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Off-roading in Siargao With the 2013 Santa Fe

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Hyundai’s DSSM and ESP no longer seemed alien, techie acronyms after we navigated the crazy, unpredictable country roads all the way up to the northernmost tip of Siargao Island. This is Car No. 4’s journey in Comfort, Normal, and Sport modes

SURIGAO—Over 130 kilometers. That’s 10 kilometers farther than the distance from Manila to Tarlac or 15 kilometers farther than Manila to San Juan, Batangas. That’s how far we drove while off-roading the 2013 2WD Santa Fe to and from lunch at Alegria Beach.

I only realized how far I’d driven today after I checked the road book while waiting for my masseuse at our rustic yet posh villa on Dedon Island, Siargao. Before I totally irritate you (I think I’ll just let the photos here do that) with my bragging (that there’s actually an upscale resort in Siargao and we enjoyed every second of our stay there) let me just launch into why the 2013 Santa Fe is the perfect car to drive when you want to off-road in the Philippines.

So going back to that 130km drive. I hardly felt it. I was too busy playing with the three steering modes— Comfort, Normal, Sport—and enjoying the countless silly moments with my car mates.

Before I recall my experience driving in each mode, let me just say that even without them, the Santa Fe is already one smooth ride thanks to the fully independent multi-link rear suspension combined with the light MacPherson struts in the front.

Of course, to begin with, there’s already the trademark superior handling common to all Hyundai cars. Yes, all. I drove Hyundai’s most affordable car, the Eon, last year and marveled at how the manual transmission handled all the way up Baguio’s writhing roads even during landslide season.

I suspect that the Hyundai Santa Fe has won all those Best Crossover SUV awards because it doesn’t handle like an SUV. The 26.5mm hollow stabilizer bar in the front suspension gives you a lighter drive. The rear suspension uses a 21mm solid stabilizer bar, but this self-leveling rear suspension ensures that each rear wheel is unaffected by whatever bump or pothole the other wheel is subjected to. It also helps that even the 2WD Santa Fe we drove used 18-inch wheels. (My review of the 4WD Premium Santa Fe 2013, aloft on 19- inch tires, is in the June issue of China Business.)

Comfort Mode
Who knew Siargao had all those nice, cemented roads? If you’re driving northward through Dapa, Sayak, San Isidro, and Burgos towns you will deal with sandy, muddy, and cemented terrain. Lest you become complacent during the cemented parts of your journey, extremely friendly, town dogs are on hand to greet you—by rushing headlong onto your path.

My passengers Paulo Vargas, Ron Bulaong of Yugatech, and Jill Cariola (1 R, 1 L!) took turns hooting, laughing, and cursing out the dogs that seemed so enamored with the Santa Fe that they were willing to risk life and limb to kiss its tires.

The Comfort mode had us driving slowly enough (you will lag compared to Normal and Sport modes) and gave unmatched maneuverability just in time to miss those crazy canines. Having reviewed the Santa Fe back in April, I knew that it had dynamic stability control and I wasn’t in danger of skidding on the smooth, wet cement.

Hyundai calls it ESP (Electronic Stability Program). Appropriate, really, when you consider that if you drop the steering wheel for a few moments (while avoiding a dog or falling asleep after a heavy lunch by the beach), the car’s ESP will ‘predict’ your correct path so you don’t careen out of control.

The ESP also has an HAC (Hill- start Assist Control) that meant we could keep the car in Comfort mode even while slowly driving up a winding incline—all the better to avoid, at the last moment, oncoming trucks speeding round a blind corner of the mountain. If I had been driving another car, I would have lost my lunch.

The ESP also has a DBC (Downhill Brake Control), BAS (Brake Assist System), and TAC (Traction Control System) that may mean nothing to you—as it did me—when driving in the traffic-clogged city but will mean life and death—as it did me—when you’re driving in unpredictable terrain on a full stomach and four hours of sleep across two days.

Normal Mode
Ah, my favorite mode in Siargao. Even driving in the city you will notice that Normal takes a tenth more steering effort than Comfort, but it is perfect for driving in Siargao.

This is the most versatile mode and I liked having control of the wheel as I went from muddy pothole to sandy back road. And I could still use all six gears quite easily.

Speaking of control, the DSSM (Driver Selectable Steering Mode) combines the control of a manual with the driving-for-dummies ease of an automatic. So if you need to feel the terrain beneath you while driving over waterlogged, muddy roads, you can get it from the Normal mode. When the road becomes more even or you need to parallel park, just press the DSSM button on the steering wheel to go back to Comfort.

Aside from the seamless transition in power assistance for each mode, the DSSM also balances the on-center torque build-up while moving up a gear and the damping you feel as you gear down. So you need not worry when you’ve missed a gear or that the car will yield too much control to you if you’re more used to driving an automatic.

Even when I wasn’t paying attention, the A/T steering felt natural (I really prefer a stick when off- roading), the automatic progression across gears seemed to make up for my miscalculations and, aside from the audible knocking of the surfboard tied to the Mont Blanc roof rack as we flew across the uneven road, the 2WD Santa Fe was one quiet ride.

Sport Mode
This was my mode of choice when we had to catch up with the pack after lagging behind to take photos, videos, look for something we dropped, and after slowing to 60kph because we just couldn’t stop laughing at the three guys perched on the motorcycle in front of us. (The rearmost guy must’ve had a very uncomfortable wedgie for the middle guy to reach behind to yank at his pal’s trousers to get the wedgie unstuck. I guess it’s really more fun in Siargao.)

The most challenging thing about this off-road experience was having to drive for so long with tears in my eyes from laughing so hard. But the Sport mode kept my steering in check even when I didn’t bother slowing down.

When we hit the cement and sped around the mountain at 80kph while playing catch up, the Sport mode was brilliant at ensuring that we didn’t drive off the mountain. Giving 10% more control than Normal mode, Sport was also great for staying awake on long stretches of road even us we pushed the Santa Fe to 110kph and went up and down along all six gears as we passed children playing, palay drying by the side of the road (my car mates kept teasing me that I ran over the townsfolk’s lunch on the way to Alegria and their dinner on the way back), and fallen palm branches.

And when we had to swiftly turn back while on narrow roads as we scrambled to get photos and videos, the Santa Fe did not disappoint. The diminished 10.9m turning circle coupled with an assist from Comfort mode made the prospect of falling headlong into the beach below impossible.

The 2WD Santa Fe is a splendid off-roading vehicle. It hits all the major points. It’s light but roomy, highly maneuverable but made safe through technology, and it can deal with any terrain you are likely to encounter while off-roading. So, buckle up because surf’s up!

Print ed: 08/13


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