7-seater MPV, K-style
The more I spent time with the Stargazer, the more it reminds me of the first-generation Starex.
Back in the day, before this 7-seater craze we're seeing went mainstream, the first-generation Starex was very different from its competitors as a family van. In the days of the Hiace, L300, MB100, and the Urvan, the first-gen Starex showed us that people movers can be more than just mid-engined boxes with leaf-sprung suspension and bench seats.
Even though the initial units came from gray market importers, buyers at the time were attracted at the prospect of having a van with a powerful front-mounted turbo diesel engine, rear coil spring suspension, plus reclinable (and reconfigurable) seats for 8 at an affordable price.
That story made the Starex a household name in the Philippine market and ushered in the popularity of the Hyundai brand in the country.
Fast forward to the present, and Hyundai is banking on another Star for its second coming with the all-new Stargazer.
Unlike the Starex, this one's a 7-seater MPV. With a lot of established names in the segment, the Stargazer could be considered a latecomer in the class, which means Hyundai has its work cut out for them. Hyundai has a lot to prove with the Stargazer, and they need to offer a unique proposition to stand out, just like how they did with the Starex.
Different looks? Check. While the front looks a lot like the bigger Staria, it's done the job of being unmistakably Hyundai. See one in your rearview mirrors, and it's instantly recognizable. Much like Kia's tiger nose grille and Nissan V-motion design, we could also see this signature design on future Hyundai models like the Kona and the Accent.
Sharp character lines adorn the side profile, while the 16-inch wheels keep up with that futuristic vibe. In terms of recognizing the Stargazer on the road, the back is just as easily identifiable, if not even better than the front. There was one time I was following another Stargazer in thick fog, and the H-shaped LED light signature was a dead giveaway.
As we all know, looks can be subjective, but most people will appreciate the thought process that Hyundai had in packaging the Stargazer. From a size standpoint, the Stargazer's not the biggest in the segment when it comes to the overall length, but it has the longest wheelbase and is one of the widest compact MPVs out there due to its cab-forward design. It's a kind of layout that was also popularly used by the Honda Jazz, as the wheels are pushed outward to create a bigger cabin space.
Speaking of the interior, here's where you'll see the contrast. On the outside, the Stargazer is full of style. But inside, it's all about business and functionality. I'm talking about storage compartments, cubby holes, plus cup and bottle holders everywhere you look. Heck, it even has a tray table for those who like to eat while on the road. For this top-of-the-line GLS Premium variant, you get leatherette seats from the first to the third row, plus wireless charging, USB ports, 12V outlets, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on the 8-inch touchscreen, among others.
The multi-information display has a crisp resolution and gives access to various data like fuel consumption, tire pressure monitoring, and other vehicle settings. The instrument cluster has a full-digital display and changes its background color depending on the drive mode you're in.
In terms of cargo space, the Stargazer has about 40 inches of maximum width you can fit inside. With the 3rd row seats down, there are about 43 inches of length, which increases to 70 once the 2nd-row seats are also folded. For occupant space, the first two rows have generous head and legroom for adults thanks to the cab-forward layout. But for the third row, like other 7-seater MPVs, there's not much knee room for those 5'9” above. On short trips, it may be fine, but for long distances, the third row might be best reserved for kids.
As much as I like the Stargazer for being well-equipped in terms of features, I believe Hyundai could have done a better job in designing the area around the instrument panel and the head unit. They could have used a piano black finish to make the panel look like a dual-screen monitor like the ones on their more upscale models. The gray in my opinion looks a bit out of place, especially with the interior motif. Also, the panel is a bit too bulky, as you're practically forced to adjust your seat a bit higher to see the front.
Because of the sloping hood, it's also hard to see where the edge of the front is, and that's where a front parking sensor will come in handy. Unfortunately for the Stargazer, it doesn't have one. Hopefully, in the next update, Hyundai would sort these issues out.
The Stargazer is powered by a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that puts out 115 PS and 144 Nm of torque and is paired to an intelligent variable transmission. Essentially, it's Hyundai's version of a CVT, but because it's chain-driven, it slips less and performs like a conventional auto with the way you feel the simulated shifts. As for the engine, it makes a bit more horsepower and a bit more torque than the Xpander and the Avanza but it's not the most powerful – that belongs of course to Honda with the BR-V.
Now in terms of the drivetrain, I must say the Stargazer's engine has got adequate power. I've driven it with five adults inside plus our camera gear at the back, and the Stargazer did not feel really sluggish. Of course, it's not built for speed, and the Sport mode, from my experience, is best used when going downhill since it doesn't accelerate quickly, but it picks up the pace pretty well.
It's not the first time I've driven the Stargazer since I also got a chance to drive this one before Hyundai launched it last year. But this time, I got to drive the Stargazer in different conditions and I must say I'm really impressed with how frugal it is when it comes to fuel efficiency. Mind you, according to the spec sheet this only has a 40-liter fuel tank, but I was able to cover over 400 kilometers with still a quarter of a tank left.
The gauge says I did 14 km/l throughout my stint with the Stargazer, so that includes combined highway and city driving. For the city, I was getting around 10 km/l, while highway speeds give me around 20-21 km/l on cruise control.
With the long wheelbase and short overhangs, the Stargazer keeps its composure over bumps and keeps road noises down to a minimum. After taking it to the twisties, I've also come to appreciate how the brake distribution was tuned. Even in hard braking situations, the Stargazer doesn't nose dive or do anything unsettling.
I know Hyundai has its performance N division. And if their engineering has already trickled down to influence the Stargazer's good chassis characteristics, it bodes well going forward not just for the MPV, but also for Hyundai's future models.
If there's anything more that Hyundai can improve on aside from the dashboard, for me it would be the soundproofing on the windows. There were times that I thought the windows were open since the loud exhausts from motorcycles and trucks have a tendency to creep into the Stargazer.
But other than that, the Stargazer does most of its job well, and I think that's what these 7-seater MPVs are here for, to make everyday driving very easy, very convenient, and take you and your family from point A to point B without a hitch.
At PHP 1.258 million, the Stargazer GLS Premium comes with intelligent features. It drives well, it's very economical and apart from some improvements, the Stargazer makes a compelling case as a serious 7-seater MPV contender. But honestly, I think the lower GLS variant offers even better value for money, as you can have it for PHP 90,000 less, and only the ADAS features have been omitted.
Hyundai Motor Philippines sources this one from Indonesia, and they already said it themselves, this one doesn't have any unit supply issues at all, so you won't have to wait that long to drive one home. Still not convinced if it will "do a Starex"? I suggest you test it out for yourself.