When Toyota discontinued the Venza in 2016, it threw the door wide open for the Hyundai Santa Fe. Toyota figured it out pretty quickly, bringing back the Venza as an all-new crossover this year. Toyota's big move---making the Venza hybrid-only. And that makes the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid a very important vehicle.
Our tester was the top-of-the-line Limited AWD. And the '21 Venza we tested was also their Limited model with all-wheel-drive. All references and comparisons are based on that.
Unlike the swoopy Venza, the 2022 Santa Fe stays with the broad-shoulders approach to SUV design. The Santa Fe is also bigger in every dimension (1.8 inches longer, 1.8 inches wider and 0.4 inches taller).
Under the hood of the Santa Fe, it's a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine mated to an electric motor. The output is 226 combined horsepower, seven more than the Venza's. But the EPA fuel economy average is shockingly low in the Santa Fe Hybrid---33 city/30 highway. That's a huge drop from the Venza's 40/37. How come? A couple of major factors: The Santa Fe has a six-speed automatic transmission while the Toyota has a CVT. The Santa Fe needs more fuel-saving gears.
There's also a 365-pound weight difference, the Santa Fe being the heavier. At least part of that comes from the fact that both are all wheel drive. The Toyota uses one of its three electric motors to engage the rear wheels while the gasoline engine drives the front wheels. The Santa Fe kicks it old school, with a heavier transfer case and gasoline being used to spin all four wheels.
Styling is subjective until it cuts into interior room. And Hyundai's choice to maintain a more traditional SUV profile pays off in space for drivers and passengers. The difference is heightened because the Venza is, as I noted in my review back in November of last year, cramped---with less actual room inside than its baby brother, the RAV4.
A look at the base price for the Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Limited AWD and the Toyota Venza Limited might make you think Hyundai has given up its winning strategy of more feature content at a lower price than the competition. The MSRP of $39,950 is $150 more than the Toyota.
The window sticker is at the end of this review so you can see for yourself, but the key is that the panoramic sunroof that is a $1,400 extra-cost option on the Venza is standard on the Santa Fe Hybrid. As are rain-sensing wipers, which Toyota bundles with a head-up display and charges $725 for.
And it's Hyundai's one-price strategy that wins the day. With $1,185 inland freight and handling, the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid's as-tested price is $41,290---$1,810 under the final tab for the 2021 Toyota Venza Limited.
That's a substantial advantage for the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid on price, passenger room, feature content and interior styling (the Toyota is a study in black plastic). But people buy hybrids for fuel economy and seven miles per gallon (both city and highway) is a big gap.