2021 Hyundai Santa Fe: crossing the continent on one tank

It’s not an impossible task: getting from one side of Africa to the other in just one filling of your fuel tank. Especially if your route is longitudinal, near the thinner southern bits, and your chosen vehicle is a highly refined and efficient Hyundai…

Before I get started, it’s worth mentioning that this was not an official challenge by any measure. Neither the manufacturer nor our publication was attempting an official record, but the opportunity presented itself after the first few kilometres of our journey from Somerset West to Morgan Bay; totalling about 1100km.

Although I had initially requested a different vehicle for this family vacation, serendipity smiled upon us when that became unavailable and the Hyundai Santa Fe R2.2 Executive FWD was substituted into our itinerary. You see, we’ve done this exact trip before, about four years ago, and it was in a then-new Hyundai Tucson: click here to read it.

To be honest, the Tucson is a perfectly acceptable chariot for such a trip, especially when fitted with a turbo-diesel engine. Other Hyundai steeds I wouldn’t have chased off my driveway include the smaller Creta or compact Kona; although the latter is only available with petrol power and considerably less passenger space.

This Santa Fe was Hyundai’s largest offering up to a few months ago when the even bigger Palisade arrived. Where the Santa Fe is available with optional all-wheel-drive and two impressive levels of luxury, the Palisade is packed with permanent AWD and more goodies. Best read our launch report for more details: click here!

But back to the little family holiday trip, and I do mean “little”. With just two adults and a toddler, the far rear seats were never raised from their hidey holes under the floor, and even that was never fully occupied with cargo. We could’ve easily accommodated two more kids or one fully grown adult with luggage.

Perhaps because of our light load, the vehicle displayed some impressive fuel consumption figures almost immediately after we set off: our projected range usually climbed to 1000km and beyond. Hyundai claims average 50ppm diesel use of 7.9L/100km but that is a very conservative estimate which includes slow and heavy town driving.

Out on the open road, with the cruise control set to the posted national limit of 120km/h, we quickly dove past 7.9 and kept heading south as the Boland towns flew by. By the time we reached a coffee stop in Matjiesfontein, the vehicle’s comprehensive trip computer was showing an average figure in the low sevens.

More importantly, we weren’t hyper-miling or actively trying to save fuel. All climate and entertainment systems were active and being used as anyone would on a cross-country journey. Yet the numbers kept shrinking, eventually dipping into the high sixes as we hit the dry and dusty plains of the Karoo.

On a 67L fuel tank, that equated to a four figure range. And although I was sorely tempted to splutter and cough into the Morgan Bay Hotel parking lot with a beaming reserve fuel light, we eventually chickened out and filled the tank again after 850-or-so kilometres. Same thing on the return journey: with just a bit more effort, we could’ve made the trip in one go…

Comfort? Check. Luxury? You bet. The Santa Fe has a smooth and predictable ride, fairly agile drive train and its spacious cabin is beautifully finished with high quality materials. I would’ve loved heated front seats but those are reserved for the AWD Elite model and we certainly didn’t need four driven wheels for our expedition.

The central dashboard section offers a drive mode selector with Comfort, Eco, Sport and Smart options but we simply left it in the default Comfort setting. See what I mean? We didn’t even bother with Eco mode. Another advantage over our previous Hyundai companion is that this one had an 8-speed transmission.

Those two extra gears trumped the 6-speed Tucson’s average fuel figure, despite the Santa Fe weighing a bit more. My only two gripes about this DCT (dual clutch automated manual transmission) is that it obeys the lurching DCT parking manners and can sometimes conduct rough downshifts when required by the cruise control.

My co-driver bemoaned a modicum of torque-steer during full-throttle overtakes but I hardly notice this as the punchy 140kW/440Nm turbo-diesel easily pulled us past slower traffic. Some of the sensation could also be attributed to our less-than perfect roads and tram-lining tendencies of the otherwise great Kumho 235/60R18 tyres fitted here.

60-series profile on a modern SUV is quite unusual nowadays. Sometimes I think that car manufacturers employ a bunch of 14-year-olds who design angry-faced monstrosities with ginormous rims and painted-on sidewalls; because the Quasimodo SUV would look daft with anything smaller than 22” chrome rims.

Not so this Hyundai. The more I looked at it, the more I realised how comparatively under-stated and sensible it is. Comfy tyres. Simple suspension. A generous window line. Hardly any aggression in its design. My only personal gripe is that bizarre rear light cluster setup with the indicators in the bumpers; although other SUV’s have that too.

Now add an easy-to-use and feature-packed infotainment system to the mix, throw in plenty of storage and charging points, that skopgat warranty and service plan, its frugal fuel use, plus a price of R792,900 (for this model) and the Hyundai Santa Fe is a breath of fresh air in a world of over-styled, over-complicated and over-priced European pose mobiles.

Am I just typing this to kiss Hyundai’s bum for lending us a car? No sir. When my last day with this silver press car dawned, I double-checked that everything was in order, gave it a quick clean and felt genuinely sad as it quietly drove out of sight. Why?

Because I would very much like to own one.

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