Hyundai Santa Fe - Long Term Update

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2009 Hyundai Santa Fe - Long Term Review: Update

The last time we left you with a cliff hanger. Was there really an issue with the Santa Fe's suspension? Would the car fare well off road? Would I definitely put on more weight if I tried to eat any more cheeseburgers?

Fear not dear friends, we have the answers. But first, let's deal with how the car is currently performing.

There are 5009km now on the odometer, and as far as the engine goes, we couldn't be happier. It's freeing up nicely, and fuel consumption has dropped to under 10.0 litres per 100 kilometres. Well, just under, anyway.

For the city run, we're getting 9.9L/100km, which again, is more than what the trip computer shows at 9.7. It seems to be a pattern, where it always states 0.2-litres less than the actual consumption. Hey, at least it's predictably consistent.

The engine is still a little noisy on start up when cold, which you sort of expect, but once it's warmed, the diesel rattle settles down and it's a smooth as you like. It's still no match for a German/French diesel, but it's better than some Japanese jobs, that's for sure.

The car is also holding up to the daily grind, with the exception of a few scratches on the dark silver surrounds on the door trim. We had the chance to also test the rear row of seating when the entire family piled in for the weekend. As a 180+centimetre tall man, it's a squeeze, but kids would have no issues at all.

The only problem for me was not having enough knee room, my head just made it under the roof line, so to solve that, you just tilt the second row backrest forward slightly.

Incidentally, sitting back there, you get your own air-conditioning, which can be varied in speed from the back row, and turned completely on or off from the centre stack. Also interesting to note that you cannot tell that it's a diesel from the last row. It's even, dare I say it, a pleasant sound.

Now let's deal with those issues we spoke of earlier. Firstly the suspension, and in the last update we reported on a clunking sound coming from the suspension. To its credit, Hyundai began investigations immediately.

The car was temporarily replaced with a regular Santa Fe, one sans the Trek'N'Tow option. Our long term car was whisked away, placed on stands and the suspension removed and sent back to head office. The supplier was also called in to take a look and see if there was an issue.

Meanwhile, we tried the regular Santa Fe on the same areas which highlighted the Trek'N'Tow imperfections. The knocking from the rear was completely non-existent. Well, that solves that one, but the front was a whole different story. The thump was still there, admittedly not quite to the same scale, but there nonetheless.

Hyundai spokesperson Ben Hershman said to us that it's a characteristic of this car. The way the front suspension geometry and set-up works will give you that thumping sound when the suspension extends very quickly. So there's not a lot that can be done.

Introduce Trek'N'Tow to the equation and things just get worse. We got our car back with another Trek'N'Tow kit to see if the first kit was faulty and, lo and behold, the same result. The supplier did come back to Hyundai, too, with an answer as to whether there was really an issue with the kit.

There's a bush at the top of the rear dampers that we're told under certain circumstances doesn't quite absorb the forces exerted as effectively as it should.

The supplier has come up with a fix for this, and should any customer inquire about the thump, it will be replaced free of charge. Since it's not a safety issue, Hyundai won't be recalling the cars, but will look after each customer on a case-by-case basis.

To put you in the picture, Trek'N'Tow is sourced from an Australian company for the Australian market only, which means all those jumping on the "anything Korean is dodgy" bandwagon can go and take a hike.

It's fitted at the dealer you purchase the car from and was originally introduced on the Terracan, where it was a great success. It's been redesigned to suit the Santa Fe, the idea being to give the car more ground clearance, and to increase the ball downforce for towing.

From that perspective, it works, for sure. It definitely helps you off road, and also stops the sag that comes with towing a lot.

You have to question whether the clunking, which is apparent in day-to-day driving, outweighs the benefits for the occasional tow, or off-road jaunt. It's interesting to note, too, that Trek'N'Tow has been deleted as an option from the Santa Fe's update in 2010.

As part of our long term investigation, we decided to take the car out for a trip along the beach, to also see how the Santa Fe went in some rough stuff.

Kids were thrown in the car, and the associated katundu, like Tonka trucks, buckets, spades, chips, lollies, water, etc. We let the tyres down to 16psi, and despite the very flexy sidewalls, headed off making sure our steering inputs were straight so as to not roll a tyre off the rim.

We came up against some very, very boggy stuff, but with the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) off and four-wheel lock on, the Santa Fe triumphed admirably. The diesel engine also proved better than I expected, with a very strong, torquey pull, especially from low revs.

Counting against it was its desire to change gear every time we hit the redline, despite leaving it in manual mode. The gaps between ratios are too much for the diesel to regain any power, so it wallows for a bit, and if you've lost enough speed, you're sunk.

The trick was to keep it clicked into first gear, and very carefully modulate your throttle, so it wouldn't hit the redline and slip into second.

Easier said than done, especially when your body is bouncing around in the cabin, and your foot flexes a bit too much. I did get the hang of it though, and as long as it stayed in first, it would climb boggy, sandy hills with no problems. Along the flats on the beach second gear was fine, too.

But that knocking and thumping continued in the background when you went in and out of ruts, and across varied surfaces and bumps. I would say you could get used to it, but in my opinion, you shouldn't have to.

The Santa Fe's off road ability was surprisingly good, though, and if you did option the Trek'N'Tow, there's not much that would hold you back.

Don't keep the four-wheel lock on for too long, either, as it does tend to overheat the rear drivetrain with a lot of work, and reverts back to front-wheel-drive (see the above photo). You then have to stop and let it cool down for a bit before you can head off again.

Best to leave it for the "oh my god, we're never going to make it out of this" moments, because it's responsive enough to not have to keep it locked.

We'll put our car down on the list for getting that bush replaced, and let you know how it pans out. Oh yes, I almost forgot; I've given up cheeseburgers.