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Car reviews - Hyundai - iMAX - CRDi people-mover

Our Opinion

We like
Interior space, luggage capacity, quiet and comfortable cruising, value for money, smooth automatic transmission
Room for improvement
No luggage cover, annoying automatic central locking, poor iPod integration, no cruise control, no trip computer or outside temperature gauge, lack of usable storage bins for rear passengers

23 Sep 2011

HYUNDAI’S iLoad van is taking customers away from Toyota’s HiAce. On more than one occasion GoAuto has spoken to business owners who have replaced or been in the process of replacing their fleet of HiAces with iLoads.

It’s not a bad looking van and – in the same way that Volkswagen’s Caravelle and Multivan people-carriers are based on the Transporter commercial and the Mercedes-Benz Viano is based on the Vito cargo-carrier – Hyundai and also offers a people-mover variant called the iMax.

In fact, while the iLoad has become the nation’s top-selling van, the iMax is now Australia’s second-favourite people-mover – after in-house rival Kia’s equally oddly-named Grand Carnival – and the cheapest way of getting space for eight people (and their luggage) with the torque and fuel economy benefits of a diesel engine.

For families, people-movers can be a bit of a depressing purchase made out of fertility, sorry – necessity, because they neither offer the driving dynamics of a family sedan or wagon nor the versatility or image of an SUV.

The trouble is, although some wagons and SUVs are available with a third row of seats, this almost always comes at the expense of luggage space, meaning roof boxes or trailers become a necessary added burden on the large family packing for a holiday or weekend away.

True, there is a dowdy image associated with people-movers but perhaps the iMax kind of gets around this by being a van and therefore imageless and can even provide a bit of touring rock-band mystique – especially if you go for privacy glass…

After pressing the odd side-mounted remote central locking button on the old-fashioned looking key to gain access to the iMax, first impressions of the interior are that it is dated and basic.

However, further inspection reveals it to be sparse but functional and well-constructed from hard-wearing materials - a good thing as many examples of this vehicle are likely to lead a hard life. It is based on a van, after all.

The instrument cluster includes the traditional speedo, rev-counter, fuel and temperature gauges but lacks a trip computer, outside temperature gauge and cruise control.

The seats are comfortable, especially the front pair which are like captain's chairs with integrated fold-down armrests.

The iMax has a good, SUV-like driving position (although the pedal position remains quite van-like), aided by a tilt-adjustable steering wheel, height-adjustable seat and easy-to-use ergonomics.

Sitting high above most of the traffic, the rear-wheel drive iMax provides a Range Rover-like commanding view of the road ahead that is improved further by the sharply-sloping bonnet. Its 190mm ground clearance means it should be able to negotiate a bit of the rough stuff too.

Unlike some South Korean vehicles the switchgear doesn't feel brittle and the dashboard top is coated in soft-touch textured material. There are two generously-sized glove compartments, slide-out cupholders and an additional 12-volt outlet located at the bottom of the centre console separate to the cigarette lighter – ideally located as the space between the front seats is perfect for a travel fridge.

Both front doors have two-tier door bins with bottle recesses. The upper door bin is ideally sized for a small street directory and the lower for larger items such as road atlases. There are a couple of extra small cubby-holes on the dashboard and a dash-top recess. A sunglasses holder is located above the rear-view mirror.

We found the cargo area, which unfortunately lacks a luggage cover, is sufficient for the luggage, food and drink of six occupants on a self-catered long-weekend away to the snow.

During said weekend, the iMax easily swallowed eight passengers plus their skiing and snowboarding equipment and made light but leisurely work of the winding climb up Victoria’s Mount Buller.

The rear quarters show Hyundai to have done a great job of hiding the humble van origins of the iMax. There are no exposed metal surfaces and the floor is covered in a pleasantly bouncy but tough-looking black carpet.

Seat anchorages and runners are neatly obscured by rubber flaps, while items are prevented from rolling under seats by sturdy skirts that reach almost to the ground.

