Road Tripping with Hyundai’s Santa Fe Sport

The holiday season is here and with it comes miles of road that will soon be filled with travelers going home, leaving home or setting forth on holiday adventures. As every “road warrior” knows, road trips require the right vehicle to create the perfect experience, no matter the destination. The 2017 Texas Auto Show was filled with vehicles that can adequately tackle the open road but one in particular recently took me through four states, various elevations and a mixture of climates all in one glorious road trip: the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport.

The 2017 Santa Fe Sport 2.0T

The city of Santa Fe, New Mexico has been immortalized in American history through music, literature and culinary innovation, so why wouldn’t a world-class automobile manufacturer bestow its first SUV with the same name? In 2001, South Korean manufacturer Hyundai did just that by introducing the world to the Santa Fe – the vehicle that would transform Hyundai into a household name. Now in its third generation, the Santa Fe continues to be a favorite among auto buyers and recently took the place of the Veracruz by offering two different sized models; the Santa Fe Sport is 184.6 inches long compared to 193.1 inches for the larger Santa Fe – enough room for a third-row seat.

In 2017 this 3rd gen Santa Fe received a facelift that carried over some of the appealing design cues found in the smaller Tucson. Included in this refresh were restyled headlights and taillights that added a nice level of sophistication to the overall design. The swooping design of the HID headlights nicely compliment the modest grille and carry a sense of movement throughout the body of the Santa Fe. In profile view, the Santa Fe appears ready to launch, thanks to the subtly sloping roofline, the curvature of the side panels that rise above the rear wheels, and the beautifully, aerodynamic side-window design that narrows down to a point near the top of the vehicle. Those new taillights also give the entire exterior aesthetics an extra kick of edgy personality. From all angles, the Santa Fe looks ready for an adventure.

And an adventure is exactly what I took the 2017 Santa Fe Sport on, heading west in honor of the trailblazing spirit that is synonymous with its name.

In the middle of summer, I escaped the rising temperatures of Texas in the 2017 Santa Fe Sport 2.0T and set course for slightly cooler temps. I fought the urge to take Hyundai’s SUV to its namesake – Santa Fe, New Mexico – mostly because that destination would share the same scorching temps as Dallas was experiencing. Plus I wanted to test out the Santa Fe’s capabilities on a variety of elevations, so I packed my bags and set a more northwest course from North Texas.

With the rear passenger seats up, the Santa Fe offers more than enough of room for luggage, sleeping bags, pillows and various other travel amenities. Folding the rear seats down opens up a total of 71.5 cubic feet of room – perfect for additional luggage for longer treks. The wide rear door was a thoughtful design choice and the convenient height of the cargo floor in relation to the ground made loading and unloading a breeze.

The Plateaus of the Texas Panhandle

The first leg of my trip took me through the Texas panhandle, past majestic plateaus that are visible for miles on the small highway leading up to the New Mexico border. With no buildings or man-made structures anywhere in sight, it was easy to admire the plateaus through the lowered driver’s side window of the Santa Fe Sport traveling at a steady 65 miles an hour. Plateaus are the closest things we have to mountains here in North Texas and should certainly retain a spot on any Texas traveler’s bucket list. Traveling can be lonely on this far northwest highway but you’ll never run out of classic Texan scenery with plateaus slowly changing the landscape from flat to rocky.

Thankfully, the Santa Fe Sport’s comfortable cabin and the features of the Ultimate Tech Package contributed to the ease of this early portion of my trip. The Sport is the shorter of the two Santa Fe options but at 74 inches wide and 184.6 inches long there is still plenty of room for comfort. I’m a tall guy who can get a little stiff on long road trips but the generous leg, knee and hip room in the driver’s seat of the Santa Fe was ample enough even for me. The panoramic sunroof helped further, providing an extra inch of headroom and stunning vistas of the passing sky. I appreciated the extra thought that went into creature comforts in the Santa Fe’s cabin. Thoughtful amenities like a large storage bin in front of the shifter was big enough for tablets and large bags of road trip munchies. The capability of the rear seats to tilt and slide back is certainly ideal for sleeping positions.

