One of the most difficult things about choosing a tow car is that you can’t really try it out before you buy.
Yes, you can take a test drive without a caravan, and our car reviews should help to point readers in the right direction. But it’s very rare to have a chance to tow before you sign the order form.
But with the help from Hyundai and Broad Lane Leisure, we’ve been able to right that wrong for a handful of our readers, all keen to drive the new Santa Fe. We’d already tow-tested the car (see our December 2018 issue for our thoughts) and loved it – we gave it four stars out of five – but what would our new testers think?
Representatives of Hyundai were on hand to demonstrate the car’s features and answer questions. Broad Lane loaned a brand new Swift Fairway Platinum Edition with a MiRO of 1580kg. And us? Well, we brought the tea and biscuits!
The first of our reader testers is Peter Sansom, who usually tows a Bailey Pageant Magenta behind a Seat Altea XL. Peter warms to the Santa Fe straight away. “It’s very nice. I like the looks and the blue colour.”
Hyundai UK’s senior product manager, Jamie Woods, talks Peter through the car’s features. Then it’s time to head out on the road.
From Broad Lane Leisure’s Kenilworth branch, our test route takes us through the village of Leek Wootton, out onto the A46, then south on the M40. Before we’ve even reached the A46, Peter is impressed. “It’s got a lot more power than my car,” he says.
The engine is a 2.2-litre diesel – the only engine available in the Santa Fe range – and with 197bhp and 325lb ft of torque, it pulls very strongly.
The Santa Fe continues to impress as we make our way towards Gaydon, where our route turns off the motorway and follows B-roads back to Broad Lane Leisure. “It sits on the road very nicely,” says Peter. “You don’t know the van is on the back. It just tows along merrily.”
We’re soon back at Broad Lane, where Peter has a chance to sum up his thoughts.
What about the interior? “The cabin is very roomy. The driving position is high up, so you can see where you are, although I don’t like the quilting on the leather upholstery.”
As the proud owner of two Labradors, Peter has been paying close attention to the boot, which is relatively small with all seven seats upright, but much roomier with the back seats lowered.
“We wouldn’t use the third row of seat because of our two dogs. There’s plenty of room for them, but the one bugbear is having to lift them in so high.
“Having somewhere to store the parcel shelf under the floor is a useful feature – we wouldn’t need to leave it at home.”
And what about the Hyundai’s credentials as a tow car?
“There doesn’t seem to be any movement or shunting. It’s extremely nice to drive. I like the performance, the automatic gearbox, and it’s comfortable.”
Would Peter consider the Santa Fe as his next car? “That would be nice, although I’d have to talk to my wife first!”
A second opinion
Remember the old saying about one man’s meat being another’s poison? Well, our next tester’s feelings towards the Santa Fe could well be considered a case in point.
Sam Johnson usually drives a Volkswagen Passat Estate and tows an Avondale Dart 515-4.
He takes a good look around the Santa Fe as Jamie from Hyundai tells him about the car. Unlike Peter, Sam isn’t taken with the car’s styling.
“The front end, with the thin daytime running lights above the big headlights and the huge radiator grille, makes the car look like it’s trying to squint and stare open-mouthed.”
The Hyundai also fails to win Sam over when he climbs inside. “There’s a lot of leather and buttons, but somehow they look a bit cheap to me. I get the impression that Hyundai fitted leather because someone told them that it’s luxurious, but then sourced the cheapest they could find.”
Perhaps Sam will be more impressed out on the road, and we make our way to the A46. As Sam overtakes a lorry on a gentle left-hand bend, the caravan starts to snake. One moment we’re cruising along, the next, the van is swaying around behind us; but fortunately the yawing ebbs and we continue on our way to the M40.
Sam puts his thoughts about his test drive in an email later that day. “I found that the car didn’t seem to wait for me to apply the brake. It decided I was heading for the central reservation and hit the autonomous brakes.”
This puts a bit of a dent in Sam’s faith in the car, and he drives well below the speed limit on the motorway.
Our photographer, Phil, suggests that Sam tries the car with the Lane Keep Assist switched off. With the system active, the Santa Fe will try to steer itself towards the centre of the lane if it moves towards the white lines without the driver indicating. Sam prefers the car with the system off. “This didn’t cure the problem, but did relieve it,” he wrote later.
“At least if the front end did wander, I could correct it myself, gently, rather than let the car do it with what felt to me like an electronic hammer.” So Sam and the Hyundai Santa Fe are finally getting along a little better, and he does note some positives.
“The driving position is fine, the 200PS 2.2 diesel engine has plenty of power and is quiet at 60mph, and the car’s width makes it easy to tow with and pleasant to sit in.”
Those plus points aren’t enough to win Sam over, however. “The Santa Fe is not for me. I don’t need a vehicle that has a smaller boot than the estate car I have now, despite being larger on the outside, or one that’s full of gadgets which – the reversing camera excepted – I feel are unnecessary.”
Third time’s a charm
Our third reader testers are Pete and Gina Haines, who happen to be collecting their 2007 Abbey GTS 418 from Broad Lane Leisure.
Unfortunately they don’t have time to take the Hyundai out on the road, but they do give the car a thorough static appraisal to compare it with their Honda CR-V.
Pete starts off looking in the boot. “I would never use seven seats. Do these back seats go down flat?” he asks. Jamie from Hyundai shows Pete how to lower the third row.
“Plenty of dog-cage space and the floor is nice and flat,” Pete says. He notices the air-conditioning vents in the boot, which would keep people and pooches cool on a hot day. Jamie explains that they are standard across the range and can also be turned off when not needed.
Next, Pete gets behind the wheel. How does the quality of the interior compare with his Honda? “Very favourably, I would say.” He notices the electronic parking brake, which does tend to be a love-or-hate feature. “I’m fine with it. As far as I’m aware, they’re fine until they go wrong!”
Then it’s Gina’s turn in the driver’s seat, and she notes the handy memory function, which allows two drivers to store their preferred position.
While Gina has been moving the driver’s seat forwards, Pete has been getting comfortable in the middle row. “I could spend the night here now!” he says.
Gina likes the layout of the dashboard, but would prefer the driver’s seat to have more upwards travel. “I’d still like to be higher, because I’m not very tall,” she explains.
Slipping the car into reverse displays the surround-view camera on the touchscreen. “We don’t have a camera on the CR-V. It would be handy.”
The couple are also pleased to note that the car has a spare wheel, rather than a can of get-you-home gunk.
Summing up her opinion of the car, Gina says “It’s practical luxury. If you need anyone to try it out for a few months, we’re your people!”
Clearly, Sam’s experience of the Santa Fe was very different from everyone else’s. The looks and finish of the car weren’t to his taste, and he wasn’t impressed that the van snaked on his test drive.
It’s not easy to pin down exactly why the car and caravan were unstable for Sam, but stable during our tests and for Peter Sansom on his drive.
Pete and Gina certainly liked the car enough to consider it as a replacement for their CR-V when the time comes.
We’d be inclined to switch off the Lane Keep Assist system while towing. But like most of our readers – and as proven by our four-star review – we highly rate the Santa Fe as a tow car.
It's not easy to pin down exactly why the car and caravan were unstable for Sam, but stable during our tests and Peter Sansom on his drive