‘Near-standard’ Santa Fe crosses Antarctica … twice

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Hyundai Santa Fe
The Hyundai Santa Fe used to cross the Antarctica.

Hyundai says a “near-standard” 2,2-litre turbodiesel Santa Fe has become the first passenger vehicle to be driven across the continent of Antarctica from Union Camp to McMurdo and back again.

The SUV was driven by Patrick Bergel, the great grandson of legendary polar explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton.

The journey, which the Korean brand says took place in December 2016, was timed to commemorate the centenary of Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914 to 1916. And, naturally, Hyundai has made a bit of a short film covering the modern version (which you can see below).

The 30-day trip saw the Santa Fe, which Hyundai says was “modified only slightly to fit giant low-pressure tyres”, take on almost 5 800 km of icy terrain. It not only had to cover extreme distances at low temperatures, but also had to plot new paths on floating ice caps that have never been travelled by a wheeled vehicle before.

“The journey was incredible and the car was a pleasure to drive. Sometimes it felt less like driving and more like sailing across the snow. It was a proper expedition with a challenge to accomplish that nobody else had done before. It was about endurance, not speed – we only averaged only 27km/h – and success was about how we and the car handled it,” said Bergel.

One of Antarctica’s most experienced driving experts, Gisli Jónsson from Arctic Trucks, was tasked with managing the vehicle’s preparation before the event and then led the expedition out in the Antarctic.

“It was a pretty standard Santa Fe. The engine, the management system, the transmission, front differential and driveshaft were all completely standard,” said Jónsson.

“We did have to fit big, low-pressure tyres though – they are important as it is all about getting the vehicle up on top of the snow rather than ploughing through it. We were running on one-tenth of a normal road tyre pressure – it’s so soft you can drive over someone’s hand and it won’t hurt them. The car ‘trod’ so lightly that all our tyre tracks were gone by the time we came back.”

To fit the tyres, the vehicle’s body had to be raised with new sub-frames and suspension, and gears were fitted inside the wheel hubs to cope with the different forces and the need to turn more slowly to run at the same speed.

According to Hyundai, the only other modifications were to increase the fuel tank capacity, to convert the car to run on Jet A-1 fuel (apparently the only fuel available on the continent) and to install a pre-heater for the cold.

Watch the short film below…