Both the 2017 and 2018 versions of the base Santa Fe Sport comes standard with an impressive list of tech features including cruise control, keyless entry, Bluetooth connectivity and a 7-inch touchscreen to navigate the infotainment center. Luckily the 2017 Santa Fe Sport I took on my journey came equipped with what Hyundai calls the Ultimate Tech package which includes Smart Cruise Control, Automatic Emergency Braking, Lane Departure Warning, Electronic Parking Brake and High Beam Assist. More about the High Beam assist later but on the first leg of my road trip, the Smart Cruise Control (SCC) certainly came into play. Texas roads are notoriously filled with highway patrol on alert of speeders, and for good reason, so it was convenient to set the Santa Fe at the desired speed and rest my foot off of the gas pedal – the SCC handled the rest.

The Sport recognized vehicles in front of me at an impressive distance and gradually slowed as we approached, speeding back up to the programmed speed once the vehicle in front moved to another lane. I wasn’t able, or brave enough, to fully test the Emergency Braking System, but I came to a quick decrease in speed in one location where a car slammed on their brakes a few yards ahead of me.

The Santa Fe Trail and a Historic Vineyard

Once outside of Texas, I drove through the northeastern tip of New Mexico eventually syncing up with the historic Santa Fe trail. This 19th-century transportation route once connected Independence, Missouri with Santa Fe, New Mexico so it felt appropriate to follow its route in Hyundai’s SUV – if only for a short while. Flanked by sharp cliffs lush with greenery, I made my way up Interstate Highway 25 past Raton, New Mexico and eventually entering into Colorado. Leaving the Santa Fe Trail behind, I made my way up to Pueblo City and exited the interstate, pointing the Sport westward toward Cañon City. That’s right, Cañon with a ñ.

Once in Cañon City, I pulled the Santa Fe over for a quick stop at a Colorado winery that promised serene grounds nestled against the backdrop of the Wet Mountains: the Winery at Holy Cross Abbey. In existence for nearly 120 years, this winery is more than a vineyard – it’s a historical museum housed in a stunning abbey that was once the home of Catholic monks from the Order of St. Benedict. The monastery of the abbey was built in the Gothic Revival style and its sharp, skyscraping steeples can be seen above the tree line no matter where you are on the property. In the early 2000s the remaining monks that resided in the monastery decided to plant a vineyard on the grounds and now the Abbey is a popular tourist stop on route to the Colorado mountains.

Seeing as how I had further to go on my road trip, I purchased a few bottles of wine as souvenirs after touring the abbey’s small vineyard, snapped a few pictures and hopped back into the Santa Fe.

Ascending the Rocky Mountains

Up into the mountains was where the road led me next, towards a stopping point in my road trip: Breckenridge, Colorado. Breckenridge sits 9,600 feet above sea level at the base of the Rocky Mountains’ Tenmile Range – an uphill trek from Cañon City. This is where I put the Santa Fe’s engine to the test. Both the 2017 and the 2018 Santa Fe Sport base models come equipped with a 2.4-liter inline-4 engine that makes 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. This base engine fits the vehicle well, particularly if it’s primarily used in city and urban settings. Yet, seeing as how I was traversing the foothills of the Rocky Mountains I was more than pleased that the 2.0T designation meant that my Santa Fe Sport came with a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4 engine that produces 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. This extra boost of power not only allowed for effortless acceleration on the steep incline of the mountain roads but also, much to my surprise, had little effect on gas mileage. The Santa Fe gets 20 miles per gallon city and 27 on the highway; I was actually able to squeeze in an extra mile or two on my mostly highway road trip.

The Santa Fe Sport cornered tightly and with a controlled feel on the winding roads leading into Breckenridge. The 6-speed transmission allowed for smooth transitioning between gears despite the fact that I was frequently accelerating and braking often during my ascent. With a flip of a switch, the Santa Fe’s fog lights popped on, guiding me through a few patches of mountain fog. Most impressive was Hyundai’s High Beam Assist and the headlamp’s ability to use Dynamic Bending Lights technology.

