Car reviews - Hyundai - iMAX - Elite
Stacks of sprawling space in each row, enormous boot volume, diesel engine and five-speed automatic a strong combination, decent ride comfort
Room for improvement
No curtain airbags or AEB, dated instrumentation, whooshy diesel, slow steering, unsophisticated dynamics, needs a proper facelift
It still takes size and space to the iMax, but can Hyundai deliver Elite luxury too?
8 Feb 2019
THERE has long been two ways of thinking about a people-mover. Maybe make that three if you count not thinking at all about one and buying a large SUV instead, like most buyers do. But otherwise notch it up as only a duo, the first of which is embodied by this Hyundai iMax Elite.
Hyundai has long banked on the fact that if someone is shopping for a people-mover, they want space, and lots of it, so the old-school way of bolting seats into the back of a commercial van (in this case the equally old iLoad) has been their bet – albeit with some modern-day finesse applied.
Sure, there might be several smaller and ostensibly smarter or space-efficient people-movers, such as the Citroen Grand C4 Picasso and Toyota Prius V for circa-$45K, but how comfortable will occupants be and how much space for luggage will be left? Indeed, the iMax instead challenges the equally big passenger car-based Honda Odyssey and Kia Carnival for sheer sprawling space.
Perhaps surprisingly, though, this is the first facelift of what is now a decade-old eight seater, with a new, more horizontally focused grille and headlight treatment laying ahead of a revised interior. And this freshly introduced Elite flagship now also lobs in a previously-unseen level of luxury kit.
Price and equipment
Compared with the pre-facelift iMax, the entry price for this freshened automatic-equipped model has dropped by $3300, to $43,990 plus on-road costs. In fact, it is now even $300 cheaper than the outgoing people-mover when it was equipped with the since-deleted six-speed manual transmission.
It has also given Hyundai room to introduce this new Elite grade, priced from $48,990. It gets the entry-level model’s new features – automatic on/off headlights, steering wheel reach adjustment, electric-fold door mirrors and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring – and then adds 17-inch alloy wheels (up from 16s), a chrome grille, two-tone paint, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, beige leather trim, heated front seats, a ventilated driver’s seat and dual sunroofs.
Other than $695 extra for metallic paint, it is an options-free zone. That would typically be a positive, but while cruise control is standard, adaptive cruise control is unavailable, and so too is autonomous emergency braking (AEB), lane-departure warning and a blind-spot monitor.
Only four airbags (dual-front and front-side) are included, too, while even this Elite lacks the keyless auto-entry with push-button start, electrically adjustable front seats, digital radio and integrated satellite navigation that are now expected for this pricetag, in whatever the segment.
At least all the buttons are simple to operate, while the build quality is timelessly tight. The front seats are also set very high, which will appeal to those who prefer the lofty driving position of an SUV, and they are decently cushy. There will also be no need to crimp front legroom in order to achieve decent middle-row legroom, either, because both the 5150mm body length and commercial-van origins join in providing upper-large sedan-rivalling legroom there, and even in the third row.
The middle-row also scores manual fan control and temperature adjustment overhead, as well as map reading lights and air vents, with the latter also provided for the third-row. However, all rear windows are only of the pop-out variety, and storage space is limited to slimline door pockets for the second row and cupholders for the third. Both rearmost benches are also somewhat flat, though both backrests are split 60:40 and the centre bench/backrest tips and slides forward quite easily.
While boot volume of 842 litres cannot match the gargantuan Carnival’s 960L, it comfortably bests the Odyssey’s 330L and humbles the smaller Grand C4 Picasso’s 167L. It may lack modern design and sophistication inside, but there is no denying the iMax Elite has airport-luggage-hauling nailed.
Engine and transmission
As with the simple interior and timeless build quality, there is nothing fancy yet also very little wrong with the 2.5-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder, five-speed automatic and rear-wheel drive combination standard in both the entry-level and Elite model grade.
With a kerb weight of 2186kg, the iMax is one heavy people-mover, so thankfully the healthy 441Nm of torque is delivered from 2000rpm until 2250rpm, and the modest 125kW of power arrives at 3600rpm. Shortly after those digits on the tachometer arrive the auto grabs another gear, so it matters little that there are only five of them. Hyundai has tuned the throttle pick-up so that there is immediate response, and while far from fast, the diesel responds well and the auto is slick.
This drivetrain makes far more sense than the breathless 129kW/225Nm 2.4-litre naturally aspirated petrol four-cylinder engine in the Odyssey, although the fact that Kia delivers a newer 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder in the Carnival, with an eight-speed auto, does present a problem here.
Where the Kia Carnival is passenger-car-like in its refinement, the Hyundai iMax exposes its commercial-van origins with a lack of firewall sound deadening. The diesel is decently vibration-free, but too much clatter penetrates into the cabin. Fuel economy is not bad, however, with the claimed combined-cycle figure of 8.8 litres per 100 kilometres expanding to 10.5L/100km on test.
Ride and handling
This Hyundai is certainly not sporty, but nor is it a dynamic disaster. In fact, its chassis performance today is a testament to the decency delivered a decade ago, because while the iMax is ostensibly an iLoad with seats like people movers of old, it is far from a cruddy and crude steer on the road.
The steering is very slow, unevenly weighted and its least impressive trait, however, it does guide a long-wheelbase model that sits firmly and sturdily on the road, with decently comfortable and controlled spring and damper rates that prove far more resolved than the unrefined Odyssey.
Road noise is far from deafening even on coarse-chip surfaces, too, unlike the Honda, so while the Elite is not exactly an elite-performer compared with a Carnival, it is competent – no more, no less.
What it needs more than anything, though, is just a proper refresh and a good polish. Being so big it is difficult to park, so automatic reverse-park assistance or even front parking sensors would help here. Likewise, any form of active safety technology would help elevate it substantially here.
Safety and servicing
Four airbags (including dual front and front-side), ABS, electronic stability control (ESC), rear parking sensors and a rearview camera are standard.
ANCAP tested the Hyundai iMax in 2009, and it achieved 25.81 out of 37 points for a four-star rating.
Annual or 15,000km service intervals are expected and delivered here, and Hyundai’s capped-price program asks $356 for each of the first three check-ups, then $506 for the fourth and back to $356 for the fifth, to five years or 75,000km.
The facelifted Hyundai iMax is about as limited in its improvements as a buyer can expect with a nip-and-tucked model. On the upside, a core competency remains with this people mover that just feels so honest, owing to a simple focus on diesel efficiency, decent suspension, and stacks of space.
On the downside, it also remains too expensive given that it fails to offer some luxury equipment (such as keyless auto-entry and electrically adjustable front seats) plus any form of active safety technology beyond ESC.
A lack of curtain airbags and only a four-star ANCAP safety rating (from 2009) further emphasises the desperate need for a proper, not light, facelift. Or a whole new generation…
As a commercial van turned into a people-mover, then, the iMax Elite has been done well. But especially when South Korean cousin Kia offers similar space, with an enhanced diesel, and greater polish in its much newer Carnival, for a similar pricetag, this Hyundai is tough to recommend.
Honda Odyssey VTi-L from $47,590 plus on-road costs
Packed with modern luxury and safety equipment, but with unruly suspension and a dated engine.
Kia Carnival Si CRDi from $50,490 plus on-road costs
Diesel is worth the extra over petrol in this class-leading people mover. It feels generations ahead of the iMax Elite – which it is.
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Model release date: 1 May 2018
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