Diehard Springbok supporters are not the only ones distraught at the performance of the national rugby team.
So is Korean car maker Hyundai — or, at least, its Santa Fe sports utility vehicle (SUV). As my son James and I drove out of Durban early in October after watching the Bokke destroyed 57-15 by the All Blacks, the vehicle’s satellite navigation system went into meltdown.
We were looking for the N3 to take us back to our hotel in Pietermaritzburg. Faced with multiple highways and side roads (and perhaps overcome by the prevailing mood of national misery), the satnav panicked. Different roads kept flashing on the screen. “You’re here.” “No, you’re here.” “Or it could be here.” Only once we were well clear of Durban, following a number of potentially calamitous wrong turns, did the damned thing calm down.
Just what everyone needs: a satnav with no sense of direction. What could possibly go wrong? Actually, not much. Apart from this brain freeze (the satnav gave no trouble at other times), the Santa Fe generally behaved impeccably during a five-day roadtrip that, besides the rugby, also took in a tour of the KwaZulu-Natal battlefields.
The Santa Fe has been around since late last year but this was a chance to go beyond the usual vehicle test limits.
The all-wheel drive version would have to contend with genuine off-road conditions, including flooded tracks. To ensure there was no slacking, the trip included a drive up and down Sani Pass into Lesotho.
Actually, it should have been just up. But because one of us (okay, it was me) got our booking date wrong, we arrived at the Sani Mountain Lodge a day late and, with no accommodation available, had to turn round and go straight down again.
Fortunately, the Santa Fe was cleverer than us. Only near the top of the ascent, on the wet, rock-strewn hairpins, was full 4×4 required. For the rest, the vehicle happily clambered over everything in its path.
The same was true of the Battlefields section of the trip: lots of off-road, including mud and treacherous tracks, but nothing the six-speed automatic 2.2 Elite couldn’t handle.
What the 19th and 20th century British, Boer and Zulu soldiers wouldn’t have given for this kind of sure-footedness. Not to mention 21st century visitors. In January 1900, at Spioenkop, Boer soldiers under general Louis Botha overran British troops who thought they had dug themselves securely into the hilltop.
We also visited Isandlwana where, on January 22 1879, Zulus destroyed another British force that underestimated its enemy. Later the same day, a second Zulu force attacked a different British position. To many Brits, their nation’s military history in SA is encapsulated in 138 minutes of cinema: the 1964 film Zulu, in which a couple of hundred British soldiers, many of them wounded, repelled an attack by 4 000 Zulus on a field hospital at Rorke’s Drift.
We also visited Blood River, site of a defining 1838 battle between Zulus and Voortrekkers and home to 64 definitive 4×4 vehicles — bronze-cast, go-anywhere Voortrekker ox-wagons. It was here we saw a unique example of South African irony. There are two monuments, one for each side in the conflict. Connecting them is a covered walkway, the Bridge of Reconciliation. Trouble is, the bridge gate is firmly locked — the result, say staff, of a dispute over the allocation of funds. So much for reconciliation.
Not all the trip was off-road. On tar, the journey was blighted a little by road noise. However, we were warned of this in advance — the result of fitting hard-core 4×4 tyres for the off-road sections of our trip.
Despite its comparative bulk, the Santa Fe handles like a much smaller vehicle — a boon on long, tedious stretches of highway. That nimbleness was reflected in fuel consumption — not as stellar as marketers would have us believe (that applies to all brands) but considerably better than expected.
All in all, an excellent vehicle and well worth consideration for families with leisure ambitions. But don’t go too far afield until you’ve had that satnav checked. – David Furlonger
Fast Facts: Hyundai Santa Fe 2.2 Elite
Engine: 2199cc four-cylinder turbodiesel
Power: 145kW at 3800rpm
Torque: 436Nm at 2850rpm
Transmission: six-speed automatic
0-100km/h: 9.8-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 190km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 8.0l/100km (claimed combined)
CO2: 194g/km (claimed)
Price: From R699 900