ON A (VERY) ROCKY ROAD WITH HYUNDAI'S NEW CRETA

Hyundai’s new Creta is sure to sell well. But is it prac­ti­cal and ver­sa­tile, or just another fash­ion ac­ces­sory-type SUV? We tack­led (an un­ex­pect­edly treach­er­ous) moun­tain pass to find out.

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - CONTENTS - Text and pho­tog­ra­phy: GG van Rooyen

Cthe suc­cess that Hyundai has had in the com­pact SUV seg­ment over the last few years, it’s quite sur­pris­ing that it has taken the com­pany this long to launch a smaller ve­hi­cle that can slot in be­low the Tuc­son. Since launch, the lat­est Tuc­son has done as­ton­ish­ingly well. Close to 5 700 were sold lo­cally last year alone. But these days, the Tuc­son is ac­tu­ally po­si­tioned to­wards the larger end of the SUV spec­trum. There are plenty of cutesy crossovers avail­able in South Africa that are much smaller than the Tuc­son, and they’re sell­ing like hot­cakes. They’re do­ing well not be­cause they per­form great on a dirt road or have all-wheel drive, but sim­ply be­cause they look cool. It’s not about ca­pa­bil­ity at all; it’s just about fash­ion­able SUV looks. Slap some black cladding on a com­pact hatch, and sud­denly it’s a ‘cross­over’.

But what if you want to drive on gravel or tackle a moun­tain pass in your small cross­over? Is it any more ca­pa­ble than a hatch or sedan? To find out, we de­cided to take the new Creta on a bit of an ad­ven­ture drive. We would take it over the Maan­haar­rand Pass (also known as Breedt’s Nek Pass), and tackle some other gravel roads in the Hart­beespoort area. The Maan­haar­rand seemed like a good choice, since it has al­ways been a (very) bad gravel track, with­out ever be­ing so bad as to ne­ces­si­tate a proper 4×4.

The Creta seemed like a great sub­ject for our test. Like most ve­hi­cles in its seg­ment (the Opel Mokka X, Mazda CX-3, Nis­san Juke and Mit­subishi ASX, to name a few), it is 4×2 only, but it does boast a great diesel en­gine, tyres with de­cent pro­files and 190mm of ground clear­ance. (In­ter­est­ingly, the Creta’s ground clear­ance is ac­tu­ally 18mm more than that of the Tuc­son, which is pegged at 172mm). >

ON THE ROAD Since we wanted to be at the top of the Maan­haar­rand Pass at sun­rise, we set off from Jo­han­nes­burg at around 5am. With lit­tle traf­fic on the road, we had a chance to test out the Creta’s en­gine.

The Creta is avail­able with a 1.6-litre petrol mill that de­vel­ops 90kW of power and 150Nm of torque, but our top­spec model was pow­ered by a 1.6-litre (1 582cc) tur­bod­iesel that of­fers 94kW of power and a hefty 260Nm of torque. The en­gine is mated to a six-speed au­to­matic gear­box.

The Creta is quite a large ve­hi­cle. It is 4 475mm long, only 205mm shorter than the Tuc­son, but it feels nippy and agile thanks to that diesel mill. Peak torque is cre­ated at 2 750r/min, but a sub­stan­tial amount of it is avail­able from much lower down on the rev range. Put your foot down, and the ve­hi­cle re­sponds. The au­to­matic ’box re­acts ef­fi­ciently and pre­dictably to your in­puts. Should you wish, you can also man­age gear shifts man­u­ally.

The Creta is tall (15mm higher than the Tuc­son, thanks to that im­pres­sive ground clear­ance) and quite nar­row (70mm nar­rower than its big­ger sib­ling), so you wouldn’t ex­pect it to feel that com­posed in a cor­ner, but it does pretty well. Good body rigid­ity and an ef­fec­tive sus­pen­sion lets it cor­ner at de­cent speeds.

More im­pres­sive, though, is the Creta’s NVH lev­els. Hyundai’s new SUV is built in In­dia, but build qual­ity is on par with what you’d find in the Tuc­son. Even with a diesel un­der the bon­net, there is lit­tle noise and vi­bra­tion. The cabin is quiet and com­fort­able and boasts all those nice-to-haves that peo­ple de­mand from a ve­hi­cle in this seg­ment. There’s an in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem with touch­screen and nav­i­ga­tion, air con­di­tion­ing, Blue­tooth con­nec­tiv­ity, rear park as­sist and leather seats.

MAAN­HAAR­RAND PASS

We ap­proached the Maan­haar­rand Pass from the south, and as soon as we turned onto the gravel road that led to the pass, it be­came clear that the gravel track was in much worse con­di­tion than it had been the last time we’d vis­ited. Thanks to all the rain the re­gion re­ceived over the pre­ced­ing months, deep ruts had been gouged into the road. It wasn’t im­pass­able, but the go­ing was slow. We crept up the pass very care­fully. At one point, we had to make use of a spot­ter to get the Creta over an ex­posed storm-drain pipe that had cre­ated a nasty step that could badly dam­age a com­pact SUV. Had the Creta’s ground clear­ance not been 190mm, we prob­a­bly would have had to turn around.

We made it to the top of the pass just as the sun was pre­par­ing to peek over the hori­zon. Af­ter spend­ing a few min­utes ad­mir­ing the view, we con­tin­ued on. Al­most im­me­di­ately, it be­came clear that the north­ern sec­tion of the pass was in much worse con­di­tion. Rain had washed away mounds of grit and sand, re­veal­ing nasty rocks that could put a se­ri­ous dent in the un­der­car­riage of the Hyundai.

Hav­ing crested the pass, how­ever, 4WD wasn’t a ne­ces­sity. The Creta didn’t need to climb up any steep rocks, it sim­ply needed to make its way down them. All that was needed was good ground clear­ance and pa­tience. It turned into quite the un­ex­pected ad­ven­ture – a cou­ple of times the Creta even popped a wheel into the air – but it even­tu­ally made it through.

In that con­di­tion, it was a track that few com­pact SUVs would have been able to han­dle, but the Creta coped well. Sure, it didn’t have all-wheel drive, but it had good tyres (with de­cent pro­files) and enough ground clear­ance. If you plan on us­ing your com­pact SUV for week­end ad­ven­tures and real gravel travel, these two fea­tures are a must.

GO­ING ON GRAVEL

Hav­ing dealt suc­cess­fully with the Maan­haar­rand Pass, we set our sights on some of the gravel passes around Hart­beespoort Dam.

There are some nice dirt roads in the area, and we were keen to see how the Creta would per­form on them. Af­ter the un­ex­pected test that the pass of­fered, though, good gravel felt

“It isn’t the quirki­est or most at­ten­tion­grab­bing. Its de­sign is sober and sen­si­ble. But what it lacks in flair it more than makes up for in prac­ti­cal­ity”

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