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.
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.
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”