FIRST DRIVE | New Hyundai Staria packs serious swag
You either love or hate what the Hyundai design department is doing right now. Feigning indifference is really impossible – which is more than you can say about the insipid, cookie-cutter approaches employed by some carmakers in 2021.
From the B-segment Venue, styled to look like a “tiny giant”, to the sea-monster face of the Kona, or the cyborg-inspired Creta, the South Korean firm is quite clearly pushing a radical stylistic agenda.
And they did not hold back when it came to the replacement for their H1, named Staria. The result is quite an impressive feat, considering the inherent aesthetic limitations of such a genre: a good multipurpose vehicle needs boxy corners to maximise interior space for luggage and occupants.
The Staria has a passenger compartment that is as cavernous as you would expect, but with a streamlined nose that aligns itself to references about science-fiction and futurism. It really does look like a chariot in which to roam the galaxy.
A voyage to outer space was not on the itinerary at the South African launch last Friday, though we ventured to the fringes of the Gauteng provinces and into the North West instead.
Hyundai hopes their new Staria will strengthen the presence of the brand in a competitive arena featuring the likes of Ford (Transit, Tourneo); Mercedes-Benz (Vito and V-Class); Toyota (Hiace and Quantum); as well as the Volkswagen T6, in Kombi and Caravelle grades.
Like each of these counterparts mentioned, the Hyundai Staria is available in guises across the spectrum, from panel van to people hauler to upmarket, leisure-focused minibus. The panel van will follow later, so will a five-seater Multicab version.
At present there are three grades: Executive, Elite and Luxury – the latter two are available strictly in nine-seat configuration, while the Executive could be had with either nine- or 11-seat set-ups.
The flagship Luxury includes “Premium Relaxation” seating, featuring a middle row with individual chairs that resemble sumptuous recliners from a high-end furniture catalogue. In addition, they are able to swivel, which, according to Hyundai, makes it ideal for businesspeople who want to conduct face-to-face meetings.
Unfortunately, our Staria experience omitted seat-time in the grand Luxury. However, we immersed ourselves in the basic Executive, particularly relevant to the transport sector, plus the middle-range Elite, bound to strike a chord with private owners eyeing a family-orientated application.
Of course, Hyundai also identifies the funeral industry as a significant supporter of its products, claiming that a prominent service provider has already signed a large fleet order.
While it lacks the obvious garnishing and embellishments of its peers, the visual pizazz of the Staria still comes through in Executive trim. It rolls on 17-inch alloys. Clambering up and into to the driver’s seat, one is greeted by an uncluttered layout, with the standard fare expected from a modern-day motor vehicle, including an eight-inch infotainment system comprising a reversing camera. Equipment is generous in the Executive: cruise control, wireless smartphone charging, voice control, climate control, blind-spot monitoring and keyless-entry are part of the deal.
It drives better than you would expect of a compact bus. Torsional rigidity has been upped by 14% and Hyundai claims overall body strength trumps the old H1 by a considerable 70% – a benefit of chassis reinforcements. It also rides on a multi-link rear suspension, but a solid rear axle on leaf springs will be used in the panel van version.
The on-road comfort, composure and directional stability of the Staria was notable over our route, consisting of poorly-surfaced back roads, as well as smooth freeway cruising. Minibuses are often plagued by persistent cabin rattles, owed to various little parts in seats and friction between sliding window mechanisms, for example. But this was not the case in the Staria, which had a wonderfully silent cabin.
One engine powers the range, which is the familiar 2.2-litre, turbocharged-diesel unit packing four cylinders, punching out 130kW and 430Nm. Transmission is to the front wheels, via an eight-speed automatic gearbox. We encountered no issues in maintaining the national limit, or keeping the fizz up at town speeds. Overall, a truly pleasant and relaxing steer.
After lunch we swapped keys for the slightly superior Elite, where I opted to plant myself in the middle seat of the second row. In terms of specification, the Elite is largely matched by the Executive, though it goes slightly further with electronically-sliding doors and 18-inch alloys.
In terms of cargo space, the nine-seater’s luggage compartment ranges between 831l and 1,303l, depending on the placement of the third row. In the 11-seater meanwhile, the number ranges from 117l to 882l, behind the fourth row. The towing capacity is 2,500kg (braked) and 750kg (unbraked); figures that apply to all three versions.
Hyundai’s new Staria blends the expected functionality of a van with a level of panache and expression rarely seen in the category.
2.2 Executive nine-seater: R789,900
2.2 Executive 11-seater: R799,900
2.2 Elite nine-seater R959,900
2.2 Luxury nine-seater R1,099,900
A seven-year/200,000km warranty and roadside assistance for seven-years or 150,000km are included. The Luxury version comes standard with seven-year/105,000km service plan, while the Elite and Executive have a six-year/90,000km service plan.