A Multi Purpose Vehicle (MPV) can be a tricky little acquisition for most of us with a growing family - children with a maid in tow plus extended families (in-laws, out-laws and what not!). More often than not, you would probably have gotten remarks like "It's a bloody van!" when you suddenly drive up in one of those tall-ish people carrier like the Toyota Avanza, Innova and Nissan Serena, Hyundai Trajet et al. Strangely though, when you pay over hundreds of thousands of ringgit for a Toyota Estima (ACR50), Nissan Elgrand, Honda Stepwgn (via USF) and even the bulky and chunky wardrobe-on-wheels grey-import Alphard, such demeaning comments seem to have suddenly faded away into oblivion. On the flipside, try choosing a low-riding, car-like MPV like Honda Odyssey, you may get a comment like "It's much like a funeral hearse". And then there's the occassion that should you mention Naza Citra, Toyota Wish, Honda Stream, Mazda5 and Nissan Grand Livina, many will complain that their 3rd rows are useless for adults (especially the rebadged Kia). Oh dear! What a predicament.
So, how do we balance space, size, flexibility, packaging and practicality with aesthetics? (Forget enthusiast's definition of driveability) And some would even throw in the all-important badge/brand and the ever-sensitive price factors in the works! Towards this I have this to say: "Make up your mind! There is no such thing as a car-like MPV with fuel economy of a sedan, handles like a sports hatch/sedan, looks sleek like a sports wagon (think: Mercedes R-Class?), boot like a sedan even with 3rd row up and blah! blah! blah!...."
Now wait a minute...maybe there is a solution to this complex mix bag of demands after all! Enter the 'van' of a people mover in the form of the new Hyundai Starex! I must say I'm not much moved by the spate of recent launches like the confused SUV-MPV 'hybrid' Toyota Rush, 7-seater SUV Chevrolet Captiva, Inokom Santa Fe and the likes. But this is different, even at first sight and contact at its launch in One Utama shopping centre recently. Though it's Korean (you know how nasty and stubborn some old mindsets are) and it has been christened "A Van!" by my close accountant friend, I think it has some pretty nice credentials commesurating with its asking price of RM138,888 for an 11-seater Alphard-sized people mover. Take out the 4th row permanently and you'd have luggage space the size of say a Naza-Kia Sorento with 8 seating capacities still intact (9 if you wanna push your luck with 3 abreast - centre seat belt is standard - up front 1st row). Unbelievable? Believe it!
For a start it has a 2.5L diesel common-rail direct injection (CRDi) with Variable Geometry Turbo (VGT) good for numbers like 170hp and 392Nm, mated to a 5-speed auto box for that leisurely and non-commercial panel-van drive...get it?
Apart from that it has a monocoque chassis, all-round disc brakes with ABS +EBD, McPherson struts up front and multilink at the back with coil springs. Internally it's A/C blowers for occupants in all 4 rows (12 vents in all if you wanna count). Bye-bye humid, stuffy and hot interiors in our scorching hot climate even when fully loaded with passengers!
Leather seats and a DVD player with LCD screen plus reverse camera is standard for the 11-seater variant (it can actually seat 12!). I have yet to see the standard 7-seater maodel asking for RM135,533 but there is a customised 7-seater (luxury) with meeting table of mahogany, a rear centre console, premium audio system, additional rear LCD screen for DVD video and luxurious Ottoman leather captain chairs. All these for 'only' RM172,888.
In all of singing praises for the new Hyundai Starex there are two things left undone:
1) After-market installation of electric powered door (minimum one side for the left rear door) should the writer get one for his ever-expanding family.
2) A road-test which For Wheels hope to be doing soon.
Maybe Michael Bay's "Transformers" has changed the writer's perception of bulky and chunky metal form presence on wheels after all ;)