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A Holiday Road Trip in the 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited 2.0T

Visiting a hidden gem back home at a great time of year.

Eleonor SeguraWriter, Photographer

KERNVILLE, California—During the winter holidays, Automobile staffers are presented with a golden opportunity to commandeer a vehicle from the test fleet for a longer duration than usual. In my case, a 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited 2.0T would help me navigate the seasonal chaos, shuffle family around town, and welcome the start of a new decade. Leaving our Los Angeles headquarters and heading back home to Central California, I identified haunts worth exploring that I'd previously ignored; they either never crossed my radar or I had decided, for whatever long forgotten reason, they were "boring" when I was a resident of Kern County.

Take the Basque food scene in Bakersfield, for example. I finally tapped into it when I drove our long-term Infiniti QX30 in search of a low-key hangout with delicious grub. And I found, to my delight, a distinct lack of the usual sleepwalkers with cell phones in hand, poised to capture every mundane experience at any given place rather than actually enjoy the experience. The Selfie-Zombie Phenomenon is so out of hand that environs devoid of it somehow feel almost punk rock in nature.

These hidden gems are not far from my hometown. Years ago, as a student at Bakersfield College, I heard about Kern River Brewing Company. Located in Kernville in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains, just more than 40 miles outside of Bakersfield alongside the Kern River, this award-winning establishment doubles as a brewpub and restaurant. Kernville itself—home to approximately 1,400 souls—boasts of its status as the gateway to the Sequoia National Forest. At this time of year, the town is enthusiastically celebrating Christmas; it's filled with delightful lodges and offers some of the best rafting in California this side of the Kern. Beyond the December holidays, the town's big to do is Whiskey Flat Days, an annual Wild West festival held for four days on Presidents' Day weekend.

For years, though, I viewed a visit to Kern River Brewing as a daunting proposition, thanks to the somewhat intimidating road required to get there. But a desire to take the Hyundai Santa Fe on an adventure inspired me to journey to the mountains. As an added security measure, I called a friend to join me on the spontaneous trip, and he jumped into the passenger seat. The Santa Fe—seemingly ready for more than simple grocery hauling—would help me conquer the road to the Sequoia gateway.

With Santa Fe sales up by 8.3 percent through the first three-quarters of 2019, the midsize SUV is doing something right. Start up front, where the Limited 2.0T model gets a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 235 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. In addition to an abundance of standard tech and safety features, Hyundai's recent updates to the 2020 Santa Fe include new door sills, dark chrome exterior trim, a rejiggered blind-spot monitor, and newly available rear-occupant alert. This test vehicle came in Symphony Silver, equipped with optional all-wheel drive for $1,700; total MSRP for this model is $40,295, and even at that price point, the fully equipped Santa Fe Limited 2.0T still comes across as a bargain compared to other midsize SUVs that may still lack some of its features.

Prior to embarking on the road to Kernville, I made a coffee run to one of my all-time favorite coffee shops, Dagny's Coffee Company. For a seamless use of Google Maps and Spotify, I connected my phone to the USB port to activate—for my first time ever—Android Auto. The hype over and widespread adoption of Android Auto now makes far more sense. Utilizing my smartphone's apps via the 8.0-inch touchscreen interface was not only advantageous, but also turned out to be one of the cabin's biggest highlights.

New vehicles tend to be equipped with a load of features most people do not utilize (or is it just me?). But in the Santa Fe's case, I had Android Auto, the surround-view camera system, heated seats/steering wheel, blind-spot monitor, and high-beam assist in heavy rotation. We're all for high-tech features, provided they actually do something useful; the Santa Fe excelled in this regard.

The drive to Kern River Brewing started out on an open country road, but once we got onto the scenic stretch of Highway 178 East through Kern River Canyon, it became both spectacular and scary with tight twists and curves; however, despite driving through a rock-fall area and it being the winter season, the road conditions were impeccable. The Santa Fe handled it all smoothly and with aplomb, leading us to pull into a turnout to admire the Kern River, the natural rock formations that surrounded us, and the Hyundai itself.

In Sport mode on the canyon road, I tested lane-keep assist on some portions where the view ahead was clear, and the system's accuracy surpassed expectations. Additionally, the powertrain's quietness combined with breathtaking forward vision and solid ride quality to help relax us as we tackled the hair-raising road.

Roadside attractions en route to Kernville included Children of the Earth Natural Hot Springs, Silver City Ghost Town, and Isabella Lake. We made a stop at the latter for a quick breather, where an epic view of Kern River Valley welcomed us. When we arrived in Kernville, it felt like a time machine had spit us out into an era where a handshake was as good as a written agreement. The parking lot at Kern River Brewing appeared to be on overflow, yet we managed to snag a slot near the entrance. Inside, the brewpub was warm, practically built from the trees in its backyard, and everything I hoped it would be.

After enjoying a tasty lunch, we climbed back into heated seats and set off to survey the cozy town and its further delights. It turned out that the 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited 2.0T was an excellent companion for an experience ride that made us remember some of the best things about being alive.

2020 Hyundai Santa Fe Limited 2.0T Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $38,595/$40,295 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 2.0L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4; 235 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 260 lb-ft @ 3,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 20/26 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 187.8 x 74.4 x 66.1 in
WHEELBASE 108.9 in
WEIGHT 4,085 lb
0-60 MPH 7.8 sec
TOP SPEED 130 mph (est)