Picture: SUPPLIED
Picture: SUPPLIED

Being a motoring journalist ain’t what it used to be. The days of pampered, boozy trips to luxury hotels or exotic locations seem a distant memory. Before Covid put the ultimate damper on travel and gatherings, motor companies were already cutting costs.

In their heyday, local car launches would provide open-armed hospitality to dozens of journalists and their partners, flying them not just around SA but sometimes to expensive resorts in neighbouring countries or even Indian Ocean islands.

There were lots of simpler events but the no-expense-spared attitude reigned there too, albeit on a smaller scale. Many launches ended with the presentation of expensive gifts. These might include electronic equipment, travel vouchers or, on one famous occasion, imported racing bicycles.

It’s no wonder that motoring has always been considered one of the great “freebie” journalism beats, alongside travel and fashion.

There is still the occasional “grand statement” launch today, but, faced with shrinking sales and marketing budgets, motor companies are cutting back on the largesse. I suspect another reason is that the emergence of the internet and social media means motor companies no longer need motoring journalists as much as they once did.

Many journalists claim to prefer the one-day launches that dominate now, but the look in their eyes often says otherwise. A quick catch-up with old pals over coffee is no substitute for several beers with dinner – though motor companies are no longer as tolerant about drunken behaviour as they once were.

Many one-day launches are already “dry”. If and when government imposes the zero blood-alcohol limit it’s been promising, it will be the final indignity for some who used to boast of their ability (or, more usually, inability) to handle vast quantities of alcohol.

Last week’s launch of the Hyundai Santa Fe was typical of the new fashion. It took place at a small wedding venue in Muldersdrift, west of Joburg. With the barest of razzmatazz, it was a strictly working function. Besides journalists, there were also the obligatory “influencers” who now attend many events. The arrival of one gent in what appeared to be shortie pyjamas reinforced the view that the two groups have little in common. Motor companies often try to keep them apart on launches.

The latest Santa Fe is not a brand-new model but a mid-generation facelift. The bold new grille dominates an aggressive new front, while new alloy wheels sharpen the side-on profile. An upgraded interior includes leather seats, while safety improvements include child-safety sensors that prevent the rear door from opening when the Santa Fe has stopped and another vehicle approaches from the rear.

There are two variants, the Executive and Elite. The latter’s higher specifications include permanent all-wheel-drive. Both are powered by a 2.2l turbodiesel engine feeding into an eight-speed, dual-clutch transmission.

The tight corners and sweeping bends of the Magaliesberg gave the Santa Fe a perfect opportunity to show off its handling and performance. It doesn’t feel like the big vehicle it is. However, while other journalists have commented on the smooth ride, I found it a bit bumpy. I’m not a fan of low-profile tyres on vehicles of this size, particularly SUVs with offroad pretensions.

To be fair, sales and operations director Stan Anderson says those pretensions are limited, intended for mild conditions. However, one of his chief target markets is potential Toyota Fortuner and Ford Everest customers, and it remains to be seen if they will be prepared to sacrifice some “go-anywhere” ability.

What they will get in exchange is a comfortable, well-equipped and spacious seven-seater family vehicle. Passenger legroom and cargo space are both improved in the new Santa Fe, which is slightly bigger than its predecessor.

The Santa Fe Executive costs R769,900 and the Elite R869,600. These prices are competitive in their categories but I can’t go along with the new advertising campaign that says the Executive is “only R769,000”. R7.69 is “only”. R769 is “only”. But three-quarters of a million rands will never be “only”.

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.