A lot, good and bad, has been said about the Hyundai Staria since its debut last year and chances are more will be uttered as its lifecycle continues. And for good reason.
In a similar way to General Motors’ radical MPVs from Pontiac, Chevrolet and Oldsmobile in the early 1990s, collectively called dustbusters in reference to their mini-vacuum cleaner like looks at the time, the Staria looks otherworldly and unlike any other van on sale today.
Cargo ready to be beamed up
A futuristic spaceship or RoboCop are some of the descriptions used until now, with some observers still in disbelief at Hyundai for putting what appears to be a concept car into production without changing much of the exterior or interior for mass manufacturing.
While indeed worthy of applause, the worry always was that the Staria would have made the transition from cool people mover, to a cargo transporter from the future minus a series of applique guaranteed to erode that cool-factor the MPV version has in lightyears.
Unlike its H-1 predecessor, which made the downgrade from MPV to combination Multicab and ultimately to panel van with ease, the Staria doesn’t fare so well as admittedly, it loses out on same flare, mostly as a result of the wheel design and omission of the RoboCop-style light bar that adorns the bus.
However, despite this, it remains a visual triumph that made the recent weeklong stay even more enjoyable than getting to grips with it at the national media launch in January this year.
On the subject of space…
Besides the exterior, which can be decked-out in four colours; Graphite Grey, Creamy White, our tester’s Shimmering Silver and Moonlight Blue, the biggest indication of the Multicab being set-up for work is when the dual-sliding side doors open.
Providing seating for three on a bench-row, the cabin is divided from the cargo area by a steel bulkhead complete with a rear window and protective bar.
At the same time, the Staria Multicab incorporates a walk-through design in which the front seats are not separated from the rear, meaning faster entry/exit for front occupants in tight spaces or confined parking areas.
Besides the seats, Hyundai has also replaced the flip-up tailgate with a barn-door style design that provides access to cargo hold capable of accommodating 2 890-litres and up to two Euro pallets.
In putting the Korean marque’s claim to the test, two pallets were indeed loaded in the Multicab, although erroneously in a stacked position rather than behind each other.
Apart from the loading requiring some muscle, something this writer is somewhat short on, the process presented no challenge as the low loading-lip makes the handling of bulkier items easy.
What’s more, a series of tie-down hooks have been integrated into the floor and safety taken care off by the mentioned protective bars behind the windows.
Completing the Staria Multicab’s commercial credentials is a payload of 1 074 kg, well up on the loading capacity of a double cab bakkie, braked trailer tow rating of 2 500 kg and unbraked trailer capacity of 750 kg.
Working in luxury
Despite its workhorse persona, the Multicab is anything but workman-like inside as it uses the entry-level, but still well-equipped, Executive derivative of the passenger van as a base.
This means it comes as standard with Hyundai’s latest multi-function steering wheel derived from the Tucson, electric windows, folding electric mirrors, cruise control, the very un-van-like faux leather seats, a wireless smartphone charger, dual USB ports and automatic climate control.
It also gets the sci-fi-esque 4.2-inch digital instrument display mounted on top of the dashboard and an integrated eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
While dated in appearance, the system is easy to understand and use, and compliments a modern and simplistic interior not only well built as evident by the materials used, but also commodious thanks to the overhead bins, door pockets and slots on the dash itself.
In fact, the main point of content is the excessive use of piano-key black detailing around the infotainment system that looks a bit too over-the-top for a vehicle of this type.
That being said, what is anything but typical commercial vehicle sparse is the Staria Multicab’s safety sheet that comprises six airbags, all around parking sensors, a reverse camera, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Blind Spot Monitoring and Electronic Stability Control.
As mentioned at launch, the knock-out blow comes in the shape of the 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine that delivers its 130kW/430Nm with absolute aplomb.
While 11 Nm down and five kilowatts up on the outputs of the H-1’s 2.5-litre unit, the engine is refined, smooth and with more than enough grunt to move the Multicab’s 2 016 kg mass.
Matched to a slick eight-speed automatic gearbox, the combination made piloting the Staria Multicab effortless and while a Sport is offered as part of the drive mode selector consisting of Eco, Normal and Smart settings, it was seldom used on account of the engine feeling strong willed enough to uhm… deliver the goods in Normal.
In a departure from the nine and eleven-seat bus, the Multicab makes do with a traditional gear lever rather than the push-button arrangement, which worked just well and faultless despite a manual override being provided.
Aside from the less than visually pleasing 17-inch wheels, which Hyundai claims are made from alloy in spite of looking anything but, the Staria Multicab’s ride is compliant and comfortable, but as a result of the leaf springs at the back, bouncy without a load on-board.
Admittedly, this is unlikely to be a massive concern in the long-run, as is fuel consumption, which came to 7.4 L/100 km.
While indeed on the high side as evident by the 6.3 L/100 km recorded at launch, some of the blame could be attributed to the Multicab’s use in town driving and doing daily commute during its seven-day and 522 km stay.
The runaway success the Hyundai Staria has become since its arrival has not only been noted, but also seconded from an aesthetic and value-for-money perspective many of its rivals simply cannot match.
In the case of the Staria Multicab, the combination of cargo and people moving in the same space-age package has struck gold even if it loses some of the details that makes the people mover that little more special.
At R764,900 though, the aesthetic sacrifices are small and worth making for a workhorse of the future.