1 November 2021

The much-maligned family van has entered the space age

| James Coleman
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There are still roads where we’re going. Photo: James Coleman.

Couples who happen to have been blessed with more than the socially acceptable number of children are resigned to a fairly miserable existence – and not for the reasons you think.

Breach five seats and you’ll probably be stuck in a glorified postie van.

Over the years, car manufacturers have tried to address this embarrassing predicament with mixed results.

Toyota made the Tarago which was quickly dubbed ‘The Wombat’, affectionately or otherwise. Nissan made the Elgrand and gave it side skirts and the 3.5-litre V6 from the 350Z for added pizzazz. And each new Honda Odyssey dials the styling up another level to the point it now looks a bit like a cheese grater.

Others simply admitted defeat and put a box on wheels. The Volkswagen Multivan springs immediately to mind, as does the Hyundai iMax.

Now, however, the Multivan is left all on its lonesome. Hyundai has decided to go down the science-fiction route with their new eight-seater people mover, the Staria.

It’s still very much a van; namely, a big box with enormous windows and rolling doors. But nothing else about its appearance is conventional. There’s a LED strip of light wrapped around the whole front end, afterburner rear lights, and satellite dish wheels.

Somehow it makes everything around it look dated. Or very pretty. You decide.

The point is that people look, even if you’re not always sure it’s a good look. For a family man who has been left with one ab and swapped the hair on his head for hair on his back, that is still progress.

There’s more. With the exception of ‘Olivine Grey’, the Staria is really only available in dark and moody colours. Slap on a suit jacket, aviators, and an earpiece and suddenly you are the coolest in the car park. You work for the CIA and there are bodies in the boot.

In fact, the only thing the Staria is missing is a whooshing sound when the doors open.

Everything else is actually quite normal, and not in a bad way.

The iMax earned a reputation for not feeling very van-like to drive, and the Staria only improves on that. The way it handles its size and weight is impeccable. Not sporty, but nowhere near cruise liner either. It’s comfortable, and thanks to all-wheel drive, a little comforting too.

The turbo-diesel engine clearly has some power behind it – enough to warrant a dedicated ‘Sport’ drive mode – even if the delivery of that power sometimes catches you unawares and either gives you all or nothing depending on where the gears are at.

Despite the fact it is literally right under your feet, the engine is also surprisingly quiet. You hardly notice the gear changes either.

The Staria might be over five metres long and high enough to look down on most small buildings, but square pegs fit best into square holes and it’s the same story when parking this. It’s a cinch.

External cameras also piece together their various viewpoints to create a simulation on the main 10.25-inch display that means your paintwork should remain pristine. There are bay windows that offer less visibility.

The Staria is definitely designed with kids in mind.

There is essentially a baby monitor in the roof so you can look back into the cabin without taking your eyes off the road, and the stereo features a ‘Quiet Mode’ so you can pipe your BareFoot Investor podcast through the front speakers without waking the sleeping beauties behind.

There are also no fewer than 16 cupholders, six USB ports, many gloveboxes, and all three seats in the second row feature ISOFIX child seat anchorage points.

All this packaging brings us to the price. The base Staria starts at $53,000 while this top-of-the-range Highlander model comes in at about $70,000. This figure might cause pale faces, but it is on par with the Tarago and a good $10K less than the equivalent Multivan.

And look, if you’ve had six kids, the cost of a minivan is probably the least of your concerns.

Unmissable. Photo: James Coleman.

2021 Hyundai Staria 2.2 CRDi Highlander AWD

  • $68,789 plus driveaway costs
  • 2.2-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder; 130 kW / 430 Nm
  • 8-speed automatic; all-wheel drive
  • 8.2 litres per 100 km combined fuel usage
  • Not yet rated for safety.

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I’m not convinced by the styling but give them kudo’s for making a people mover that isn’t just a box on wheels.

The clever interior gadgets and powertrain seem spot on.

Not sure why, but Silver and White are only available on the load carrying versions rather than the passenger van.

The only reason that I can think for that is the lighter colours on the load hauler may be an attempt to make it look like a different vehicle to it’s breeder bus sibling.

Not a fan, sorry. It might have the full bag of fruit on the inside, but the outside looks like some early 90s Chrysler minivan

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