From Hertfordshire villages to Kentish Christmas tree farms: our family road trip in a Hyundai Santa Fe

Hyundai Santa Fe

Sometimes London life leaves you longing for mud. And narrow, tree-lined lanes. A reminder that not every road is fringed with concrete and dust. London’s a grand place to live, but our family likes to take regular breathers in the countryside around the capital. So last weekend saw us setting off on a pair of micro-adventures, to visit historic Hertfordshire, and to find a Christmas tree in Kent. All the while, testing out a new generation Hyundai Santa Fe.

(Hyundai loaned us a 7-seater Santa Fe for the weekend, and compensated us for the time we took to write this review. The pub snacks and Christmas tree came out of our own pockets.)

Day one of our Hyundai Santa Fe family road trip: Hertfordshire

Hyundai Santa Fe in a rural street

Out of London and parked in a Hertfordshire tree-lined village street.

“Stop messing about with my bottom temperature.”

November’s a chilly month, so as we went gliding up the M25, I switched on the Santa Fe’s heated steering wheel. On my trial spin in the car, I’d enjoyed wrapping my numb fingers around the soft leather. It was almost like gripping a warm, living creature.

D, on the other hand, preferred his steering wheel to be non-sentient, and cool.

He was the main driver on our two-day road trip, so I left the steering wheel alone, and tried the seat warmers. Heated seats, on a scale of 1-3? Turn up the dial. Too warm? Give a blast on the seat cooler, which blows air gently through the tiny holes in the leather seats.

D wasn’t a fan of that, either. But thankfully the temperature of the two front seats could be controlled independently. So we drove along, me with a nice warm seat, and D’s bottom temperature in its natural state.

children in the back of a Hyundai Santa Fe

Our two kids had plenty of room to spread out in the back.

The kids, blissfully happy in the palatial second row, fiddled round with their own seat temperatures while colouring-in their drawings, and played on devices plugged into the rear USB ports.

Ayot Saint Lawrence

Ayot Saint Lawrence is one of those places that’s well-known among Hertfordshire residents. It’s a tiny place, but packs above its punch for history and countryside quaintness. There’s just one pub – but what a pub. As we drove down the narrow walled road into the village, the slightly askew walls of The Brocket Arms, and its garden, decorated in festive fairy lights, cried out to be explored.

Brocket Ams Ayot St Lawrence Hertfordshire

The Brocket Arms cried out to be explored.

Those cries might have come from the ghosts of people who used to frequent the country pub. As with many very old buildings in England, its age is disputed. Some say it’s a 16th century pub, others claim it dates back to the 14th century. And the priest who’s supposed to have been hung inside the timber-framed building is said to haunt the place.

fireplace in Brocket Ams Ayot St Lawrence Hertfordshire

The Brocket Arms’ fireplace, where priests hid from persecution.

The landlady told us there was a priest hole up the fireplace. These hiding places were installed in public buildings, for Catholic clergymen persecuted in the sixteenth century to hide until it was safe to emerge. I’ve never come across one in a pub fireplace before. Dwarfing the cosy room where we ate our crisps and drank our coffees, the range certainly looked large enough for a person to climb up inside its chimney. I wouldn’t fancy their chances of staying cool when the fire was lit, though.

If D hadn’t liked his hot bottom in the Santa Fe, he certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed being a persecuted priest trying to hide in the Brocket Arms chimney…..

Ghostly priests aside, Ayot St Lawrence’s other notable residents include playwright George Bernard Shaw, who wrote Pygmalion. Shaw’s Corner, his house, is in the care of the National Trust. Although it closes over winter and so we hadn’t planned a visit, the walk towards its gates took us past Old St Lawrence Church. This elegant ruin was partially demolished by Sir Lionel Lyde in the eighteenth century. The local dignitary, who it’s said made his money from the slave trade, decided to tear down part of the Old Church so he could get a better view of the new, Palladian-style church he had built across the fields.

family exploring Ayot St Lawrence Old Church, Hertfordshire

Ayot St Lawrence Old Church was intentionally ruined.