The two rows of rear passengers have plenty of space but complained about seatbelt clasps jabbing their buttocks and having to reach too far for their (limited) storage areas, which comprise door bins with bottle recesses for the centre row and too-shallow cupholders for rear passengers plus a long slot down one side that extends into the luggage area.

Entry for these passengers is via convenient twin sliding side doors and access to the rearmost row of seats is achieved through a two-stage process of sliding the front row of seats forward, then pulling a lever to tilt the seat-backs

Both benches recline to a lazy 45 degrees and the centre row can be slid into several positions to offer legroom compromises for central or rear passengers.

We could not figure out if there is, if any, way of easily folding the seats flat or removing them completely to provide full van-sized loading capacity where needed, nor is it possible to rotate the centre row of seats so that rear passengers can travel facing each other.

Centre-row passengers have access to ventilation controls to adjust the fan speed and temperature of vents in the rear cabin, which can be overridden by controls on the dashboard. Both sets of rear side windows can hinge outwards slightly for extra fresh air, although when open they rattle a bit when the iMax encounters bumps.

Outboard rear passengers get their own ceiling-mounted air-vents that are adjustable for flow and direction plus there are also floor ducts to supply warm air if required. From experience, we know the latter to be useful for warming the toes of passengers who have spent all day in the snow.

Both second and third rows were found to be comfortable enough for 180cm-plus adults on the three-hour journey from Melbourne. Front-seat occupants also remained comfortable, with only the beginnings of numb-bum syndrome beginning to appear in the final few kilometres.

So far so good, the iMax shaping up to represent a basic but competent conversion from van to people-mover.

From the driver’s seat, the long-travel accelerator takes a little getting used to but the brakes are effective with a good pedal feel. The long-throw handbrake only becomes effective near the top of its travel yet requires ape-like arms to release fully to the floor – resulting in an irritating chime if it is not 100 per cent in the down position.

The fuel gauge showed just under a quarter of its 75-litre tank of fuel remained after our 600km round-trip, meaning its 9.8 litres per kilometre claimed combined consumption is roughly on the money.

Compared with say, a Toyota HiAce, the iMax is surprisingly satisfying to drive, with adequate power and torque to make fuss-free progress even when carrying a full complement of passengers, a smooth five-speed automatic and well-weighted, if vague, steering – although the driving position and steering make the aforementioned HiAce feel positively old-fashioned.

It is a similar deal with engine refinement. The 2.5-litre four-cylinder diesel is not excessively clattery at idle, even from cold, but you are never in any doubt as to what fuel it burns. It is raucous when accelerating, especially from low speeds around town, but once at a cruise it quietens down.

At 100km/h the engine, road and wind noise is suppressed enough for the driver and front passenger to hold a conversation with third-row occupants without the need for raised voices.

The increased effort required to scale gentle inclines at this speed is transmitted into the cabin via vibration in the floor and accelerator pedal, although overtaking or steeper inclines does increase the level of drone from the engine significantly.

The engine is a bit laggy, with nothing but turbo whistle for a moment before things get moving, which once caught us out trying to swiftly enter a gap in traffic from a side-road – and that was with just the driver on board.

Although the ride can get a bit bouncy and jiggly on poor urban road surfaces at low speeds and negotiating speed bumps at anything other than straight-on can cause a boat-like rocking motion, the iMax impresses with its composure in most situations and offers a comfortable ride at anything from suburban speeds upwards.

The combination of turbo lag and sometimes dim-witted automatic gearbox (a $2500 option) also makes progress on winding, hilly roads a little slower and less satisfying as a result.

Throwing the gearlever to the left to activate manual sequential shifting doesn’t help as the response times are excruciatingly slow, so it is better to leave the gearbox to its own devices.

Most of the time though, everything works as would – and should – be expected of this type of vehicle.

The audio system comprises CD player with MP3/WMA compatibility, AM/FM radio, Bluetooth with auxiliary input connectivity and steering-wheel controls.

