2014 Hyundai Santa Fe XL. Click image to enlarge
Review and Photos by Jeff Wilson
There are certain destinations revered by motoring enthusiasts as havens of exhilaration, adventure and danger. These are locations sought by those in the know where they can join others who share their belief that travel is about more than just getting from A to B; it’s about the thrill of the journey.
These are the places where some dreams come true and others are shattered in equal measure. Where passion and skill are put to the ultimate test in measuring the fortitude of the man or woman at the helm. We’re talking about places accessible to anyone with the right vehicle and enough nerve to take them on. We’re talking about the Nurburgring; Tail of the Dragon; the Rubicon Trail. Places where respect is hard earned.
But there’s another destination that forces a driver to be at the pinnacle of his or her alertness, reaction time and steeled nerve. A place where even a slight miscalculation – a split-second of indecision – can result in metal carnage and the destruction of ego.
That place is Manhattan during rush hour.
I’ve taken on Toronto’s worst winter rush-hour traffic and comparatively reveled in LA’s sun-soaked traffic quagmire (and even borne witness to Tokyo, Cairo and Jakarta’s worst weekday traffic firsthand), but never have I experienced such nerve-fraying wheel time as when repeatedly zig-zagging New York City’s ridiculously congested road system over several consecutive days.
A wiser man than me would lose his New York virginity in something that can easily dart through traffic like an already-battle-scarred Mini Cooper S or perhaps drive over it in one of those crazy Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen 6×6 AMGs.
Not me though. Oh no. The nature of my Big Apple Trip was to transport me and three colleagues (along with the necessary film and lighting gear) to New York to shoot a TV series pilot. So a rig that can comfortably swallow both grown passengers and much too much gear is required. And while the Schwarzen-Benz would meet those challenges with ease, we’re also buying our own fuel and doing our own parking.
So that, combined with the generosity of our friends at Hyundai is how I ended up driving a 2014 Santa Fe XL for more than 1,600 km in five days.
And I’m proud to report that somehow, I managed to return the XL in the same as-new condition I received it despite being parked in places that occasionally caused nervous sleep loss. And this is to say nothing of the army of yellow cabs caring only about the fare and none of the objects (or life) around them.
Normally when filming on location with a four-man team, we’ll rent a full-size SUV or even a van. This time, we thought we’d go for something a little more svelte and stylish (not to mention efficient) and loaded our Santa Fe XL’s cargo hold to near max capacity.
Equipped as our rig was with the optional second-row captain’s chairs, we made good use of the space between the seats by sliding in long items (like our portable jib) between them. Even the small under-floor cubby behind the third-row seats was stuffed with essentials for our mission.
2014 Hyundai Santa Fe XL dashboard, seating, cargo area. Click image to enlarge
Setting out mid-morning toward the Fort Erie–Buffalo border crossing, our quartet immediately appreciated the comfort afforded by the four bucket seats. Had all the gear not been so tightly jammed into our XL, middle row passengers would’ve been able to recline their buckets greater than the available 2 degrees. The saddle brown leather of our tester was a great contrasting choice by whomever specified our press car.
Driver and front seat passenger especially relished the cooled seating surfaces, and despite some long stretches on the turnpike, nobody complained of discomfort – a testament to Hyundai’s success in constructing comfortable thrones. That said, the width between the armrests shows these seats are clearly designed to accommodate a huskier gentleman than me. I could use one or the other, but not both simultaneously. [At least they were padded. –Ed.]
Unlike its smaller Santa Fe Sport sibling, the XL features a third row for two additional passengers. Periodically throughout our New York travels we needed to fill one or both of these seats with bodies (no, not Mafia-style) and reports from those captive in the way-back suggest that even grown-ups can reasonably fit for cross-town jaunts. This back row is a split-fold affair that helps enable maximum space utilization as needed.
Our Santa Fe XL’s stretched wheelbase (versus the smaller Sport) gives the bigger Hyundai an agreeable ride, especially at speed on the turnpike. Coupled with good noise suppression and the up-level Infinity sound system (which gives decent if not outstanding sound quality), the Santa Fe XL proves to be a brilliant highway cruiser.