motioncars
First Class Effort: Hyundai Starex (2000)
 
What does Family Man dream of driving? (Cue Sting.) After having a wife, house, and 2.8 kids, what will he judge as the ideal vehicle for a million pesos or less? Would you believe a 9-seater van called the Hyundai Starex? Mind you, this is not to fulfill his fantasies of driving an F1 car, but to indulge the rest of the family, including, wife, kids and nannies.

The Korean carmakers have been trying to crack the local car market for several years now, introducing everything from oddball minicars like the Hyundai Atoz to ubiquitous 1.6 liter sedans to luxury barges like the Daewoo Prince Super Salon. (No, you can’t get your hair done inside.) From all these attempts, their biggest success to date has been the Starex. Hyundai has apparently found just the right combination of style, comfort and practicality that has appealed to a lot of Philippine families. We don’t have an exact figure as to how many of these people-carriers are sold, but just about everywhere you go, particularly malls or schools, you’ll find Starex in a multitude of colors, from the most sedate grays to the loudest shades of yellow.

It’s hard to determine how just how many Starex have been sold, because for the most part these vans have been sold not exclusively through an official dealer network, but largely by unofficial import shops—the ones you’ll spot on many main roads like EDSA, Katipunan or Quezon Avenue. We suspect that this abundant supply is one of the reasons why the price of the Starex has been kept below the one million peso mark. (Hmm…I wonder if this strategy can help alleviate the current shortage and high price of RAV4s).

One thing going for the Starex is that as vans go, it doesn’t look half bad. Traditional vans like the Hi-Ace may be able to carry 3 more people, if you don’t mind driving a Kelvinator. However, if your caboodle is less than an even dozen, the Starex will make sure that you look good even while hauling the family around. The front, with its multireflector lights, intercooler hood scoop and toothy grille, can almost make you forget you’re about to drive a van. You won’t look that ridiculous if you arrive as the sole person in a Starex, and your status at the company parking lot will be secure. However, no amount of styling tricks can disguise that 4695 mm length and 1820 mm width, so from the sides and rear the Starex bulk is exposed in all its corpulent glory.

Another advantage favor versus fridge-type vans is that you won’t have to feel like you’re plying the Monumento-Baclaran bus route. For instance, you won’t have to drive with your legs apart just to straddle the steering column. The driving position is quite carlike, with a normal steering wheel, stalk controls, switches and dashboard. The pedals also are positioned quite normally, with space even for a proper dead pedal. The five-speed gearshift though has been pushed back and to the left, to free up space for the center front passenger. Plastics are the hard variety, and are splashed with the usual awful fake wood.

Launching the Starex from standstill is a cinch, thanks to the torque available from as low as 2000 rpm. While moving, jabbing the throttle proves that Korean tuning has made the 2.5 liter turbo-diesel punchier than its Japanese counterpart. Initial response is good, but this is one vehicle that you just cannot hurry along. Even if you floor the pedal, acceleration arrives very slowly. Best results are achieved by shifting at 3500 rpm, 1000 short of the redline, but even then, you’ll need to have some clear space before attempting to overtake the average sedan. If you're thinking of driving this yourself and buying the automatic, don't: it's awfully slow and not worth the penalty in additional cost and worse fuel mileage.

Driving in heavy traffic is not a pain, but not that easy either. Front visibility is excellent, thanks to the high driving position and wide side mirrors. You have to remember, though, that behind you is a long piece of van, so squeezing through traffic is not that easy. The enormous length also makes backing up the Starex like driving a container van. One must-have feature is the ultrasonic parking sensor offered on newer Starex.

You can hear the diesel engine growling away at all times. Because the engine is in a separate compartment, the noise is unobtrusive, unlike in vans where the engine is sitting right below your butt. Which allowed us to enjoy the Starex’ excellent sound system. 6-CD changer and boom-box bass kept us amused while puttering around town.

