were looking for something fuel-efficient, if not electric — which ruled out the Kia Telluride we knew we liked.

We looked at the potential EV options, but in our price range, we would have sacrificed both space and luxury — assuming we would even have been able to find an electric vehicle that worked for us. My wife wasn’t keen on the branding with the Ford Mustang Mach E — we live within earshot of drag racing Mustangs on Woodward Ave outside of Detroit. She liked how the Volkswagen ID.4 drove, but was not a fan of the exterior or interior quality.

So, like many beleaguered parents, we zeroed in on the Hyundai Santa Fe, which met almost every requirement. Hyundai and Kia build the best luxury cars on a budget. The Santa Fe's interior is enormous, and it has a hybrid option. (Technically, the Santa Fe has two hybrid options, as it also come in PHEV form, but it didn’t appear that finding the latter would be possible for us in the current market.)

I wanted the Limited Hybrid trim with the ventilated front seats and heated steering wheel I’m accustomed to in my fancy test cars. But the clock was ticking; my wife did not want to learn to drive my manual wagon as a holdover. So, when we found a middle-tier SEL Premium on a lot 90 miles away, we went for it. The SEL Premium is still quite posh with a panoramic sunroof and heated leather seats. And it hasn’t been modernized like the Tucson yet, so there are no annoying haptic buttons.

hyundai santa fe hybrid parked on side of the street
Tyler Duffy
hyundai santa fe hybrid parked on a suburban street
Tyler Duffy

The Santa Fe Hybrid is very pleasant to drive

The Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid isn’t super-sporty. The 1.6-liter gas engine and electric motor combine for 226 horsepower — in a car that weighs a little more than 4,000 pounds. But it’s smooth, feels quick at low speeds, and handles itself competently in typical driving situations. Plus, you get a driver-friendly six-speed automatic transmission, instead of a CVT. Changing the throttle mapping using drive modes has been a revelation to my wife, who doesn’t drive new cars every week for a living.

It handled winter well. The Santa Fe Hybrid has AWD and a dedicated Snow Mode. We didn’t get too much snow (by Michigan standards) this winter, but my wife did venture out to a pilates class during a significant snow event this winter — and she did not need me to hurry out in the 4Runner I was testing to shuttle her back.

The Santa Fe Hybrid is efficient

The EPA rates the Santa Fe Hybrid for 33 mpg city and 30 mpg highway. My wife has put in most of the miles on it, and I don’t track her driving like a creep — but during my trips, at least, the EPA estimate has felt about right. I got about 38 mpg in my regular, short 25-mile lunch break test route without trying to drive efficiently.

My wife has about a 10-mile commute, including when she has to pick up kids; she goes to the office three times per week, and the Santa Fe Hybrid has a big 17.7-gallon fuel tank. As a result, we’ve had the car for about six months, and she's probably filled it up just a handful of times during that span.

This Hyudai is practical for two-kid families

You don’t get a third row with the Santa Fe. But with two kids, you don’t need one. And instead, the Santa Fe gives you a massive 36.4 cubic foot trunk and 72.1 cubic feet of total cargo space. That’s about the same space as a Subaru Forester or Outback with the seat down, and substantially more space than either with the seat up. We have not yet encountered a situation where we have had to think about what we were putting in the back and whether it would fit.

I don’t spend much time in the back seat; we have our forward-facing and rear-facing car seats parked back there. But there’s ample room for getting kids in and out and stashing their stuff beneath them or between them.

But the Santa Fe Hybrid does have one truly annoying feature

When you reverse, the Santa Fe Hybrid makes a very loud beeping noise to warn pedestrians, as though you're backing up a massive delivery truck. It's probably good for safety, but it also alerts the entire block to your comings and goings. (Godspeed to any Santa Fe Hybrid owner caught making a tricky multiple-point turn.) I'm grateful that it's not the car I take to the airport at 5:30 am.

The Santa Fe Hybrid will be a solid bridge to our eventual electric cars

We couldn’t go electric for a family car this time around. The amenities and options just weren’t there at a reasonable price point. Hopefully, the market will be there in three years when our lease is up. And for now, the Santa Fe Hybrid delivers a lot of what we like about the Telluride — while being about 33 percent more efficient.

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