Review and photos by Brendan McAleer

You’d have to be a fairly specialized sort of idiot to think this was a good idea: with a summer wedding to go to and airfares at their cheapest ever, why not drive 2500+ km each way through the desert with your in-laws and your baby? I mean, how hard can it be?

Well, right off the bat, there’s a problem. This is the larger version of Hyundai’s Santa Fe, and despite the “XL” proudly emblazoned on the rear tailgate, it’s sort of just “L”. Or possibly “M”.

Hyundai has ditched the Veracruz nameplate in favour of offering their well-known and well-regarded Santa Fe in two flavours, the smaller Sport and the seven-seat XL. Despite cargo room that trumps the venerable Highlander and Mazda CX-9, the Santa Fe XL is smaller than a Ford Explorer or (probably its most major competitor) a Nissan Pathfinder. And that means, on a wet Monday morning, all our stuff won’t fit.

Road Trip: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XLRoad Trip: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XL
Road Trip: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XL. Click image to enlarge

The intention was to use hotels and motels coming and enjoy some summer-time camping on the return route. Ever attempted to do anything whatsoever with a baby? It requires more logistical supplies than the invasion of Normandy. After repeated attempts to Tetris everything in there, a realization was made – either our stuff could come along, or our family. We adapted.

As my tester was a highest-trim level Limited, we only had six seats to work with (the middle row is comprised of two captain’s chairs), and here’s where the XL actually won back a few points. The 50/50 folding rear seats are big enough for an adult (a short one), and with a rear-facing child seat occupying one of the mid-row chairs, we folded my mother-in-law into the rearmost seat – something many people will no doubt appreciate – and packed stuff in every possible nook and cranny we could find.

The first leg of our journey had us battling Vancouver traffic on a misty day, and revealed all sorts of good and bad about the big Hyundai. The bad – disembarking from that lonely rear seat is quite an involved process better suited to a Cirque de Soleil performer than a grandmother. And, it has to be said, I felt like the driver’s seat was a bit on the firm side. This might be a long trip.

However, as we sailed through the border and on down the interstate, the hits just kept coming. This big horse eschews Hyundai’s mania for turbocharging and gets a smooth, smooth, smooth 3.3L V6 producing 290 hp. The six-cylinder provides a surprising rush on an on-ramp, and it’s worth mentioning that this isn’t a particularly heavy machine considering its size, weighing in at just over 1,850 kg (4,100 lb). Even so, the shove from this moderately sized V6 is impressive; the XL seemed not to notice how heavily laden it was.

Road Trip: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XL
Road Trip: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XL. Click image to enlarge

The ActiveEco button might only slightly improve the fuel economy, but the car stays in Eco once you’ve pushed it (unlike other marques’ “Sport” modes). Even with the six-speed transmission in its most fuel-saving mode, the Santa Fe was happy to dust off big rigs with a simple prod of the foot. Not that we were doing much passing as traffic snarled up around the Mount Vernon area.

One of those aforementioned big rigs had made an error while crossing a rickety Washington State bridge and ended up putting the entire structure in the water – no one seriously injured, thankfully. Diverting took some time and required a re-route once we got back in the vicinity of the I-5, and here comes one of the best things about the big Hyundai: its navigation system lets you program it while you drive.

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