The legend rebornThe family van is an important part of every family's garage, because every Filipino family is fond of traveling together to the many scenic destinations we have. Since its introduction to the local market, the Starex (H1 in other markets) was an instant success, becoming a favorite of Filipino families for its size, versatility, and value. Officially launched at the First Philippine Motor Show in August of 2007, the fourth generation Starex, continues the heritage with a generous amount of upsizing and has been renamed the Grand Starex.
European inspired styling is very evident from its exterior styling at first glance. Whichever angle you look, it just screams massive size. It now has dual side rear passenger doors to give ease of ingress and egress. However, the front headlamps look smallish in contrast to the massive front grill and the huge wheel arches also create an optical illusion making the 16-inch wheels miniscule.
The interior is all about space. The massive windshield gives a great view of the road ahead. The layout of the instrumentation, controls and switches on the dashboard is well thought and very ergonomic. The second row seats can be configured to face the third row, which might be useful for impromptu meetings in traffic. Since it's a 12-seater configuration, cargo space is somehow minimized in favor of passengers. The last row could however be folded up for additional cargo space. The pre-installed AVT DVD capable with an LCD screen provides for all the in-car entertainment needs, while an additional auxiliary input jack allows the connection of an iPod or similar device.
Underneath the bonnet is a 2.5-liter CRDi engine with variable geometry turbo from Borg Warner that boasts 25% more power and 24% more torque than a common waste gate system. This results in the maximum output of 170hp at 3800rpm and 40kg-m of torque at 2000-2500 rpm. In a recent trip to Laguna with varying inclines and declines and long stretches proved the engine's performance as smooth shifting from the automatic transmission. Good engine response coupled with great accelerator pedal feel was excellent for a van. The well-appropriated gear ratios distributed the power output evenly allowing for a spirited drive if one requires haste.
Driving through some bends in mountainside roads along the way to the destination allowed the steering response and handling to be put to test. And it was very impressive for a van as the responsive steering and handling is very good for something of its size. My friends who went with me were all asleep throughout the trip, which said a lot about the comfortable ride. Brake performance has also received a major upgrade from its predecessor. A much needed upgrade since the previous Starex had really weak brakes. Despite its size, the Grand Starex does not feel heavy and is an ease to drive. However, parking was not too easy because of its size, but the parking sensors were a big help.
The Grand Starex gives the best car-like driving feel for a van. It does what it's supposed to do, and doesn't try to be something else. It's a perfect package for a van that gives a comfortable ride, good performance and good value for its 1.68-million peso pricetag.