Hyundai Santa Fe: Long-Term Update

words & photos - Chris Fincham
The big Hyundai has proven a reliable family hauler, but does it pull its weight as a tow vehicle?

Hyundai Santa Fe Highlander R-Series
Long-Term Update

Four months and 10,000km into our extended trial of the diesel-powered 4WD Santa Fe, the big Hyundai has done a commendable job of handling everything we’ve thrown at it so far -- family holidays, long-distance hauling, weekend offroad escapes...

While it’s proven a popular choice for a range of transportation requirements amongst the editorial crew, we felt there was at least one more area it had to prove itself before being tagged with all-rounder status the calibre of Aussie cricket’s Shane Watson.

With more and more people purchasing boats and caravans and touring in their own backyard, it’s reasonable to assume that a fair number of the 4442 Santa Fe SUVs sold in Australia last year will be called into duty as tow vehicles.

On paper, the Santa Fe is around middle of the road when it comes to towing capabilities, with a maximum towing capacity of 750kg (unbraked) and 2000kg (braked) and towball downweight of 150kg.  Compared to its main (diesel 4WD) rivals, that’s better than Holden Captiva 7 (1700kg braked), on a par with its twin-under-the-skin Kia Sorento (2000kg braked) but lagging behind the Ford Territory oiler (2700kg with heavy duty tow pack).

For our tow test, we hooked up a Supreme Getaway caravan weighing just over 1500kg (unladen). But before we did that, to comply with towing regulations, we got a mobile RV electronics technician to visit the garage and fit an electric brake controller to the Santa Fe. Installation took about two hours and cost $490 all up, adding to the optional tow bar kit already fitted by Hyundai.

With caravan in tow the Santa Fe had little problem getting up to speed on the freeway, and cruised effortlessly at up to 100km/h on the flat. It proved a stable, stress-free tow tug and at times I had to check the mirrors to remind myself I was towing a caravan.

Hitting a long, steady incline the vehicle maintained cruising speed without having to change gears, thanks to the abundance of low-down torque from the 145kW/436Nm 2.2-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel engine.

It was only when trying to maintain speed up steeper hills -- or accelerate on the flat -- that the smooth six-speed auto would drop down a cog while keeping revs within the peak torque band of 1800-2500rpm. But even under these heavier throttle situations it never laboured or over-revved, while remaining reasonably quiet and refined throughout.

While we’ve no doubt it could have handled a few more kilos, the Santa Fe felt comfortably within its limits with this amount of weight behind, also keeping in mind the combined bulk of the rig was around 3500kg.

There was little evidence of fore-aft pitching, and the noticeable sag from the Hyundai’s rear suspension wouldn’t have been helped by the caravan’s ball weight exceeding the Hyundai’s 150kg limit. Fitting an aftermarket weight distribution hitch would help level it out.

Not surprisingly, fuel consumption almost doubled when towing, from around 7.0L/100km on the freeway on the way to the caravan dealer in Melbourne’s west, to 13.0L/100km on a similar, mostly flat section of highway with caravan in tow. Given the extra strain on the engine though, it was not unreasonable.

As mentioned in an earlier report, we also experienced some excessive front wheelspin, when re-entering a main road from standstill on loose gravel. It’s something you need to adjust your driving accordingly, or alternatively ensure the four-wheel drive system is locked for improved traction when travelling off the bitumen.

Also worth mentioning was the ease in backing the tow vehicle up to the caravan’s hitch, with the use of the reversing camera which has a screen located in the rear view mirror. Following a quick visual check outside the vehicle to determine the screen’s parameters, it was a simple, one-person job to perfectly align tow ball and hitch for an easy, safe hook-up.

Hyundai Santa Fe Long-Term Test:
- Introduction
- Update #1
- Update #2

Hyundai Santa Fe Comparison Test:
- Comparison  

See more pics of the Santa Fe High Country drive at

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Published : Saturday, 28 April 2012
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