To protest against the actions of what sounded like a rather unpleasant character, we spent most of our time at the Old Church, giving only a passing nod to Lyde’s grand, white-fronted neo-classical building.

St Albans

dashboard camera of Hyundai Santa Fe

Parking was a doddle with the car’s surround view monitor.

After Ayot we headed for lunch with friends in St Albans, where the Hyundai SUV coped well when we squeezed it into a tight parking space. The car’s surround view monitor, which beeps warning alarms if you moved too close to other cars, guided us away from prangs. It also helped us park in a much neater style than usual, without any wonky wheels, or a two-foot gap between the car and the pavement.

Heartwood Forest

Lunch over, there was just time for a dusk walk in Heartwood Forest, a new forest close to St Albans. Its half a million trees are maintained by the Woodland Trust. And then, home to south London. We needed to gather our energies ready for the next day’s task: Christmas tree buying, in Kent.

family walking in Heartwood Forest, Hertfordshire

We rounded off our day in Heartwood Forest, just outside St Albans.

Day two of our Hyundai Santa Fe family road trip: Kent

We’ve never driven the kids in a 7-seater before. On day two of our micro-adventure, they were eager to sit in the Hyundai’s third row. Compared with the other family SUVs parked on our street, even though it had space for an extra row of seats the Santa Fe appeared middling in size. From the outside, that is.

children in third row seating of Hyundai Santa Fe

The third row of the car was spacious enough for the kids (9 and 6) to sit comfortably. There was even enough room for our son to hide from the camera….

The Hyundai Santa Fe 7-seater felt quite tardis-like: roomy on the inside, but not a beast to look at when you gazed at it from the road. I’d say it would be a good choice for someone who has a large family, but who isn’t a fan of big family cars. There’s plenty of space for transporting a brood around the country. And, if you accidentally walk off and leave a child or a dog on the back seat, an alarm sounds. Not saying that you would, of course…..

Hyundai Santa Fe shot from the inside, rear

The Santa Fe was a bit Tardis-like. Huge on the inside, but not as large-looking as some SUVs from the outside.

I’ve heard anecdotally that some 7-seater cars are difficult to convert from a 5- to a 7-seater. The new Hyundai Santa Fe was pretty easy, with grab straps to pull up the third row seats, and buttons that sent the second row seats flying forward into the right position. My six-year old daughter managed to convert the car with ease. Just check out the video at the end of the post to see her in action.

Christmas Tree Farm

Santa Fe at South London Christmas Tree Farm

On day two, we ventured into Kent to visit a Christmas tree farm.

If I was hankering after mud, day two of our micro-adventure delivered it. By the tractorload. Our destination was a Christmas tree farm lying just on our side of the M25. The track leading up to the farm was so pitted it looked as though collossal mice had come along and nibbled metre-long potholes in it. The Hyundai Santa Fe 4×4 bumped along, but the effect of all the lurches on us, travelling inside the car, was more gentle waltz than frenetic pogo. We were safely sat high up in the vehicle. While the motorway drive had been smooth as cream, the country track was plain fun.

Tractor at South London Christmas Tree Farm

The Christmas tree farm was down a bumpy track.

Choosing a Christmas tree

family picking trees at South London Christmas Tree Farm

There were acres of trees to choose from at the farm.

The large choice of Christmas trees in the farm’s plantations made us pause for discussion. Should we buy a 6-foot tree to take away? Or play it safe and opt for a 5-footer? We decided to go for a larger tree. After half an hour of wandering, measuring, checking pine needles for health, and working out just how many branches our tree would need to bear all the family tinsel, we chose one that was a little taller than D.

girl and boy at South London Christmas Tree Farm

We eventually found the perfect Christmas tree.

The Christmas tree farm runs a same-day tree service. You can walk through the forest of pines, pick your tree, hang a tag on it, and flag down the chainsaw man. Like some omniscient Christmas tree elf, the chainsaw man popped up just after we’d settled on our tree, and nimbly sawed it down.

