On a sunny day in late summer, I drove from Whistler, B.C., to Richmond, B.C., to pick up my Hyundai XL test vehicle. It's a bit of a slog getting there from here, which may sound funny to those who don't know the area.
The first part, the Sea to Sky Highway, is a wonderfully scenic drive. However, past Vancouver, there's a stretch that seems always to be under construction -- full of traffic, orange cones and changes in speed limit that, if one were to obey them, would cause road rage and collisions as far back as Stanley Park. I'm glad that sort of commuting is not part of my daily routine.
The XL Limited may, from a distance, look like a regular Santa Fe, but it's quite a bit bigger and has different bodywork from the windshield pillar back. My test car was a six seater, with captain's chairs in the second row. I could actually make myself reasonably comfortable in the third row. For kids, it would be an ideal place for a long road trip, with nice big windows and reasonable distance from parental supervision.
From the driver's seat, the XL actually feels bigger and taller in some ways than it looks. There's a sense of substance, and build quality is excellent. Most of the styling cues, including aggressive headlights, are de rigueur for this class of vehicle, so in that sense they're generic-looking. But the overall effect is clean, not too busy, and the ergonomics are well thought out.
Working my way back through those construction zones, the interior was a serene enough place to make the experience tolerable. On the Sea to Sky Highway, the stretched Santa Fe handled solidly enough. It's a capable vehicle, albeit not one which would encourage any sort of sporty driving.
There were three steering settings -- comfort, normal and sport. None of them were optimal by my admittedly fussy standards, but normal is, well, normal for a family hauler. I would actually have preferred skinnier wheels and tires for better grip in West Coast rain and a cheaper replacement cost. Massive steamroller tires seem all the rage these days, a triumph of styling and marketing over dynamics.
The Santa Fe XL is powered by a by 290-hp six-cylinder engine which makes about 252 pound-feet of torque. Towing capacity is 5,000 lbs or 2,268 kilos, and the drivetrain is more than capable of hauling a few toys.
I keep coming back to the term "capable" to describe the XL. It handled dirt roads with far more aplomb than any minivan, and should do well in winter if appropriate tires are fitted. It also has a really good warranty and reasonable fuel economy for its size.
With this stretched Santa Fe Hyundai has built a vehicle that is very well-suited to an outdoors-oriented Canadian family. Great for car pools, too.
Alan Sidorov is an experienced automobile racer, product tester and freelance writer. You can reach him at www.spdt.ca