Originally published January 31, 2013

Manufacturer’s Website
Hyundai Canada

Article and photos by Justin Pritchard

Photo Gallery:
2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T

Mother Nature was all crabby-pants during my mid-January test of the new Hyundai Santa Fe – she dumped about two feet of snow all over my hometown, and then dropped temperatures faster than a Lance Armstrong endorsement deal.

The mercury landed somewhere around 30 below, which is (delightfully) too cold for road salt to work. Prior to this, there was snow. Lots of snow. The second big, ‘all-night-long’ dumping of the season. It left over a foot on the ground.

Naturally, I did what I always do when there’s an ‘all-night-long’ dumping of snow up here in Sudbury. I grabbed some buddies, some large double-doubles, and drove repeatedly around every unplowed backroad I could find.

A few nights after this, I travelled 300 kilometres down Highway 69 after dark. That distance was spread evenly between extreme cold over frozen hard-packed ice-stripes and then slightly warmer temperatures accompanied by zero-visibility, blowing snow, and deep powder.

A few noteworthy points about the wintertime driving experience of the tested 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Limited AWD came to light in the process.

Northern Exposure: Santa Fe vs Snowstorm winter driving car test drives insights advice hyundai
Santa Fe vs Snowstorm. Click image to enlarge

Proper ESC Calibration: In many winter situations, wheelspin is a good thing –and most of the time, the ESC in the Santa Fe allows enough of it. Wheelspin allows snow to be flung from the treads for better contact with the ground beneath the tires – so when you give Santa Fe the boots coming out of a parking lot and onto a busy street, it lets the wheels spin a little faster than they can grip to ensure you get moving quickly. In real life, this is more favourable than overly aggressive ESC systems that numb the throttle at any sign of wheelspin, cross their arms, report your activities to the fun police, and leave you throttle-less in front of traffic.

Overly aggressive smashing on the gas does put the Santa Fe’s throttle on lockdown, but only for a half-moment as control is regained. The system also tightens up its tolerances for sliding at higher speeds, but still allows a brief skid before engaging. Ultimately, you’ll feel like you’re in control more than the vehicle is, which is a good thing.

Hill Start Assist: Stop on a hill, and Santa Fe freezes the pressure in the brake lines for a few seconds while your foot moves from the brakes to the gas. This prevents rollback, makes life easier for the transmission, and also makes it far more likely that you’ll get moving again after being stopped on an icy incline. After all, nothing’s more embarrassing than holding up traffic while you spin all four tires and slide backwards like a sucker.

Xenon Lighting: This was my only complaint. Xenon lights are usually great in a snowstorm. The ones in the Santa Fe were just adequate, not mind-blowing. In clear conditions, they’re more than adequate. For some reason, the light output diminishes notably when there’s even a small amount of snow or ice on the lenses—and there’s no washer system. Additionally, most oncoming traffic thought my high-beams were on, so I was blinded repeatedly by irritated motorists. Perhaps it’s an issue of aiming.

Tires: Write this down: all-wheel drive, ABS brakes and electronic stability control DO NOT make traction. The only way to increase the physical grip between a vehicle and a slippery road is at the point of contact: the tires. Electronic aids or not, riding all-season tires in conditions like these would result in a level of directional stability similar to a hummingbird on bath salts.

The tester wore Hankook Winter I-Cept Evo tires in its 19-inch OEM size. I found them a nicely balanced all-around winter performance tire. They’re perhaps slightly more slippery during hard braking and acceleration than a Michelin X-Ice or Pirelli Sottozero, but they are remarkably stable in a straight line and while steering. 

Northern Exposure: Santa Fe vs Snowstorm winter driving car test drives insights advice hyundai
Santa Fe vs Snowstorm. Click image to enlarge

Slip-and-Grip AWD Done Right: Santa Fe’s AWD system is clever and well set up for driving in crappy winter weather. Say you stop on something slippery. The AWD system notes this, and gives power to all four wheels when you take off again. Even with extremely light throttle in deep snow, it’ll power all four wheels from a dig in most situations – preemptively dialing up traction instead of letting the front wheels slip ahead of engaging the rear ones.

Otherwise, when the system brings the rear wheels online for propulsion, they engage quickly – within about two or three revolutions of the front wheels – and get a good share of engine power. This AWD system isn’t shy about calling the rear wheels into play, and when all four tires spin, power is split actively to maximize extraction of available traction.

There’s even a ‘lock’ setting to pre-set the system into a 50/50 power split, though I never needed to use it. All in all, I always felt well supported and backed up. No issues with needless tire spinning or harshness during shifting power between the front and rear. In virtually any situation, this setup feels like it knows what it’s doing.

Keep those Khakis Clean: After arriving at my destination, there was approximately 47 pounds of salty brown filthy road-guck frozen to the underside of each of the Santa Fe’s front doors. Thankfully, those front doors actually cover the structural rocker panel where this frozen mess typically accumulates on most rides. Open the door, and the mess goes with it, revealing a clean-as-a-whistle surface to step over and keeping your pants clean. This isn’t an attribute specific to the Santa Fe, but proves a thoughtful touch nonetheless.

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