PICTON, Ont. -- Let's be clear: There's a big difference between "camping" and "car camping."
The former usually involves you and your significant other, solo hiking through somewhere very remote with only a backpack containing your food and shelter. The latter is nothing like that at all.
This was pretty evident on our family's annual car-camping excursion to Sandbanks Provincial Park on the shores of Lake Ontario. This year, with 17 adults and eight people who can't cook or clean for themselves (read: children) taking over six sites, our version of car camping was more like four days of tailgating.
With so many mouths to feed, a small propane stove or an even less reliable open fire wasn't going to cut it. Instead, I borrowed my brother-in-law's big BBQ, a Frankenstein-like propane-fired cooker mounted on a swing-away trailer hitch.
Not just any vehicle can tow such a cooking rig, so a call to the nice folks at Hyundai Canada resulted in the loan of a 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XL Limited, with a towing package as standard kit.
When the time came for the Korean automaker to design a new three-row crossover for 2013, the lesser-known Veracruz nameplate was dropped in favour of expanding the Santa Fe family -- literally. Compared to the five-passenger Santa Fe Sport, the three-row XL has a longer wheelbase, more room and seats up to seven. It has a V-6 instead of the Sport's pair of four-cylinder engines, and considerably more towing capacity.
Hyundai admits the $29,999 front-wheel-drive base model Santa Fe XL ($3,500 more than a base Sport) was designed to attract former Santa Fe owners looking to replace a minivan. Still, all Santa Fe XLs come well-equipped, with heated front seats, power windows, six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth, tilt and telescoping steering wheel with audio controls and cruise control as standard kit.
Hyundai also believes Santa Fe XL buyers will opt for the perceived safety advantages of traction at all four wheels, which starts with the $34,999 Santa Fe XL Premium.
Our top-of-the-line XL Limited tester starts at $42,899 and comes loaded with one-inch-larger 19-inch wheels, navigation with a larger central dash display, 550-watt sound system, leather seating and one of those fashionably large sun/moon roofs.
Loaded-up with a weekend's worth of car camping necessities, and the big BBQ mounted out back, it was obvious that Hyundai's choice to go with a V-6 for the XL Santa Fe was a wise one. The 3.3-litre V-6's 290 horsepower is only 26 more than the Sport's optional turbocharged 2.0-litre four, and the direct-injected 3.3's 252 pound-feet of torque is just 17 lb.-ft. shy of the 2.0L's number. Yet the six-cylinder's nearly flat torque curve, combined with the six-speed automatic transmission (featured in all Santa Fes) delivers smooth, responsive and stress-free performance.
Fuel-economy estimates are competitive, too, with a rating of 11.7 L/100 km in the city and 8.0 on the highway. With the majority of our time spent on the highway, we saw an average of 10.8 L/100 km.
Whether I'm describing the Hyundai's engine, transmission, ride or handling, "smooth" and "composed" are the two adjectives that keep coming up. Its suspension is particularly compliant over large dips. Chalk it up to its longer wheelbase, as the XL delivers a much smoother ride than the shorter Sport.
This vehicle is coffin-quiet at speed, with the only noise intruding into the cabin a faint whistle from the large exterior rear-view mirrors.
Another reason to opt for the Santa Fe XL over the Sport is hauling power. All XLs come with a towing package that can handle up to 2,268 kg (5,000 lbs.). That's 768 kg more than a Santa Fe Sport -- the most ever in a Hyundai.
Except for the Santa Fe XL Limited, which comes exclusively with a pair of captain's chairs in its second row to make it a six-seater, all models offer 2+3+2 seating. The XL also adds 1,093 litres of passenger room (now 4,151 L) over the Santa Fe Sport and 240 L more maximum cargo space when the second- and third-row seats are folded flat (now 2,365 L).
With 50 millimetres more legroom than the Santa Fe Sport, second-row occupants benefit most from the XL's stretched wheelbase. The 40/20/40 three-passenger bench cleverly splits, folds and reclines. Dropping the middle seat is particularly convenient for carrying two middle-row passengers and longer items.
As a logical step up from the Santa Fe Sport and a replacement for the outgoing Veracruz, the new, long-wheelbase XL has few faults. If you're already interested in a Santa Fe but need more cargo room, seats or towing capacity, the XL makes a lot of sense.
And in regard to its abilities as a car-camping vehicle, let's just say the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XL excels.
-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2013