SUV ownership brings a search for roads less travelled.
First published in the August 2016 issue of Wheels magazine, Australia's best car mag since 1953.
MY PARTNER and I were a few kays from the Jenolan Caves in the Hyundai Tucson recently, enjoying a weekend out of Sydney. She was singing along chirpily to a sexy Brazilian songstress I now know to be called Ivete Sangalo, while I was cheerfully spanking the Hyundai on some empty sweeping roads.
It was getting late in the afternoon and we were headed in the general direction of home when I braked hard and swung left onto an unsignposted dirt road.
“Where does this road go?” she asked. “No idea, baby”, I replied. “Then why have we turned onto it?” she responded, reasonably. “Because it’s dirt, baby,” I explained, helpfully. “Is that a good thing?” she asked.
Where she’s from, many of the roads are still dirt, and that’s often Not A Good Thing. The wrong dirt road can lead to a carjacking, robbery, and maybe a bit of cheerful kidnapping action. But I explained that here in the land Down Under, driving on dirt roads was a great thing, “because we’re in an Esse You Vee, baby!”
Yes, the pragmatist in me knows I don’t need an SUV; I have no real need for its light-duty off-road ability or its torque-splitting cleverness. A good old rear-drive wagon would do me just fine. Probably because of this I feel compelled to explore any snotty little bit of backcountry I spot, purely because, well, I’m in an SUV, baby, and I can.
Recent rain had left the road slick with mud in parts, and covered with loose gravel on other sections, so the totally road-biased Continentals struggled for lateral grip, revealing the ESC system to be late reacting, but then a bit curt and vigorous. It also takes a fraction longer than ideal before it allows full power to be restored. I’d prefer a calibration with a quicker sense of when the job was done, and when to ease off the reins. Anyway, I did reflect that it would likely save an underskilled driver from headbutting a tree.
I looked in vain for a side trail that would have provided a snotty plunge worthy of the hill-descent control. Sadly no such luck, so that feature’s usefulness remains elusive.
The dirt road ended at a trail that led to a spectacular lookout, with vast, sweeping views of the towering escarpments of the Blue Mountains, so I did revel in a little go-anywhere SUV smugness as I held my girlfriend’s hand while we soaked in the glorious vista.
Then, on the way back, we rounded a sweeping slippery section to see an old Ford EB Falcon wagon, probably on knackered retreads, coming towards us. It was cocked slightly sideways, being held in deft control by a 20-something bloke with his mate, doing what Aussies have done on dirt and in rear-drive wagons for decades, long before the rise of the SUV.
There’s a message in there somewhere.
Cars that play ‘hello’ chimes when you enter, or display messages telling you to have a nice day, can quickly irk. The Tucson has pleasant manners of the more practical kind: when it senses the key as you approach, it unfolds the exterior mirrors, which have small LED puddle lights, while other LEDs light each front doorhandle. I also like the front corner illumination that activates once the wheel is given half a turn of lock.
Hyundai Tucson Highlander CRDi
Price as tested: $45,490
Part 3: 1345km @ 10.4L/100km
Overall: 3425km @ 11.6L/100km
Date acquired: January 2016