If there is one model that helped Hyundai establish themselves in the Philippines, it's the Starex. Since it gained popularity in the country, this van has since become one of the brand's best-sellers. It also remains a popular choice for those who need a large people mover.

From gray market to best-seller: Hyundai Starex through the years image

But the Starex story in the Philippines started rather interestingly. At first, it wasn't sold through official Hyundai dealerships at the time. Instead, it was a gray market model when it landed here in the late 90s. The first-generation Starex had a lot in common with the Mitsubishi Space Gear of the same era. It had the same underpinnings and engines as the Space Gear. The difference was, the Hyundai was longer and wider than the Mitsubishi. It was also a lot more affordable as well. Seeing its success, Hyundai Philippines eventually sold it officially through their dealerships.

From gray market to best-seller: Hyundai Starex through the years image

But more was to come from this model. In the early 2000s, the van received a heavy facelift and several technical updates. The front end was redesigned to incorporate bug-eye headlights and a larger grille. It also saw more variants and wheel options that further expanded its appeal. But the most important change was under the hood. The new diesel engine at the time introduced common-rail direct injection, giving it more power, better efficiency, and improved refinement.

From gray market to best-seller: Hyundai Starex through the years image

The second-generation Starex arrived in the country in late 2007 as a 2008 model. It detached from its Mitsubishi roots with its new chassis and turbodiesel engine developed in-house by Hyundai. They even gave it a new name: The Grand Starex.

The local-spec Grand Starex initially came in three variants, namely the GL, GLS, and Gold. Under its hood was a 2.5-liter diesel with common-rail direct injection and a variable geometry turbo. With those innovations and technologies, the Grand Starex packed more power and torque than its competitors.

More variants joined the range over the years. The Grand Starex Limousine landed here in 2010 with a greater emphasis on luxury than cargo holding or people hauling. At the opposite end of the spectrum was the Grand Starex Super Express that offered seats for up to 15 passengers.

From gray market to best-seller: Hyundai Starex through the years image

After a decade of no significant updates, the Grand Starex got a new look in 2018. Launched here as a 2019 model, it features a more prominent chrome grille flanked by a pair of squared-off headlights. Hyundai even gave it a redesigned dashboard to bring it up to date. This is the model we have at the moment, but it is about to bow out soon thanks to the Staria.

From gray market to best-seller: Hyundai Starex through the years image

It is yet to be known if Hyundai will apply the Staria name to all markets or keep Starex in select regions. Either way, Hyundai's all-new van is a dramatic departure from its predecessor with its bold design and tech-laden interior. Aside from the more streamlined shape, the most attention-grabbing piece of design is the entire front end. A thin LED strip runs across the width of the van. Below it is a massive grille that houses the headlights and the fog lights.

That's not all. Hyundai says the interior is inspired by the lounge of a cruise ship. At the front, there's a 10.25-inch front display screen, touch-based center fascia, and a button-type electronic shift lever. The dash features a wraparound design with a pair of air-conditioning vents for both driver and front passenger. It's not short on storage bins either, with pockets on the center stack and more on the doors. Like its predecessors, the new van has a variety of seating configurations. There's the two-seater, the seven-seater, a nine-seater, and an eleven-seater.

From gray market to best-seller: Hyundai Starex through the years image

We're likely to get this model before the end of 2021. After all, Hyundai Philippines said they will launch four models this year and hinted that the redesigned van will be part of that group. That said, we wish they keep the Starex name in the country. Besides, it's the badge that opened the door for Hyundai in the Philippines.