I’m sure some of you are thinking, enough of the driving—my driver can handle it; what’s it like in the back, where I’m gonna sit? Well, the rear aircon (with foot vents) is adequate but not freezingly cold. Seats are softly stuffed, and so is the seat fabric. Ride comfort is excellent in the second row of seats, but third-row ride is a bit bumpy. At least the firm ride takes the wallowing motion out of the equation. In all three rows, there’s almost as much legroom as in your favorite THX theatre, so you can stretch out and nap if someone else is doing the driving.

This particular van has already proven its mettle by going from Manila to Baguio and back (about 600 km total), with a full load of passengers and luggage on the rooftop storage bin. No problems with overheating or reliability whatsoever on that trip. Mileage varied from 9 km/liter on the straight portions, to a measly 4 km/l on the steep uphill portions of the winding Kennon Road. Average mileage is an unimpressive 6 km/l.

Can a single guy or girl be comfortable with this? Or even a couple with just one kid, no driver? Quite frankly, no. A single guy or girl with a million bucks to spend and a need for luggage space will be better off with a muscular pickup truck. A couple with just one kid can go for a plush sedan or wagon (Camry, CRV, HRV, Accord, Galant, Cefiro, etc.—take your pick.). This van was made strictly to haul people—lots of them.

We hope that car-based MPVs like the Toyota Sienna/Picnic will make their way into our market. However, with the poor peso continuing to suffer because of our esteemed president, that seems unlikely. Given that Honda stopped selling its excellent Odyssey minivan after the first generation (ditto the Mazda MPV) says to us that these car-based vans have become too expensive to compete. Witness the puny Chevy Zafira retailing for a whopping P1.1 million.

So the best compromise so far is this Korean Standout (yes, that’s what the trim level is called). Brand new, it handily beats its nearest competitor, the Space Gear, by at least PHP200,000, It retails for about PHP900,000 will cost much less than that (around PHP600,000) if you’re willing to buy a year-old example like our 14,000-km old test unit. Thanks to the multiplicity of Starex dealers out there, used models are easy to find and bargain for.

We couldn’t help but notice that, when we returned the van to its rightful owner, he and his wife and 2.0 kids were about to embark on a family trip to the Glorietta mall. And what car did he choose? Their other car, a Corolla.

So, correction then: family man dreams of owning a Starex. But driving? Leave that to Jeeves.

By Jason Ang | Photos by Ulysses Ang
Originally Published November 2000 Issue
First Class Effort:  Hyundai Starex (2000) First Class Effort:  Hyundai Starex (2000) First Class Effort:  Hyundai Starex (2000) First Class Effort:  Hyundai Starex (2000) First Class Effort:  Hyundai Starex (2000) First Class Effort:  Hyundai Starex (2000) First Class Effort:  Hyundai Starex (2000) First Class Effort:  Hyundai Starex (2000) First Class Effort:  Hyundai Starex (2000) First Class Effort:  Hyundai Starex (2000) First Class Effort:  Hyundai Starex (2000) First Class Effort:  Hyundai Starex (2000) First Class Effort:  Hyundai Starex (2000)

 


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Still Life: Mitsubishi Lancer (2000)
May 13, 2000
Living with America: Ford F150 (2000)
April 16, 2000
Civic Minded: Honda Civic (2000)
February 20, 2000
Ford Lynx Ghia (2000) Driven
January 18, 2000
White Lightning: Honda Civic (1999)
December 18, 1999
The Lost World: Volkswagen Polo Classic (1998)
December 12, 1999
Against All Odds: Mazda 323 (1999)
September 29, 1999
Warp Speed Transport: Nissan Sentra Super Saloon (1995)
August 30, 1999
Complete Change of Mind: Nissan Cefiro (1997) Long-Term Test Update
August 30, 1999
Honda City LXi (1999)
July 12, 1999
Alternative Nature: Mitsubishi Galant (1999)
June 20, 1999
The Bavarian Delight: BMW 328Ci (1999)
May 15, 1999
Alpha and Omega: Opel 2.5 V6 Omega (1999)
February 5, 1999
Opel Vectra (2.0 (1999) Driven
January 1, 1999
The Daily Nightmare: Nissan Cefiro (1998)
December 1, 1998
VTEC with a Vengeance: Honda Accord (1998)
November 10, 1998