|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
The Starex is popular thanks to Hyundai’s unabashed approach to its simplicity. It does the ‘van thing’ well: spacious, comfortable, and reliable—the list goes on and on. What sets it apart is its ability to do all these things without being too overbearing, attention grabbing or stingy on the pocket. That is, until the arrival of Hyundai’s ‘bling special’, the Grand Starex Limousine.
Being all too familiar with the Grand Starex, the first thing you notice with the Limousine is its humped roof. The new bubble top increases the Grand Starex’s roofline by 285 mm, resulting in a gargantuan 2,210 mm (7.25 feet) and this doesn’t even include the antenna. Standing next to the Limousine, you’ll be overwhelmed at the height. It feels like you’re standing beside Yao Ming or that you’ll need a pilot’s license to drive it. That’s how huge the Limousine is. Other telltale differences that you’re piloting a unique Starex (aside from the height) include spiffy, new 17-inch chrome wheels and a front chin spoiler.
Inside, the Grand Starex Limousine is unashamed of its size. Sitting behind the driver’s seat, you’ll immediately be amazed at the expansive space. As the top-of-the-line Grand Starex, the Limousine comes complete with wood trim on the steering wheel, silver trim on the dash, retractable cloth window blinds; and get this, tufted and piped black leather seats! If it didn’t have a steering wheel, you’ll think you’re in a house—a luxury house complete with a large 21-inch LCD screen and DVD player. And then it dawns on you, how in the world will you be able to maneuver this thing through the crowded streets of Manila?
Thankfully, operating the Limousine is easy and flawless. The controls are all well marked and the chunky buttons and dials provide nice, tactile operation. With the exception of the high seating and girth, the driving position’s actually pretty close to a conventional car. Even the shifter (with manu-matic mode no less) has been moved to the center console, freeing up space upfront for an additional passenger. Visibility is quite good except for the back, where the full-sized headrests rob most of the rear view. Thankfully, the Limousine comes standard with rear parking sensors and a back-up mirror.
Depending on the variant, the Grand Starex offers a seating capacity of either 10 or 12, but as the Limousine, it’s only available in the luxurious 10-seater configuration. There are no complaints about the lack of space, whether you’re playing the role of driver, boss or yaya. In the 3+4+3 configuration, even the most supersized person will find the Limousine comfortable on long trips. Additionally, the first two rows slide and recline (the last row just reclines) and there’s air conditioning vents spread throughout the cabin much like an aircraft. The Limousine’s aircraft inspiration continues to its storage where the bubble roof section has overhead bins. Finished in wood trim, they’re big enough to store a duffel bag or two. The unused area of the bubble roof contains an array of ‘mood lighting’ which is quite cheesy to say the least. I’ would have gladly traded the co-called ‘porn lights’ for seats that fold flat or tumble for those trips to the hardware store.
The Limousine sits on new technology built atop a proven foundation. Despite the all-new look, the Starex sits on the same, albeit modified platform of its predecessor. The same trusty platform that made it a popular van has been stiffened and tuned for better body control and passenger comfort. Despite the Limousine’s tremendous size, it doesn’t behave like a dinosaur. In fact, it’s nimble and agile. The steering’s quick and with large mirrors, it makes maneuvering through traffic a breeze. Just be careful of low lying tree branches or shrubs that get into your path, there’s a good chance it will clip a portion of the tall roof.
Such emphasis on handling is certainly needed thanks to an athletic heart underneath the Grand Starex’s deceptively family-friendly face: a 2.5-liter common rail direct injection engine with variable geometry turbo. It’s a mouthful to say, but petrol heads (diesel heads?) will understand these figures: 174 horsepower and 402 Nm of torque. And it’s Euro-IV compliant. It feels lively and powerful whatever your speed and it can surprisingly keep up with ricer boys.
The family van market’s certainly getting much more crowded by the minute. But the Grand Starex is sure to carry on Hyundai’s strong momentum. The Grand Starex is surprising with its utter simplicity in getting things done in an elegant and composed manner. It’s the family van with a genius IQ. Sadly, in the Limousine guise, Hyundai has taken things, quite literally, over the top. It makes for a nice weekend getaway van, but because of its sheer height, it’s not easy to recommend the Limousine for everyone. If you need a home away from home, or if you’re a celebrity, then the Limousine’s for you. For the rest of us though, if a great family van’s what you need, it’s best to settle for the ‘regular’ Grand Starex.