Our first drive of the year started a bit differently this year – with a call out to the automotive community about cool new things to do. Most ‘Washington-esque’ places, I’ve already been to. Mount (Rainier, Baker, St. Helens), check; Winthrop, check; Leavenworth in the snow, check… And so on.

I was stumped. I had a tester Hyundai Santa Fe Sport with all-wheel drive and no ideas on what to do with it. I put out the call and one particular post stood out among the many: FOOD. Who doesn’t love food?

Ron Pettibon, a member of the PNW Custom Coupes and Sedans Facebook group and Puget-area resident, suggested a trip like those in Guy Fieri’s “Tripe D” show (Diner’s Drive-Ins and Dives). While I’m not a ‘foodie’, I do love a good meal and wanted to try something new. New food fit the bill. Now it was time to figure out what kind of new food – I’ve tried a lot of food.

But no Russian foods. And especially not Russian dumplings – even though I love dumplings (dim sum dumplings, gyoza, chicken ‘n dumplings… they’re all good). Low and behold, there was a Russian dumpling place up in Bellingham. Sold. Thanks Ron!

So, this edition of First Drive of the Year is Food, Frigid Temps, and a Hyundai Santa Fe Sport! (That’s not similar to the Triple D, right?)


The First Drive in the ’18 Santa Fe Sport

My breath frosted in the afternoon air as I walked to the Frost White Pearl 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate AWD (phew, say that five times fast). I opened the doors (keyless entry standard on this trim) and slid into Korean luxury for my drive to and from (hopefully) amazing food.

I started the Santa Fe Sport’s 240 hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine, the rumble coming to life at the push of a button. The heated seats and steering wheel were turned on, and I started playing the first of the day’s radio stations. If we’d had rear-seat passengers, the outer ones would also have heated seats – but the only thing that went back there all day was the leftovers from the restaurant we were heading toward.

On Pandora, Old Skool Road Trip Radio on Pandora plays songs my family used to listen to while road tripping, primarily 60s and 70s music of various flavors. Some Rolling Stones belted forth from the 12-speaker Infinity system. The Santa Fe Sport had QuantumLogic Surround and Clari-Fi restoration technology that made the older music sound crystal clear, though my usual terrible singing absolutely ruined the otherwise comfortable environment.

Rob and I started the drive later than we’d have liked, but it was a lazy day. And I was 100 percent ok with that. We too the highway up to Bellingham and I was able to utilize the Santa Fe Sport’s advanced cruise control for an easy-breezy, stress-free drive up north.

Android Auto played our tunes from Spotify and Pandora, while giving me directions through Wave. The few times my cell phone lost connection along the more remote sections of northern I-5, I had the choice of high-definition AM/FM radio or Sirius XM radio (90-day trial for new owners).

It was a pleasant space to be – comfortable, cozy, relaxing. A wonderful way to spend the First Drive of the Year.


The First Russian Food

With back profusely warmed via heated seats, we parked the Santa Fe Sport in a nearby parking lot and went to get our first Russian food.

Pel’Meni’s looks like the a-typical college town eats. White Christmas lights cast a welcoming light along the artwork adorned walls and impressive record collection and player. The smell of curry powder filled the air and warmth wafted from the large pots for boiling dumplings.

Pel’Meni is also what the little Russian dumplings are called – kind of like calling a restaurant that serves nothing but tortellini, “Tortellini’s”. There are three choices of food at Pel’Meni’s – Potato or Meat Pel’Meni or a mix.

I went for the mix and was happy I did. The spicy bite from the sauce was well-moderated with the potato filling, whereas it was only worsened by the peppery taste of the meat filling – the combination of both soothing all and adding to the exotic flavors bursting onto my tongue.

To say they were good is an understatement. They’re fantastic (and if I allowed swearing on my site, I’d give it an expletive for emphasis). If you’ve never had a Pel’Meni then you seriously need to plan a road trip to Bellingham (yes, there are some in Seattle… but that’s not this Pel’Meni place. 😊).

When we were finished with the first set of dumplings, Rob went back and got another round for both of us, along with some more soda/juice. Being a college town and a college-area restaurant, the prices were cheap – around $7 per to-go-thing of Pel’Meni.


The First Drive of the Year

We rolled through the town of Bellingham and past the Western Washington University campus, not far from which we found this golden egg of a vehicle. NOTE: If you know this person, please get me in contact with them! I must hear more about this toaster.

On the way back, we drove down Chuckanut Drive in the dark. Inky darkness and stars above, inky darkness and cold waters to the left, and curvy roads surrounded by cliffs. What a wonderful place to be. Luckily, the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport had powerful high beam headlights to illuminate the void before the blacky seas below.

Truth-be-told, Chuckanut Drive is one of our favorite roads in the area. Rob and I dated to driving sports cars in Northern Japan, and Chuckanut is probably the closest we’ve found to the size and curvaceous-ness of Japanese mountain roads.

Having ‘fun’ in the Ameican-sized Santa Fe Sport on the quick turns and corners of Chuckanut was a little more difficult than some of Hyundai’s smaller models, like a Veloster, but it was still sporty enough to trigger my fun-o-meter.

The Santa Fe Sport 2.0T Ultimate AWD model came with paddle shifters and “Sport” mode in the drive mode settings, making cornering sportier than your average SUV. With more aggressive throttle response, downshifting for the upcoming corner felt sharp and put a smile on my face.

Hyundai’s all-wheel drive system was intelligent enough to allow me to push the SUV in the corners. Acute corners still held a bit of body roll, but I’m not expecting flat cornering from an SUV. Putting the pedal down during the exit, especially if one had downshifted properly, made the slowing worthwhile.

When the fun curves were over, I used the automatic high-beams and advanced cruise control to lazily drive my way home. The smell of Pel’Meni leftovers wafting around the cabin making me want more, even though I was stuffed.

For the First Drive of the Year in 2018, I couldn’t have picked a better theme or a better ride than new foods and the 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T.