Would the tree fit in the car? we wondered, as we carried it to the bagging station, and watched it slide into its sheath of netting. The car boot door opening in slow motion heightened the suspense (very handy feature, that. You can open the Santa Fe’s boot without even touching it, using the keys – and there are two speed settings).We adjusted the seats so that the children would be sitting in tandem, with the tree next to them. And….. it fitted.

putting a Christmas treet into a car at South London Christmas Tree Farm

The 6-foot tree fitted easily inside the Hyundai Santa Fe.

In fact, there was room to spare. I’m sure, with a bit of squishing, the family car could have accommodated a tree even bigger than ours. I’d have liked to try a seven-footer.

And so, we drove back through the potholed lanes of Kent, to London, where our Hyundai Santa Fe sat, muddy and resplendant. It had served us well, in both town and country. I haven’t driven enough motors to claim that it’s the best family car on the market. All I know is, it’s the best large family car I’ve ever driven, or ridden inside.

children in car with tree at South London Christmas tree farm

Ready to head back to London from Kent.

Our verdict on the Hyundai Santa Fe

Fans of luxury family cars would be pleased with the attention to detail inside the Hyundai Santa Fe. It was a very tactile motor. There was a variety of different materials and textures, from the leather seats to the soft furry jackets on the seatbelt buckles, and the tough metal scuff protection on the door sills.

The car’s safety features made driving it down the motorway, and through unfamiliar country lanes, seem a lot less hair-raising than it might do. The car grips all four wheels when driving in slippery conditions. And a blind spot warning sounds if the driver indicates to move into a lane where there’s already another car.

driver as seen in rear view mirror inside Hyundai Santa Fe

Heading north-east. A sign in the rear view mirrow tells you which direction you’re driving in.

Our children were kept entertained on the journey, with more than enough USB ports for us all to plug in devices. There was even a plug in the third row, as well as cup holders and caddies in the doors for ‘stuff’. The 8″ touch screen on the Santa Fe’s dashboard connected with Carplay when a phone was plugged into one of the USB sockets. So any messages, apps or music on the phone could be streamed through the car. The driver could switch the screen off if it became a distraction, though.

dashboard camera of Hyundai Santa Fe

As well as the inbuilt SatNav and DAB radio, the 8″ touch monitor connected with Carplay.

The Santa Fe’s probably not the most spacious family car on the market. If you did fill all 7 seats with children, then there would be very little room for luggage. Although the boot was enormous when we drove it as a 5-seater, when all three rows were in use it was only large enough for us to stash wellington boots, coats and a blanket to lay the Christmas tree on. But there was bags of space around the passengers in the seats, and I’d say the new Hyundai’s the best family SUV I’ve experienced for space optimisation. It looked surprisingly compact from the outside, given the amount of bodies that could easily fit inside.

Our car was an automatic diesel, and averaged around 40 MPG on our road trips. You can find out more information about the Hyundai Santa Fe’s technical specifications on the Hyundai website.

See the Hyundai 7-seater Santa Fe in action in our video:

(Hyundai loaned us a 7-seater Santa Fe for the weekend, and compensated us for our time. The pub snacks and Christmas tree came out of our own pockets.)

Pin for later:

Hyundai Santa Fe

Here are some other road trips we’ve done (sadly, in our own car):

A French road trip along the beautiful north coast of Brittany: Roscoff to St Malo

Six stops on a south Holland family road trip

We’ve tested out other spacious family cars, if you’d like to have a read:

Peugeot 5008 SUV GTI

Jeep Compass SUV


  • Karen Beddow
    November 29, 2018 at 9:22 am

    What a fab way to try out how big it was – with the Christmas Tree – fantastic idea. Looks like a great sized car.

    • Nell
      November 29, 2018 at 9:41 am

      With just our two, it was palatial inside, and I think it would do well for even larger families.

  • Karen Beddow
    November 29, 2018 at 9:22 am

    What a fab way to try out how big it was – with the Christmas Tree – fantastic idea. Looks like a great sized car.

