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
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…..
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
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.
Choosing a Christmas tree
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Here are some other road trips we’ve done (sadly, in our own car):
We’ve tested out other spacious family cars, if you’d like to have a read: