This drained, bogged-down state is the only chance we had to sample the Santa Fe Plug-In Hybrid. Simply put, this powertrain wasn't at its best. A few attempts were made to pump juice back into the pack by coasting and using the Santa Fe's brakes, but no dice. Each attempt to put it in EV-only mode was met with the equivalent of a "sorry, no juice" error message from the instrument cluster. Off the line or up steep grades, the 1.6-liter engine felt labored.
As a result, we can't give an honest assessment of the Santa Fe's PHEV powertrain until we get one for our own in-house testing to top up both the tank and the battery to give it a chance to put on a good showing.
When it comes to other aspects of the Santa Fe, however, the news is good. The brakes blend regenerative braking and friction braking well, and it's easy to come to a smooth stop in city traffic.
There are different drive modes to fiddle with via a rotary knob in the center console, but we found little use for Sport or Snow. Instead we left it in Smart and let the computer sort out how to best juggle what little power from the battery we had and how to best sort the gearing for max efficiency. The transmission itself is unobtrusive and rarely hunts for gears, except on steeper inclines. Thankfully, when it does shift, it does so snappily. Just six gears might seem middling in 2022, but it's based on Hyundai's modern eight-speed automatic with two gears taken out and the hybrid electric motor now taking up that space.
All in all, we think the PHEV powertrain could add to the Santa Fe's appeal — we just need to test it at its best to be sure.