Grand commuting with the Starex

In Photo: The stripped-down look of the Grand Starex Super Express.

Story and photos by Randy S. Peregrino

COMMUTER vans, undeniably, have become one of the best options for public transport in the Philippines. What was once dominated by AUV-type vehicles operating for various point-to-point routes, commuter vans became the ultimate alternative to address the growing demands for more seating capacity. But this type of passenger van is not only being operated for public transportation. We also see these vans being utilized as company shuttles and for other private use as well.

Same wide frame with huge tailgate for easy rear section access.

For years, only two Japanese manufacturers in the country offer this commuter-type vans in the market, until Hyundai Asia Resources Inc. (HARI), the country’s official distributor of Hyundai vehicles, brought in its own version. Launched last year, this Korean-made 15-seater commuter van was not only the company’s response to the fast-growing commuting needs of Filipinos but also as a viable option from the existing lineup in the market. For this month’s feature, we get to test the Grand Starex Super Express to find out how it is as a practical people carrier.

Derived from the best-selling current-generation Grand Starex, the Super Express variant is the commercial type intended for the commuters. Unlike its existing Japanese-made rivals with specifically designed smaller frame, the Super Express variant boasts the same standard Starex wide frame. Think of it as a stripped-down version of Hyundai’s best-selling family van with certain panels on matte black finish and leaving only the front grille with less chrome linings. Sixteen-inch steel rims were also employed to match the rudimentary exterior look. Nevertheless, the stripped-down overall look is still within the boundaries of a commuter van setup dedicated for mass transport.

The dashboard with combined plastic and urethane materials.

But, of course, inside is where you’ll see more of the significant alterations to meet the intended application. The stock Starex dashboard layout, for instance, is presented with combined plastic and urethane materials. But the area has the same conducive arrangement both for the driver and front passenger. The small center seat also serves as a wide center console when folded. In the cabin’s middle section, there are two rows of benches each with folding seats on the side. While these comfy benches are fixed, they are well-padded and comfier than the competitors’. At the last row, meantime, Hyundai cleverly installed two parallel benches facing each other to accommodate six or more total passengers. Here is where the van’s wide frame becomes an advantage as the space in between the bleachers still provided ample legroom for passengers.  But when these seats are folded, either one or both, the section provides even greater space for cargo.

Ample leg room at the back

While the cabin’s configuration favors carrying more passengers, still the well-padded seats are draped in velvety material, which also matches the gray themed interior. The best part is, with both sides having sliding doors and the last row configured with parallel benches, ingress and egress of passengers are simultaneous and easy. It would have been seamless had the huge tailgate was installed with a door opening latch inside in order to disregard the need to open it from the outside. But at least, the folding seats at the middle row can provide enough path for both ingress and egress as well. Overall, the cabin not only does have more seating capacity but also complemented with enough leg room for the passengers to appreciate.

Powered by a 2.5-liter TCI diesel engine generating 99 hp and 226 N-m of maximum torque, it’s significantly subdued compared to its more powerful 2.5-liter CRDi with VGT sibling propelling the standard variants. Nevertheless, that torque figure is more than enough to haul the big frame, even if fully loaded with passengers and cargo. The mated five-speed manual gearbox, on the other hand, perfectly suits the motor’s low-end peak torque. Behind the wheel, the powertrain easily propelled the van beginning at second gear and further, even with little rev increments within the low-end range. But when summoned the acceleration was also hasty toward the midrange, gear after gear. During our trip to Clark, Pampanga, reaching cruising and high speeds was somewhat steady despite hauling nine adults each with heavy luggage.

Comfy and well-padded seats

Notably, the light clutch pedal also has a flawless friction point which makes shifting smoother. This particular characteristic also made driving through gridlocks and whenever in a difficult parking situation. At least, it was one less thing to worry about apart from maneuvering the van’s wide frame. In the case of the powertrain being at the front, this setup compels the heat and vibrations away from the driver and front passenger. Steering was also decent and accurate.  But when it comes to the ride, you’ll get a good level of comfort coming from the front independent suspension and multi-link with coil sprung rear setup.  Add to that the ample ceiling air-con vents providing enough cool air inside the cabin. While the safety airbag is only allotted for the driver, middle row benches have seatbelts to secure the occupants.

Hyundai aims to redefine commuting as we know it with its very own Grand Starex Super Express. Valued at P1.445 million, the price point is also competitive. Moreover, purchasing the vehicle also comes with a kind of premium warranty package not normally being offered to a commercial application. While the facelifted version of the premium variants is now out in the market, Hyundai continues to sell the limited remaining units of this commercial version. What remains to be seen is whether or not we’ll also see a facelifted version of the Grand Starex Super Express in the future.

THUMBS UP

  • Dual sliding door
  • Cool air-con
  • More seating capacity
  • Versatile last row section
  • Easy to drive
  • Comfy ride

THUMBS DOWN

  • Audio head unit
  • Single 12-volt socket
  • No interior tailgate opening latch

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Vehicle Hyundai Grand Starex 2.5 GL MT (Super Express)
  • Type Passenger van / Light commercial vehicle
  • Engine 2.5-liter, inline four-cylinder, SOHC, eight-valve, TCI diesel
  • Maximum power 99 hp at 3,800rpm
  • Maximum torque 226 N-m at 2,000rpm
  • Transmission five-speed manual transmission

DIMENSIONS

  • Overall length 5,150 mm
  • Overall width 1,920 mm
  • Overall height 1,925 mm
  • Wheelbase 3,200 mm
  • Overhang: Front/Rear 880 mm / 1,070 mm

PRICE AS TESTED

  • 445 million

 

Image Credits: Randy S. Peregrino

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Randy is our contributing writer for motoring and journey sections. His passion for cars goes beyond appreciation and knowledge as he takes pleasure in fixing stuff all by himself - as long as he has the right tools.

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