Hyundai Santa Fe recently became the first passenger vehicle to be driven across the continent of Antarctica from Union Camp to McMurdo and back again. Hyundai Motor Company achieved the feat with a near-standard 2.2-litre diesel Santa Fe driven by Patrick Bergel, the great grandson of legendary polar explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton. The journey, which took place in December 2016, arranged to celebrate the centenary of Shackleton's Trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914-16.
Patrick Bergel said, "The journey was incredible and the car was a pleasure to drive. Sometimes it felt less like driving and more like sailing across the snow. It was a proper expedition with a challenge to accomplish that nobody else had done before. It was about endurance not speed - we only averaged only 27km/h - and success was about how we and the car handled it. I'm very reluctant to make direct comparisons between what my great grandfather did and what we've done recently. But it is quite something to have been the first to do this in a wheeled vehicle."
The journey covered nearly 5,800km of icy terrain in bitter conditions that included temperatures of minus 28-degrees Celsius and floating ice caps. The Santa Fe for the 30-day expedition was only slightly modified - fitted with giant low-pressure tyres. In order to fit the tyres, the car's body was raised with new sub-frames and suspension and gears were fitted inside the wheel hubs to cope with the different forces and the need to turn more slowly to run at the same speed. The only other modifications were to increase the fuel tank capacity, to convert the car to run on Jet A-1 fuel - the only fuel available in Antarctica, and to install a pre-heater for the cold.
Gisli Jonsson from Arctic Trucks, one of Antarctica's most experienced driving experts, was given the responsibility to manage the vehicle's preparation before the event and then led the expedition out in the Antarctic. He explained: "People who have a lot of experience of Antarctica know what it does to machinery: basically, anything and everything falls apart. Even the big machines crack up and break apart. This was the first time this full traverse has ever been attempted, let alone doing it there and back. A lot of people thought we would never ever make it and when we returned they couldn't believe we'd actually done it!"