Like so many big, capable-looking four-wheel-drive SUVs with marketing campaigns spruiking their adventurous spirit and inexhaustible ability, our Hyundai Santa Fe long-termer has spent most of its first two months cooped up in the city, performing tasks better suited to an i20 or i30.
A long weekend, a soggy weather forecast and a doggedly enthusiastic bunch of campers presented the perfect opportunity for Hyundai’s recently released third-generation seven-seater to showcase its aptitude as a comfortable, accommodating and efficient getaway sidekick.
The journey before it was a circa-550km round trip from Sydney to Seal Rocks on the NSW South Coast, the first leg taking roughly four hours in the Friday afternoon city exodus.
After attending to the ‘tailgate open’ dashboard warning display that confirmed a driver, four passengers and camping gear for five was about the Santa Fe’s limit, we were away.
Actually, the 516-litre boot swallowed our kit with relative ease, without requiring us to slide the rear seats forward to expand the cargo area’s depth and volume. That meant legroom wasn’t compromised for our three back-seat passengers, who, being finely built five-foot-not-much 20-something-year-old girls, were cosy but far from cramped sitting shoulder-to-shoulder across the second row.
The B-pillar-mounted air vents earned praise, as did the integrated sunblinds in the rear windowsills, and with a mandatory halfway pit stop (technically a pie stop, really) breaking up the trip into twin two-hour stints, complaints about comfort were the sole domain of the back-row middle passenger, who grew a little restless with the firmer seat back and base combo.
The Santa Fe’s impressive audio system with seven speakers, two tweeters and subwoofer kept us entertained into the night, with the ability to pair up to eight Bluetooth devices a highlight for a quintet of wannabe DJs with individual ‘tastes’ in ‘music’. The ability to charge a phone on the go via the USB port also proved handy.
Hauling five plus cargo asks the Santa Fe’s 145kW/436Nm 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel to work a little harder than normal – particularly up hills where the torquey unit relies on the six-speed automatic transmission to keep it in a compromise somewhere between its 1800-2500rpm peak torque band and 3800rpm power zenith – but rarely did it feel like it was under strain.
The extra weight didn’t seem to hurt efficiency either, with the trip computer reading 7.5 litres per 100km as we rolled into our damp campsite to conclude the first half of our journey.
The return trip presented the Santa Fe with a fresh challenge, with a sixth passenger jumping aboard in what was an early exit from our waterlogged pitch. With the third-row seats occupying most of the boot space, erecting one forced us to offload half of our gear into a mate’s charming BJ42 LandCruiser – a car that makes a mockery of those aforementioned ‘lifestyle’ ad campaigns with its genuine ability.
While not ones to complain, the verdict from the valiant duo that shared the trip back in the rearmost seat was that, while the air conditioning vents were again superbly effective, the seat itself was small and hard, offered little leg or headroom, was positioned ear-achingly close to the basey subwoofer, created a sense of claustrophobia with its lack of light and windows, and was therefore best reserved for small kids and short trips. But the versatility of those extra part-time pews turned the Santa Fe into a hero in one of those rare occasions where you have an awkward sextet.
CarAdvice has spied Hyundai Australia testing a long-wheelbase Grand Santa Fe – a car even better suited to hauling five-plus – although the local division says it has no plans to add it to the line-up.
After a few suburban drop-off detours, our journey had come to an end. The trip computer read 594.1km, consumption remained steady at 7.6L/100km, and the fuel meter was still showing more than a quarter following a brimming of its 64-litre tank two days earlier.
So despite the soccer mum stereotype, the Santa Fe is arguably even more at home crushing kilometres four-up on the highway – particularly with the efficient R-Series diesel under the bonnet. Seats five through seven have their limitations, but Hyundai’s biggest SUV proved an otherwise comfortable, practical and willing companion for a weekend escape.