You need not look very hard to figure out whether a vehicle is a business model or for private use. It seems like car companies always penalize the more enterprising of car buyers. Typically, vehicles purchased by a company or individual for a business will usually have certain hallmarks like steel wheels, black door handles and bumpers, and typically come in a certain shade of white. They’ll have unusual variant designations, known only to insiders, like “FE” (Fuel Efficient) “LE” (Least Expensive) or even “FB” (for business).
The penalty is made more tangible for those assigned to drive them, having to wrangle a vehicle with little comfort other than power steering and a stereo. They’ll likely be a manual transmission, fitted with the weakest engine on stock, with manual locks and windows. Sometimes, even air conditioning is made an option and not standard.
Thankfully, as the PUV modernization program is beginning to gain traction, enterprising companies like Hyundai are expanding their offerings to meet the new challenge. A new variant is their Grand Starex Super Express (GSSE). The name itself should hint at the target market, serving as a viable alternative to the typical UV Express options.
The GSSE takes on standard Starex form, albeit with a less flashy grille, steel wheels and black door handles. The window on the sliding door is now a one-piece pane of glass, making it heavily dependent on air conditioning.
Inside, the driver will find the familiar Starex cockpit. Ahead of the driver is a three dial setup with a tachometer, speedo and fuel and temp gauges. The driver has power steering, power windows, central locking, intermittent wipers, and front and rear air con controls and a driver’s airbag. Over in the center, the stereo is now a single DIN unit. Lower on the dash is the stick shift, right beside, more storage spaces and a pop-out cupholder. The front bench retains the foldable center backrest. Ahead of it is the dual glove compartment.
Behind, the five door van has been reconfigured from the typical 10-seater to now seat 15 passengers. It now has five rows, however the rear two are now facing each other. The two rows behind the driver are bolted to the floor and are not adjustable. They do have quick-folding jump seats on the right side with no more tricky mechanism to fiddle with. Finally, the rear rows can be folded to accommodate cargo if needed.
Hauling all this along is a 2.5-liter TCI 8-valve four cylinder diesel engine. It produces 100 PS and 226 Nm of torque, paired to a 5-speed manual. MacPherson struts in front and a rigid axle coil spring set keep it aloft. Fear not as the rear set has been fitted with a load-sensing proportioning valve allowing it to take on more weight than your usual Starex. It rides on 215/70 series tires on 16-inch wheels, mounted on perhaps the nicest set of steel wheels we’ve seen.
For those tasked to drive it, the GSSE is remarkably easy to handle. The steering is light and accurate, visibility is very good, the clutch is light, and the brakes are pretty powerful. The only thing to adjust for is the vehicle’s width, especially when navigating around tight streets. Other than that, it’s fairly maneuverable, is easy to drive and while it isn’t particularly fast, certainly has the power to haul. The engine returns mounds of torque from the start, however begins to run out of breath at 3,000 rpm. Nonetheless, with conscientious driving, and just one passenger, the vehicle managed to return a stellar 14 km/L in the city in heavy traffic and intermittent rain.
The ride itself wasn’t particularly harsh, nor soft. Though it's definitely better than a HiAce Commuter. It noticeably smoothens out with more passengers. The dual air conditioning was also fairly cold, mind you, it was raining heavily during the period we had it, and as such, hardly put a strain on the system.
All told, the GSSE serves as an interesting alternative for businesses or as a possible UV Express vehicle. The 15-seater estimate is rather conservative and we predict operators will manage to fit 17-19 passengers in a tight squeeze. Little additions like two-tone fabric seats, felt carpeting, a driver airbag, the driver-side sliding door, central locking and load handling suspension are factors its competitors may not have considered, which could sway potential buyers towards its pricier P1,398,000 tag. Best of all, the torquey yet fuel efficient engine will likely return the biggest savings down the line. Whether it will be used for business or family, it will be up to the task and offer a slightly more plush experience. And, whoever is tasked to drive it, will have a far easier time than with its competitors.