As the sun dropped below the Rocky Mountain range, the road in front of me become significantly darker thus requiring high beam lights to guide me through the dimming canyon between mountain sides. The High Beam Assist allowed me to keep my high beams on and rely on the system to automatically adjust the intensity when it detected an approaching car. Even more intuitive is Santa Fe’s Dynamic Bending Lights which are designed to turn the light emitting from the headlamps as the steering wheel turns. Whatever direction the wheels of the Santa Fe turn, so did the light, even if the body of the vehicle was not quite pointing in that direction yet. It’s a futuristic effect that took several instances in order to become accustomed to it but the instant you turn a sharp corner you realize how useful this feature is. I’ll think twice in the future about going up a winding mountain range in the dark without this tech.

Breckenridge & Playlists

With three-quarters of my road trip completed, I arrived in Breckenridge, Colorado at nightfall and took in the sights and sounds of this small mountain town. A popular destination for skiers in the winter, Breckenridge becomes a relaxing getaway in the summer for visitors seeking relief from nearby heat stricken areas. There is some significant Gold Rush history in Breckenridge and although skiing opportunities are sparse in the summer, there is still plenty of other alpine activities to fill your day with including some impressive hiking trails. Main street, as you’d expect, runs directly through the town and is lined with shops, galleries, bars, and restaurants. Some of the structures where these establishments are housed date back to the 1880s. As a bonus, visiting in the summer months means fully utilizing nearby Dillion Reservoir for scenic paddle boating, canoeing, and fishing.

After a few days of enjoying the Breckenridge area, I left the Rocky Mountains behind and headed out on the remaining leg of my road trip. Destination: Utah and the world-famous Arches National Park. Practically a straight shot from Breckenridge, the road from Colorado into Utah slowly transforms from stunningly gorgeous mountain valleys into flat, impressively expansive desert. Perfect conditions for road trip playlists.

The trusty Santa Fe Sport came equipped with Hyundai’s Infinity sound system. Hyundai says each Infinity audio system undergoes over 1,000 hours of rigorous testing to ensure that each system is engineered for clarity and depth. Music is an essential component of any car trip, no matter the length of that trip, so I was pleased that my tunes sounded crystal clear in the Santa Fe Sport, even through a Bluetooth connection. While the design of the infotainment layout on the dash wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, I found the Bluelink software that controls the music and navigation to be straight-forward and intuitive. I didn’t have an Apple or Android-powered smartwatch at the time of this road trip but it’s good to know that Hyundai offers apps for its Bluelink software on both mobile platforms; the smartwatch app allows drivers to control the system from their wrist.

It was roughly a four-hour drive from Breckenridge to Arches National Park but the music thumping from the Infinity Logic 7 Surround speakers contained my excitement; I was almost to my final destination.

Last Stop: The Arches

Nature is rarely as immensely awe-inspiring as it is in places like the Arches National Park. Home to over 2,000 natural sandstone arches – the highest density of such arches in the world – these natural monuments are legendary and their grandeur could never truly be portrayed in a photograph (believe me, I tried). Who would have thought that millions of year of erosion and a thick layer of salt bed could create such beautiful holes in what is essentially huge chunks of rock jutting up from the ground. The arches in this park have been written about by scores of authors, appeared as a backdrop in films such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and thousands of people flock to the park each year to hiking up into the arches. This year, I was one of those thousands.

The entire park consists of over 76,000 acres of land so in order to see as much as possible during one visit, it’s a necessity that you drive through a seemingly endless road that spans the entire area. I had come this far and the Santa Fe Sport made the trip possible, so it felt more than appropriate that I should enjoy the park from within the comfort of the vehicle. With a stunningly blue sky visible through the sunroof, I took the Sport on a smooth, easy drive through the park, stopping periodically to disembark and bask in the warm Utah air. I trekked up by foot and marveled at the views from around and within the arches, returning to the Santa Fe Sport to snap pictures of the vehicle in front of some of my favorite formations.

Once I left Utah and turned onto the road that would lead me back home, I contemplated on how essential the Santa Fe Sport was to the success of the journey I had embarked on. How did an SUV become the perfect road trip companion? Maybe it was the quiet ruggedness, or the ample power available to climb mountains. It could have been the sleek design as proof of an artistic eye or the comforts that technology can bring to old traditions like music played out of a car stereo. Or maybe it was simply the adventurous spirit of a name that once belonged to a westward trail full of possibilities and new beginnings. On a road trip like this one, Hyundai’s Santa Fe Sport was all the above and more.

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