  • Sam | North East Family Fun Travel Blog
    November 29, 2018 at 9:37 am

    I really love all the little touches on this car – the cooling leather seats would be perfect on those long, hot drives in summer. Our car boot doesn’t open without physically putting the key in which is annoying when you’re carrying bags etc… (which you generally are when you need to open the boot) so I love the idea of automatic opening at the touch of a button.

    As a family of 5, 7 seater cars are a godsend to us – if anything just to stop the kids from touching each other and arguing about it! haha x

    • Nell
      November 29, 2018 at 9:42 am

      There were so many little features that made it excellent. I didn’t even get on to the glove compartment/cooler box, the sunglasses holder and the panoramic sunroof (basically, practically the whole of the top of the car peeled back…..)

  • Jenny - TraveLynn Family
    November 29, 2018 at 9:43 am

    I love how much space there is in this car (I wouldn’t have thought from the outside). I especially like how you put the two seat down on one side, and the kids in the other, to get the tree in. Which reminds me… I need to get a tree sorted this weekend!

    • Nell
      November 29, 2018 at 9:48 am

      Good luck with finding a nice one! x

  • Claire Hall
    November 29, 2018 at 10:39 am

    I do love a huge car with heated seats and steering wheel. I’m with you – I’d have them on all the time 🙂

    • Nell
      December 2, 2018 at 9:10 pm

      They were so toasty 🙂

  • Ting at MTM
    November 29, 2018 at 8:03 pm

    I can’t believe how much room there is in the car still with that huge tree in it! You certainly put the Sante Fe through its paces… We were sad to give ours back 🙂

    • Nell
      December 2, 2018 at 9:10 pm

      They’re such good cars, aren’t they.

  • Katja Gaskell
    November 30, 2018 at 11:16 am

    I love all those gadgets! I could definitely do with the surround view monitor. I love that it was big enough for your family AND a giant Christmas tree!

    • Nell
      December 2, 2018 at 9:10 pm

      I know! A real surprise.

  • Susanna
    December 2, 2018 at 9:20 am

    It’s hard to find a good 7-seater! I’m always on the lookout x

    • Nell
      December 2, 2018 at 9:11 pm

      I’d recommend the Santa Fe!

  • Daisy - Dais Like These
    December 2, 2018 at 2:44 pm

    It looks fab and it looks like you had a great weekend testing it out! We drive a 7 seater Land Rover currently but it seems to be falling apart and we’ve spent so much on repairs that we’re considering a change. The Santa Fe looks very interesting, I love the features like the blind spot sensor and the direction indicator on the rear view mirror.

    • Nell
      December 2, 2018 at 9:12 pm

      Let me know if you do end up getting one! 🙂

  • Emma Raphael
    December 2, 2018 at 7:21 pm

    I had a Nissan 7 seater in Munich for a while which I wrote off so I was given a hyundai santa fe whilst we decided what new car to get, I REALLY liked it, it was so nice to drive. Love all the little extras too, the USB chargers would go down well with my lot for long journeys! 😀

    • Nell
      December 2, 2018 at 9:13 pm

      Ah, I bet it was difficult to give yours back!

  • Zena's Suitcase
    December 6, 2018 at 4:25 pm

    The car really does look like a beast inside and it’s important it’s easy to make that transition from a 5 to 7 seater easily. I sounds like you had a great trip, the priest hole really made me smile

    • Nell
      December 11, 2018 at 12:32 pm

      Yes, that was a rather unexpected find!

  • Chloe: Picture Taker Memory Maker
    December 9, 2018 at 6:32 pm

    It sounds good. We need a 7 seater as although we’re a family of five we sometimes have my teenage stepdaughter with us or ferry the girls friends around – ours definitely isn’t as luxurious as this one! I love the idea of a heated steering wheel as I have Reynaud’s Disease and get numb fingers even in the summer. Sounds like it coped well on your road trips too. I’m glad you found a tree! We’ve never had a real one before.

    • Nell
      December 11, 2018 at 12:41 pm

      It sounds as though a heated steering wheel’s a must for you. I loved this one.

  • Louise
    December 11, 2018 at 11:43 pm

    We are actually looking for a new family SUV – this seem like the perfect choice!
    Louise x


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