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27 April 2017

Driving Hyundai's Antarctic-beating SUV

This Santa Fe entered history at the South Pole. Yet they've let us drive it...

Paul Horrell
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This Hyundai Santa Fe drove to, and beyond, the South Pole. And back.

What shall we do with it then? I wanted snow. But it would have been ridiculously disrespectful to Patrick Bergel, and by extension his great-grandfather Sir Ernest Shackleton, to imagine any adventure of mine would have held the smallest particle of a candle to what they’d achieved.

So I drove it up the Milton Keynes Snozone. An indoor ski slope with real snow. Bergel drove this Hyundai to the end of the earth. I drove it in a big shed in Buckinghamshire. I think we can safely say I avoided treading on the toes of any legends.

It might only be a Hyundai Santa Fe, but my word those tyres add some heft to the visual impression. It towers over you. The door handles are at shoulder height. Just getting in is an exercise in minor mountaineering.

But once you’re in the seat, it’s bizarrely ordinary. Normal Hyundai seats and dash. Bluetooth phone and an iPod socket. A switch to deactivate stop/start.. Navigation (which I assume said ‘please proceed to a digitised map area’ for the whole trip). More relevant are its heated seats and steering wheel.

Then, though, some very not-ordinary equipment. Hacked on by the steering wheel are switches for the air compressor and inverter. An engine block heater prevented the thing cracking asunder in the night cold. Taking up most of the back of the cabin are a 230-litre fuel tank and a spare tyre.

Milton Keynes’ snow isn’t the downey powder of a fresh fall. It’s heavier, more granular and, I quietly fantasise, perhaps a little like the windblown icy particles of Antarctica.

It’s certainly deep. No ordinary 4x4 would get even a few metres along the level in this stuff, never mind ascend to the top of the drag lifts.

I set the Santa Fe to a tentative crawl and it claws its way to a level patch half-way up. The steering is mushy and the body pitches and rolls. I feel like it’ll skid down, or catch its lower wheels and roll. We get some shots done, I’m feeling like it’s mission accomplished and I figure I’ll be happy to hand it back unmolested.

But then I think of that South Pole film (it's on our Facebook page), where it’s looking so natural as it pulls elegant snakeys across drifting snowfields, and climbs ludicrous obstacles.

Gradually given more of the power, it comes more alive. It kicks back the snow, the tyres shouldering the load, romping up the slope. The suspension compresses and stretches like a giant benevolent accordion. The steering respects only your broad preference rather than answering any specific instruction. Presumably it knows best anyway.

In a garage at the bottom of the slope is an actual piste-bashing machine. The Snozone people say they’re staggered a wheeled vehicle went up where that giant tracked contraption normally has exclusive access.

But then, the Santa Fe has gone undefeated by unimaginably more intractable terrain than this. Read about its Antarctic adventure right here.

Tags: hyundai, santa fe, suv, hyundai santa fe, antarctica, hyundai south pole, sir ernest shakleton, shackletons return, hyundai antarctic trip

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