Expert Reviews

Winter Test: 2015 Hyundai Genesis and Santa Fe XL

Canada is a vast and varied land. Different regions. Different climates. Different weather patterns. What works in one province may not work in another. What works for one family may not work for another.

While in Quebec for Hyundai’s all-wheel drive winter experience program, those differences became all too apparent.

At one point, a vehicle in front of us was actually leaving a wake in the snow like a jet ski over a calm lake.

Hyundai Canada, with a fair bit of data-driven wisdom to back up their decision, went with all-wheel drive only for the 2015 Genesis sedan. Now in its second generation, the entry-luxury full-size sedan is much more refined than the introductory, outgoing model and at a great value for those desiring more than just a nameplate. It’s also not as derivative as the old car which was constantly criticized for being a knock off Mercedes.

We went to Quebec specifically to test Hyundai’s new HTRAC all-wheel drive system in the wilds of la belle province. I’d love to tell you Hyundai nailed it; that they (along with Magna) put together an all-wheel drive system rivaling the engineering might of the Germans with the mechanical refinement of the Japanese. I’d love to give you little anecdotes of how fun the Genesis was to slide around on our closed course and offer up a simile about perfect balance including a herd of elephants, a room full of ball bearings, and a Rube Goldberg machine.

But, the fact of the matter is – well – I can’t.

(If you hang in for just a moment, we will get to the Santa Fe XL. I promise.)

When we buy winter tires for our own vehicles, we usually have a good grasp on the type of weather we need to do battle with during our morning and afternoon commutes. In Nova Scotia, our biggest challenge is slush and snow (though this year, we’ve gotten more than our fair share of ice that can only be removed with a mine-clearing machine). Ontario sees much more black ice than us and on the west coast standing water is a bigger issue.

Unfortunately, when it comes to these flyaway programs, local conditions aren’t always well known. Even when they are, short-term weather can’t be predicted months in advance. You need to plan for the most probable outcome. That’s where our failure came in.

Hyundai decided to put a tire on the Genesis testers tuned more toward ice performance and, as is inevitable in these sorts of situations, it snowed a blizzard the day of our drive.

The majority of our route with the Genesis was spent managing the little amount of grip we could muster versus pushing the new HTRAC system to its limits. Plows weren’t able to keep up with the sudden downfall of fluffy stuff. At one point, a vehicle in front of us was actually leaving a wake in the snow like a jet ski over a calm lake.

When we arrived at our closed course test, we did have a chance to slide around in Hyundai’s executive sedan. But, you could barely see 10 feet in front of you, let alone test a vehicle appropriately.

And that’s it. I’m not going to say the Genesis was amazing in the snow and the all-wheel drive system was amazing when I just … don’t know.

Our afternoon was spent in the Santa Fe XL equipped with an all-wheel drive system with a bias toward the front versus the rear in the Genesis. The family crossover also offered up proper rubber for the conditions – Bridgestone Blizzaks on some, Michelin Latitudes on the others – along with the increased ride height needed to keep our front bumper out of the snow.

On the closed course, with traction control off but stability control on, the Santa Fe XL felt much smaller than its exterior dimensions would suggest. The all-wheel drive system, while suffering from a safe amount of understeer, didn’t ever put us too far away from where we wanted to go. Actually, the only part of our Santa Fe XL experience where we did almost put it in a snowbank was on the closed course as we attempted to do a continual drift around some cones (I failed).

After getting accustomed to the Santa Fe in a closed environment, we headed back out to public roads – highways, secondary roads, town streets, and even an unpaved (but quite snow covered) route. The family hauler did nothing to trigger subitaneous reactions for the “Oh Jesus” handle or outbursts of four-letter profanities (or Quebec-specific sacres for flavour).

On top of the solid traction and quick reactions of all the systems in the Santa Fe XL, it coasted along with a smooth ride, plenty of power, and even decent fuel economy while making tracks through the snow.

Getting back to the Genesis for a second, the tire situation really put everything into perspective. The Santa Fe XL, with its less involved front-biased system, performed much better in the conditions. The Genesis, with a much more complex and advanced system featuring the ability to send split power fore and aft in many ratios, performed much worse.

It all came down to four pieces of rubber and a bad guess.