Hyundai Grand Starex
Story by Dr. Max Long

Size does matter. Super size me. Some of the corny Hollywood movies tagline and script, right out of box office flicks, with the latter referring to upsizing of portion at fast food outlets, another one of American hegemonic foray into our societal food culture.

However, it is interesting to note that the fully-auto washing machine I paid for close to a decade ago at 13.5kg capacity is a maxed-out tumbler available only from a notable Korean appliance maker. Not from the Japanese, not even at any price at time.

I am not sure about the Americans then but they are unlikely to be competitively priced by the time brands like Maytag – of equivalent size and wash load – gets shipped to our beloved country.

And now we have this ‘Starship Enterprise’ of a people mover, van, minibus or full-size MPV or whatever you might want to call it. Hyundai themselves call it by at least 3 names. Over here it’s known as the Hyundai Grand Starex. It’s simply huge.

Read our test drive review after the jump.

Hyundai Grand Starex

Measuring over 5 metres in length, think Mercedes R-Class and S-Class in extended ‘L’ guises. It is perhaps even taller than the trendy and popular deep-freezer-on-wheels Toyota Alphard. This is another repeat of maximum bang-for-bucks from the Koreans!

Splendid, I thought to myself since most guys, if not all, love bigger things generally (stop your wandering minds people!). A preference applicable even to handsets now, unlike in the early 2000’s when Nokia’s most ‘iconic’ and smallest handphone, the 8210 were so ubiquitous.

In all honesty, almost all the folks that spotted me piloting the Starex – a parallel imported MPVs dealer included – were more impressed with its exterior styling than the other slab-sided metal chunk wearing that coveted ‘T’ badge. Some even commended that the Starex’s rear profile was reminiscent of the current Mercedes-Benz Vito/Viano to a certain extent. Now that must be quite flattering for Hyundai’s Starex going into its third generation.

Hyundai Grand Starex

It’s also very heartening and appetising to digest figures like 170 hp and 392 Nm of torque at 2000 to 2500rpm coming from Hyundai’s 2.5L turbodiesel, equipped with Variable Geometry Turbo (VGT). Definitely class-leading figures for an oil-burner MPV at RM138,888 or for any 12-seater for that matter. Much like the double-digit load capacity washing machine I still cherish much until now; seating the Starex up to the max didn’t seem to bog it down, with cruising at legal speed (and beyond) and also passing slower pickup trucks (even Estimas 2.4) a breeze.

The 2.2 tonne Starex also passed my self-coined uphill-sprint-test with flying colour, lugging the same full load of passengers. That’s the beauty of near-400Nm of turbodiesel torque working with you, for you, via the 5-speed auto ‘box. Interestingly, I have managed to clock about 580km to the tankful of 75litres of diesel, for what is mostly highway blasts at ‘high’ speed, with some urban driving thrown in.

This behemoth from Hyundai is best left cruising down highway since its sheer bulk and high centre-of-gravity don’t usually translate to fun tackling the twisties. That’s to be expected but it’s not to say that it pitches and rolls badly around corners, far from it.

Hyundai Grand Starex

In fact, I found the Starex mostly as planted as the SsangYong Stavic tested years ago, if not for what is recalled as slightly better tracking composure of the latter’s front axle into corners. Needless to say, both makes are best driven sedately around bends since they are after all massive vehicular masses in motion.

The brakes of the Starex is very adequate though, and for those who like to split hairs about having drum brakes at the back (e.g. Naza Ria, Toyota Innova and the Grand Livina), the rear axle items on the Starex are not only discs but huge, ventilated rotors! The turning radius of the Starex is simply superb, enabling an unusually small semi-circle for making U-turns, even better than some FWD sedans with lengthy frontal overhangs! In addition, this also makes parallel parking easier than you imagine.

Hyundai Grand Starex

One of the few gripes I have with the Starex is the absence of a rear screen wiper when even a reverse camera is standard. You know how an expansive rear windscreen on a near-vertical tailgate gets easily sprayed with smudges after a rainy day drive. In an already tall van, the taller bee-sting radio antenna only serves to scrape ceilings, an occasional overhead fire sprinkler’s piping and sometimes metal frame scaffolding of basement car parks.

Hyundai Grand StarexIn the meantime, I found the vague release of the parking brake lever deep in between the driver and front middle seat mostly inconvenient.

More often than not, the parking brake does not disengage fully unless and until I extend my elbow and wrist, each time having to consciously push the lever deep down to the carpet trim level. Also, what’s with the old school instrument dials with plain green backlighting at night and ever-so-boring fonts, looking bargain basement and much like a commercial goods carrier’s?

Come to think of it, I have spotted a white panel-van version of the H1 – as the Starex is known as – in the UK last year. But c’mon Hyundai, surely there’s room for differentiation at the meter panel! Plenty of manufacturers do it.

Hyundai Grand Starex

Interior wise, the ceiling is lined bilaterally with A/C vents which kept all three back rows’ passengers cool, near freezing-cold even in scorching mid-day sun. Though the seats sizes are just adequate, trimming them in soft beige leather did help in increasing their comfiness and even adds a tinge of class to things.

In fact, the overall cabin ambiance is far more inviting and luxurious versus the likes of the Toyota Hiace and the Kia Pregio. Heck, there is even a touch screen double-DIN DVD player up front along with a ceiling mounted LCD screen to keep my kids and their cousins quiet during an outing to Kuantan, and back!

Hyundai Grand Starex

After returning the tester unit, this writer was actually contemplating getting one for his ever-expanding, at times extended family. If only the economic uncertainty that looms ahead with the doom of global financial crisis wasn’t so murky and threatening.

Nonetheless, at sub-RM140k there is nothing like this spacious behemoth there in CBU form (or even CKD for that matter) and as a brand-new vehicle for you to pick. So it does make sense – even more so in these trying times – as say, a third ‘car’ for mass transportation or utility purposes for a large family. That’s provided you can get past the usual badge snobbery that seems to be prevalent in the Malaysian buyer mentality. For the record, this Hyundai is already well received by the decision makers in the hospitality, travel and tourism industry.

Personally though, if only this Grand Starex comes equipped with electronic stability program (ESP) like the H1s in South Korea… that would have made my decision easier.

Or am I just dragging my feet?

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