Hyundai Santa Fe

Santa Cruise

Hyundai, PR geniuses, took us for a camping/ driving weekend in the middle of nowhere. I did like the vehicle, though, and used it a few times, not least for the four-wheel driving piece I wrote not long after. This was all for Alpha magazine in about 2008/ 2009.

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Hyundai wants you to buy this car. It really, really does. If it could do any more to get you sitting in the passenger seat with a grin on your face and a “Just Sold!” sticker plastered on the windscreen, it would do it.

The ad for the Santa Fe, currently growling under my foot around the wilder portions of NSW, is the one with Kostya Tszyu in boxing gloves, driving the kids to school while taking a detour through a rainforest. “Buy me,” coos the message, “This car is all your cars rolled into one. It’s for on the road, off the road, it’s safe, green, tough and easy to drive. It might even walk your dog. You can’t not say yes.”

They’re righto try so hard. Times are tough for big cars. It started in the States with those specially widened fat-person transporters. Now GM is on the street begging for loose coins.

The 2009 Santa Fe is a little classier, more solid and less plasticky than before and comes with a series of optional extras. To pack all this into a fairly big “soft-roader” for $39,990 is… Well, exactly what’s required. They really, really want you to buy this car.

As the trails grow steeper and more uneven, I reflect on the two most important features of the ’09 version. Normally a front-drive (with a 4WD lock), the computer senses when the traction suddenly goes west and shoves power into the back wheels. The other geek-pleaser is what Hyundai calls Trek ‘n’ Tow, as special kit that bolts on springs, damper units and other things. The Trek ‘n’ Tow is a good option if you want to give the kids a treat and take them to school via a grade three canyon.

Faced with a steep track that hasn’t been graded since 1908 and is now drenched with rainwater, my Santa Fe – raised, strengthened and computerised – lifts up its skirts and tiptoes with impressive care to the bottom. I miss the frantic skidding of normal off-roading, but not that much.

All-round it’s just a really impressive drive. Although still technically medium-sized (maybe medium is the new large), it feels roomy, with space for all your camping gear, a couple of dogs and five comfortable people.

The Santa Fe 2.2 CRDi turbo is a diesel, which, depending on the time of day, year or month is a more or less expensive bowser option but it certainly gives you more kays to the tank. The diesel also offers a bit more torque, offset by the longish delay between stamping hopefully on the accelerator and being spat up the road by the big engine. Not much of a concern off-road but slightly scary when you need a sharp overtaking manoeuvre back in civilisation.

Like Monica Bellucci, the Santa Fe is quite tall and very well sprung, which makes for a soft ride when it gets bumpy (still thinking about Monica, aren’t you?) but there’s still plenty of cabin rock as I climb over the really rough bits. On the road, however, Hyundai’s patented ESP stability control system adds to a feeling of solidity and security at speed. The controls are clear and intuitive, including those on the leather-covered steering-wheel, while there’s built-in iPod connectivity, a centre-console coolbox and six airbags, in case you wanted a jumping castle instead of a car.

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See this as a higher-res PDF:

SantaFePDF