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Road Test - Hyundai iMax 2.5 CRDi Shuttle
Price as tested: $40,340 (metallic paint $350)
Crash rating: n/a
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 8.5
CO2 emissions (g/km): 225
Also consider: VW Caravelle (more here), Ford Transit (more here), Chrysler Grand Voyager (more here)
Overall rating: 3.0/5.0
Price, Packaging and Practicality: 3.0/5.0
Behind the wheel: 3.0/5.0
About our ratings
The Hyundai iMax with the diesel option sits in a rarefied niche starting at under $40,000. There just isn't another semi-bonneted diesel alternative with seating for eight adults within $10,000 of the iMax. To match its comprehensive equipment and passenger vehicle level of interior trim, that gap will blow out even higher in most cases.
The iMax should be a dream come true for the many families or small businesses who need a roomy, frugal dual-purpose family and work vehicle. Yet there are two major drawbacks that will cause it to be immediately scratched off the list for some.
Even though the iMax has a sliding door on each side, the centre row seat is set up for left-hand drive markets. The tilt single-seat access to the third row is on the traffic or road side of the vehicle even though the brochure shows otherwise.
For busy parents, this can be a veto issue when most need to open up the kerbside door for the kids to scramble in, then perform a quick check to make sure they are all belted-in before climbing in themselves. Although the iMax's walk-through facility is a welcome feature once everyone is inside, getting everyone in safely could be a challenge.
For those families who know exactly what they want in this area, there is no compromise.
The other drawback which caught this tester out was the expectation that this would be one vehicle big enough to swallow a bicycle. Not so, unless you dismantle it and even then it is a tight fit.
The problem is that all the seats are fixed and the third row is neither collapsible, nor removable. Although the rear of the third row seat back is lined and has some recline adjustment, the seat back itself cannot be folded flat.
The tall, long and deep luggage compartment behind the third row seat, even with a full complement of passengers, is massive compared to a purpose-built peoplemover like a Honda Odyssey. Not being able to trade-off seating positions for extra luggage length unnecessarily narrows the iMax focus considerably.
As a shuttle bus, it works well when the centre seat row can be moved forward and back to create extra legroom if required in the third row. The third row is also unusually generous as the iMax's long wheelbase keeps it away from the wheelarches.
The iMax is therefore close to perfect in many respects (including price) for a small guest house, club, hotel, bed and breakfast or other social venues that need an executive peoplemover for guests and their luggage. It's only when it's required to work as a part-time delivery van that it falls down.
It is a source of frustration for some Aussie buyers and dealers when it is so close yet so far. Although Hyundai offers accessories for rooftop luggage and bike racks, it is a big climb to the roof.
Further reducing the buyer pool, the iMax diesel comes as a five-speed manual only while the petrol version comes only as a four-speed auto. This seems back to front when the petrol even as a manual would struggle with the starting weight of 2128kg (auto petrol) or 2249kg (diesel manual).
The petrol auto might work as a short-haul, urban shuttle bus for certain groups but as a fully-loaded family workhorse with air-conditioning running front and rear over long distances, it willhave to work hard. Too hard...
By comparison, the diesel does it relatively easy even when loaded. Hence, the fuel savings should prove even greater in real world usage if the driver is prepared to use the five-speed manual to keep the 125kW engine in the 2000-2500rpm band where it delivers its 392Nm torque peak. Look for an average of 8.8L/100km during a 90-100km/h cruise while sensible driving around town should deliver figures in the 10.5-12L/100km range. Not bad for a vehicle this big and heavy.
The engine itself can be quite obtrusive at low revs and under load but smoothes out on a cruise. The gear change was neither as smooth, nor as precise, as the manual transmission in the petrol iLoad, which suggests that it may have been beefed-up for the extra work.
Because the iMax is rear-wheel drive, it lends itself to light towing if extra luggage or sports gear is required. Hyundai swaps the leaf springs on the live axle rear end of the iLoad van, which is the starting point for the iMax) for coil springs, five locating links and gas shocks. Although axle location, centre of gravity and cargo space are noticeably better than the old school rear-drive vans, the unladen ride quality is still similar to the iLoad as the iMax coils still have to be stiff enough not to sag under the hefty 837kg payload.
What you do get is a large van-based peoplemover that steers better than expected with rack and pinion steering, has good handling balance and grips the road well enough over uneven surfaces, thanks to the extra rear axle location. The 70 series tyres on 16-inch alloys help iron out initial bump harshness but from there, the iMax can only deliver its best ride with some weight onboard. That said, its unladen ride is no harsher than its pricier European rivals.
Safety is better than the old generation of blunt-fronted van-based people movers as the iMax places occupants behind the engine and front wheels, but Hyundai makes no claims except to describe the cabin as rigid. The four-ring reinforcement that runs around the body at each end and either side of the centre doors, a substantial underbody frame, four-wheel disc brakes, twin airbags and ABS are about the extent of it.
Hyundai does fit stability and traction control as standard on the diesel iMax but not the petrol model. Because a fully-laden iMax shouldn't be used to explore the outer limits, the stability control is more of a safety net for the unexpected.
The iMax is therefore a full generation ahead of the old van-based peoplemovers in terms of staying out of trouble. It offers better than average vision, useful rear parking sensors and its wide-track stance on the road (with its lower centre of gravity) is more MPV than van.
Its dual zone air-conditioning (front plus roof-mounted rear system), power front windows and mirrors, clear instruments, lots of hidden storage, six-speaker sound, vanity mirrors and pleasant full cabin trim define a better than usual place to spend a working day.
The bottom line is that Hyundai has delivered a sharply focused and keenly priced personnel carrier based on a delivery van a world away from the old forward-control models that have thankfully disappeared off the market. The willing diesel is a bonus.
Hyundai has then been clever enough to style the iMax to look like it could be a Chrysler Voyager substitute with ease of driving to back up that impression but only if you don't mind changing gears.
This allows it to occupy the growing gulf between lower, sleeker purpose-built MPV peoplemovers and other boxier shuttle buses based on light commercials. Alas the iMax equation then falls apart if full passenger safety (read: side and curtain airbags) and the lack of flexibility in seating and cargo space are an overriding consideration...
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