Giant tires and jet fuel helped this Hyundai Santa Fe cross Antarctica

It may be named for a city in the sunny American Southwest, but the Hyundai Santa Fe has proven its mettle in some colder conditions.

A modified Santa Fe crossed Antarctica, making it the first passenger car to do so, according to Hyundai. In December 2016, one of these SUVs traveled from from Union Camp to McMurdo on the world’s southernmost continent, the automaker now says. The Santa Fe was driven by Patrick Bergel, great grandson of Ernest Shackleton, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition. Shackleton’s ship, the Endurance, was crushed by ice before it could cross the continent, but Shackleton went to great lengths to rescue the stranded crew.

A stock Santa Fe isn’t exactly off-road worthy, yet Hyundai claims only a handful of modifications were made for the drive across Antarctica. Granted, those modifications included fitting massive low-pressure tires covered by fender flares, and also converting the Santa Fe to run on jet fuel. It’s the only fuel available on Antarctica, according to Hyundai.

The suspension was also modified, and the fuel tank was altered both to increase capacity, and to accommodate a heater. The modifications were done by Arctic Trucks, the Icelandic firm that famously supplied beefed up Toyota Hilux pickup trucks to Top Gear for the show’s North Pole and volcano stunts.

“It was a pretty standard Santa Fe. The engine, management system, the transmission, the front differential and driveshaft were all completely standard,” Arctic Trucks’ Gisli Jónsson said in a Hyundai press release. He noted that the tires were run at one-tenth normal pressure to prevent the SUV from ploughing into the snow and getting stuck. That’s “so soft you can drive over someone’s hand and it won’t hurt them,” Jónsson said.

The expedition took 30 days and covered 5,800 kilometers (3,603 miles) in temperatures as low as -28 degrees Celsius (-18.4 degrees Fahrenheit). Bergel, who decorated the Santa Fe with the names of his great grandfather Shackleton’s crew, said the team averaged only 27 kph (16 mph) across the continent. That’s slow going, but trekking that distance would have been even harder in Shackleton’s time.

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