It started with a challenge and ended up with another. Late last year, Hyundai entered two of its new Santa Fe R wagons in the Global Green Challenge — a tough 3136km economy run from Darwin to Adelaide. It was no picnic, with in-car temperatures exceeding 50 deg C.
Remarkably, one of the Santa Fes achieved an average fuel consumption of just 5.10 litres per 100km, while the Carsguide entry didn't disgrace itself either, finishing with 5.39-litres. That was achieved by driving smoothly, driving slowly and driving without the use of fuel-robbing air conditioning.
While most motorists wouldn't go to such lengths to reduce their fuel bill it did prove the Santa Fe R was the most fuel efficient wagon in its class. Hyundai's official fuel consumption for the turbo diesel is 6.7l/100km for the manual and 7.5l/100km for the automatic, which in real-world stop-start driving means the average owner should be getting between 8 and 9l/100km for a mix of city and rural driving. Anything less they are doing well.
At the end of the Global Green event CarsGuide put its own challenge to Hyundai — to do a more realistic test of the Santa Fe's consumption by towing a mid-sized caravan over a typical grey nomad route.
We’ve just completed a 1200km, four-day test from Sydney to Melbourne, hitched to a Jayco poptop — and we made it using less than two tanks of fuel.
The route started at Hyundai Australia's Sydney headquarters in the northern suburb of Macquarie park. It then traversed the city with its congested traffic before heading down the South Western highway to Goulburn. It then dropped down to the coast on the often steep Kings Highway to Batemans Bay.
The second day followed the undulating Princess Highway to Eden, including a side trip to the delightful sideside town of Bermagui. The third day ended up in Traralgon in Victoria before the run to the finish line at Hyundai's Melbourne office in Clayton.
The wagon was kept at speeds of between 80 and 90km/h where possible, while the route was planned to take in typical conditions faced by caravanners, including plenty of twisty roads and abundant hills. The unexpected was when Mother Nature played a cruel twist, forcing us to drive into the teeth of a gale-force south-westerly which swept Victoria.
The goal was to return an average fuel consumption of between 9 and 10l/100km — and in New South Wales, in perfect driving conditions, we saw 9.4l/100km. By the half way point the hills had taken their toll and the Santa Fe returned a still remarkable 10.05l/100km.
Then disaster. Crossing into Victoria we were hit by 40km/h gales and driving rain which immediately shot fuel consumption to high 11s, no matter how hard we tried. The simple solution would have been to stop, but had a time deadline so we pushed on.
The fuel bill
It was heartbreaking because the Santa Fe is, from our experience, capable of a sub-10L/100km, given the right conditions. We battled on and eventually the wind dropped and so did the fuel consumption. We made to Melbourne with the low fuel warning light on and less than 5 litres remaining.
The Sydney to Melbourne drive returned an average consumption of 10.36l/100km or 27 mpg. The best return an impressive 9.4l/100km (in Sydney traffic), the worst, thanks to the headwinds, 12l/100km. The Santa Fe covered 1186km without a wimper, staying in fifth or sixth gear for most of the journey, such is the tremendous torque from the diesel.
We used 122.90 litres; with a total cost of $159.84, with diesel prices ranging from a high $1.38 a litre in Eden to a low $1.21 a litre in Melbourne. The Santa Fe's fuel economy as a tow vehicle was remarkable considering the gale force head winds and the constant four wheel drive wagon had an automatic transmission, air conditioning was used when needed, as was the cruise control.
The vehicle and van
Even more remarkable was that it towed a caravan weighing in at 1.3 tonnes and fitted with a roof-mounted air condition unit which created extra drag without any issues.
We have written about the seven-seat Santa Fe before, noting how quiet and how user friendly it is to drive. Plus it comes with a five-star safety rating, has a big cabin and adult space in all seven seats. It took less than a day to pick the Santa Fe's best and not so good features.
The best was the strong 145kW common-rail turbodiesel, perfectly matched to the six-speed automatic with sequential manual shifting available if needed. The combination is a cracker. It develops 436Nm of torque between 1800 and 2500rpm. The auto delivers more torque than the manual (421Nm) so gives it the edge for towing.
We drove the Elite-spec version which comes well equipped for the $43,990 pricetag including dual air conditioning, lockable rear differential, traction and stability control, six airbags, parking sensors, cruise control, push button start, wide-angled interior "nanny" mirror, power adjustment for the front seats, smart entry and iPod and USB connectivity.
There are three big killers to lowering fuel consumption: excessive speed, poor driving habits or poor engine tune.
To get the best result:
Don't accelerate or brake hard
Keep the vehicle moving by anticipating changes to the traffic to avoid delays Reduce your speed on the highway Switch off the engine while waiting for long periods at traffic lights Use the highest gear possible without labouring the engine. Change up a gear in petrol engine vehicles at about 2500rpm, in diesels at about 2000rpm. If vehicle speed drops off select a lower gear sooner rather than later Modern automatics can use less fuel than a manual Reduce the vehicle or trailer's weight by getting rid of unwanted items like roof racks Get your vehicle serviced Avoid peak hour traffic Ensure your tyres are at the manufacturer's maximum recommended level On the highway use the air conditioning rather than drive with the windows down to reduce drag At lower city speeds switch off the air conditioning and open a window.