Mountain snow car review: 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe Active

Hey good looking. The Santa Fe in Falls Creek

Here is something that’s kind of embarrassing to admit: I have lived in snowy climates for over five years, and yet driving in snow is still absolutely terrifying to me.

I’d rather do just about anything – swim with sharks, pull my arm hairs out one by one – than drive through snowy conditions.

There’s been too many terrifying experiences in my past, including a few really scary skids through black ice and some stuck-in-snowbank situations. Plus one particularly memorable moment where my car quite literally exploded with smoke while I was on the way up to a resort, leaving me stranded and shivering on the side of the road (something about a fan belt mishap, but I am still scarred).

So I was a bit nervous when the brief came through for a three week road trip through Australia’s ski resorts. I was to tick off Perisher, Thredbo and Falls Creek, and all on four wheels: more specifically, the Hyundai Santa Fe ‘Active’ seven seater. 

That’s over 1500km of every road imaginable – from four-lane highways to tiny, winding mountain roads, busy car parks and snowy passes.

We went by everything from Parliament House, to ‘Siberia’, to that random pancake place out of Jindabyne that every Aussie snow-lover knows about. We battled hectic ski tube line-ups, slushy conditions, a whole lot of dead roadkill and roads that seemed like they hadn’t seen another soul for at least a decade.

And I gotta tell you – the Santa Fe not only did it all, but actually had me breathing pretty easy, which is a small miracle in itself.

The drive

I was driving the Sante Fe Active diesel with a 2.2 litre engine, eight-speed automatic transmission and about a billion safety features to go with it – including forward collision-avoidance assistance, smart cruise control with stop-and-go, lane keeping assist, blind spot collision warning and rear cross-traffic collision warning.

Translated, all those features means that the car almost drives itself.

The lane keeping assist was particularly impressive – you could feel the wheel gently adjusting as it recognised the lines on the road, and it’d give you a little nudge (in the form of beeping) if it thought you were going a little rogue.

The safety features become super useful in a situation where you might have trouble with visibility. All that collision avoidance goes a long way when you’re getting pelted with snowflakes while trying to figure out if the roads look wet or icy, or when you’re navigating a crazy ski tube car park after an exhausting day.

Equally, these safety features also become useful once you’ve made it off the mountain roads and back into the crazy city streets. The blind spot collision warning alone is worth its weight in steel.

I normally drive a 20-year-old vehicle that gets wet inside when it rains, even when all the doors and windows are closed.

So I am not the best person to talk about things like engines and power. The brochure told me that I had 147kW of power and 440Nm of torque. All I know is that the Santa Fe drove smoothly and quietly like a dream, and there was no issue with any kind of hill, whether it be a perilous mountain road or a steep, icy driveway into on-mountain accommodation.

HTRAC really helped – this is the AWD wheel system referred to as “Hyundai Traction”, which increases traction on various environments and surfaces, and redistributes power to all four wheels in more slippery conditions. Consider my mind significantly eased knowing that this gentle beast of a car had my back.

The bells, the whistles

You also get Bluetooth connectivity, a 7-inch touchscreen for Apple CarPlay/Android connectivity so you can use your navigation apps too, automatic headlights, reversing camera with rear parking sensors, automatic wipers and many other bits and pieces.

I could’ve taken six people along with me for a trip in the Santa Fe, although that wouldn’t have left much room for ski gear. So I opted for myself, one passenger, a backseat full of road trip snacks and a giant stack of ski bags, boot bags and suitcases.

Three weeks without a washing machine meant that we’d packed just about every hoodie we owned, along with an extensive stash of ski socks. Thankfully the Santa Fe is a pretty big SUV and had plenty of room for it all. If you have more mates, you can do a lot of fiddling around with seat configurations to get everyone in, as the seats in the third row can be individually put up or down. Voila, there’s that seven seater!

The other major perk was fuel consumption. This was a diesel and we only used two full tanks for the 1500km travelled. Average fuel economy was a pretty solid 7.6L per 100km throughout my test drive. Diesel is readily available around the Australian ski fields with a special ‘alpine mix’.

The major downfall

I had to give it back after feeling like a total baller for three entire weeks (and having my snow driving anxiety significantly decreased – thank youuuu Sante Fe).

Want one? Choose your model and expect to pay somewhere between $45,990 – $ 66,437. (the Active being at the $46,000 mark). 

Hyundai provided Natalia with a Santa Fe test drive vehicle.

Five Colorado ski town road trips

Natalia is an Australian writer, content creator and communications specialist who's spent the last few years in Canada and Japan. Equally obsessed with the sea and the snow, you can usually find her dreaming - and writing - about one of the two.