It also has a USB socket with which to attach an iPod, although this is disappointing in its operation, taking several minutes to read the iPod once connected and seemingly only offering track selection by song title rather than artist or album, which must be scrolled through alphabetically - a time-consuming process made worse by the fact that the display is so slow to update to the currently selected track.

On the upside, the six-speaker setup can be heard clearly by all three rows of occupants but sound quality is not going to win any awards for depth or crispness.

On the subject of electronics and entertainment, Hyundai could have supplied extra 12-volt power outlets for the rear passengers to power the gadgets that have replaced travel games like I-spy.

A night-time solo run up Mount Buller proved the iMax to have strong headlights and that it can be hustled along, always feeling surefooted (at least in the dry conditions as tested) and not requiring electronic stability control intervention, even when pushed to the edge of driver tolerance given the lack of side support on the seats.

Although accurate, the steering is vague above 50km/h, making it hard judge what is going on beneath the front wheels. It is not a quick rack either, sharp turns and roundabouts requiring more wheel-twirling than ideal but the relaxed seating position and soft ride mean you are unlikely to reach the vehicle's limits on dry roads unless driving in a way for which the iMax was never intended.

On sweeping country road bends the iMax has decent body control and resists bodyroll well but on twisty mountain roads driving with any kind of haste with passengers who do not have the benefit of a steering wheel to hold onto will no doubt result in the interior rapidly resembling a Roman vomitorium.

However, driven within normal parameters of passenger consideration, the iMax did not induce any cases of travel-sickness in a total of eight or nine hours’ driving, including in one passenger who is a regular sufferer.

The high seating position, good ventilation and a light-filled cabin with good all-round visibility no doubt help fight motion-sickness - a major consideration when travelling with children. The visibility also eases parking, a task further aided by the standard-fit reversing sensors.

The only eight-seat competitor to the iMax in terms of price, size and space is the lighter, front-wheel drive but $2500 more expensive Grand Carnival from Kia.

The more family-oriented and better-selling Grand Carnival similarly has a five-year unlimited-kilometre warranty and is wider, longer but lower than the iMax and has a larger 80-litre fuel tank.

Crucially for families, it comes with front-side and curtain airbags as standard, whereas the iMax gets just a pair of front airbags. The Grand Carnival also has five child-seat anchors, whereas the iMax only has them on the centre row.

It also has a claimed 61 litres more luggage space than the iMax with the third row of seats up and can tow 2000kg braked, only achievable by the diesel manual iMax (automatic variants are limited to 1500kg).

The Kia’s more powerful, auto-only 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine is 20 per cent more frugal than the iMax, with an official combined consumption figure of 8.1L/100km.

Other similarly capacious vehicles include the Vito/Viano, Caravelle/Multivan, Toyota Tarago and Chrysler Grand Voyager, but all of these are priced from $49,990 and up.

SsangYong’s diesel-only Stavic (from $35,990) also competes with its South Korean compatriots on price, but has bizarre styling and seats seven. Like the iMax it has only front airbags.

As a minibus-like vehicle that is happy to carry eight full-sized adults the iMax is suitable for large families, as an airport shuttle or just for people who like to take their mates on road-trips without resorting to the more mumsy Grand Carnival.

Its practicality, spaciousness, low price and comprehensive five-year warranty make it easy to see why the iMax is popular.

In the 2011 Vehicle Operating Costs Survey conducted by Australia’s motoring clubs, the cheaper petrol iMax ($37,290) came top in the people-mover category for running costs, calculated at $253.51 per week, making it possible to forgive the iMax for some patchy attention to detail.

However, to get the family dollars rolling in, Hyundai must invest in fitting more airbags because in terms of safety - despite a reasonable four-star ANCAP rating - the iMax cannot hide its commercial vehicle origins.

On paper the Kia Grand Carnival looks like a better bet but with the iMax you’d be hard pushed to find so much space for the money without resorting to the used market.

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