A posh people-moving capsule
For the time that vans have been on the road, I thought I had seen them in all shapes and sizes.
That was until I laid my eyes on the Staria for the first time. Unique and one-of-a-kind somehow inadequately describes how Hyundai differentiates it from segment rivals.
Categorized as a minivan / light commercial vehicle, the Staria has several segments in its crosshairs. There is the cargo-hauling and commuter manual-transmission variant for business use and the GLS and Premium for family or personal use. That is four variants, catering to distinct sets of buyers, with price points spanning the PHP 1.560-million to PHP 2.930-million range.
We will get to the other variants in future reviews, but now, we start at the top and check out the 2023 Hyundai Staria 2.2 CRDi Premium AWD. It is cheaper than the top-of-the-line Super Grandia Elite (certainly more affordable than the Alphard and V-Class, which are over PHP 4 million), Carnival, and even the GN8, but more expensive than the G10.
Hyundai says that the fluid front-to-back curve takes after the halo that illuminates the Earth’s horizon when the sun rises. Since that view is only visible from outer space, the designers did the next best thing, shape the Staria’s body to look like a futuristic capsule on wheels.
The front fascia is the best in the segment with its stunning mesh pattern, cube-type full-LED headlamps, and horizontal daytime running lamps. Until some other automaker comes up with something more innovative, nobody comes even remotely close to this design.
When viewed from the side, I noticed the daylight openings and the door panels (almost) have equal width, which means it should offer great views from the inside. We will find out later when we hop in, but from the outside, the low beltline and the panoramic windows give off a VIP vibe to second and third-row passengers of this seven-seater minivan.
I usually don’t highlight rear features so much. But I will make an exception for the Staria, if only for its Parametric Pixel LED rear combination lamps and the hidden rear wiper that helps maintain its clean look. It also has a rear spoiler (with a high-mount stop lamp), LED fog lamps, and a power tailgate.
If I was judging a beauty contest, this candidate got a 9.8/10 for the evening gown and swimsuit categories in my scorecard. I like its shoes (18-inch tinted brass alloy wheels), but I take points off because of the limited exterior colors (only three hues are available). And that is me already being very critical. It was hard to find fault with this body, and I believe it is the only model that deserves to use the words van and stylish in the same sentence.
It has a smart key that automatically unlocks the vehicle when I push the button on the door handle. The power side doors automatically slide open when I pull its handles, while the power tailgate slowly rises when I press the latch. These easy access features increase the ‘wow’ factor when you drop off / pick up passengers on any driveway.
The cockpit does not really match the luxurious impression I got from the exterior. It is mostly plastic with a rather dull earthy color. But I appreciate the numerous covered storage spaces – three on the dashboard (including the glove box), one large cubby hole at the bottom (just below the two USB ports), and two on each front door panel.
Like its LED daytime running lamps, the air vents form a straight line from left to right, with a black center stack that houses the eight-inch infotainment touchscreen (with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), the wireless charging pad, the dual-zone climate control system, and the push-button gear selector.
In front of the driver is a leather-wrapped, multi-function steering wheel and a horizontal, tablet-like 10.25-inch TFT LCD instrument panel Hyundai calls Supervision.
Except for the orange ambient lighting to match the leather upholstery and the accent light around the top of the humongous center console, I did not pick up any luxurious ambiance from the driver’s seat. It is utilitarian and high-tech, fancy even, but definitely not posh. Some of the features I liked here are the armrests and the ventilated seats.
As an executive seven-seater, there is a bit more panache in the second row. The power seats here are also ventilated, more bolstered, have, butterfly headrests, an Ottoman feature, and not only do the backrests recline, but the entire seat also does, hinged from the hip point – kind of like a La-Z-Boy. Slide open the second-row sunroof and voila, relax to a spectacular vista above.
This section of the vehicle is the best place to be. It has aircon controls, including temperature and fan speed, and enormous amounts of legroom. Passengers here can get more space by moving the front passenger seat forward using buttons on its backrest or manually moving theirs back. At the back of the center console are two USB ports, a couple of cup holders, and a small glove box. I only wish it has power windows because the manual, slide-to-the-side windows do not match its ultra-comfortable surroundings.
With its big windows, the outside view is gorgeous, but for second and third-row passengers who want privacy, there is a manual sun shade you can pull up. I expect this and the windows to have power features in future models.
The last row has bench-type seats that are good for three. There is no center armrest but it has two cup holders on each side and a small nook for loose items.
Its engine is a 2.2-liter four-pot with common rail direct injection. It sends 177 PS and 430 Nm of torque to its all-wheel-drive system using an eight-speed automatic transmission. The throttle and steering feedback is deceivingly light for its size and heft. I could see how big it was because of its tall ride, high driver vantage point, and massive tail, but it was nimble, quick, and was actually easy to maneuver through bumper-to-bumper traffic on EDSA. Overtaking is easy, but because of its small displacement, expect a lag before you get the boost from the turbo after giving the throttle some serious pressure. At least the engine is efficient. It revs under 1,800 RPM on flat roads at around 110 km/h. Its fuel consumption is 11.7 km/l in mixed driving conditions.
I was expecting an Alphard-like ride because I feel like they are (almost) a match in terms of amenities and styling (but the Staria is prettier). But after seven days and about 400 kilometers with it, I would have to say it is just slightly better than the Super Grandia. It bounces off humps just a tad gentler and does a better job of hushing harshness when the roads get rough. As a tall ride, expect body roll when you are not careful around corners, and watch out for sharp left turns as the A-pillar sometimes gets in the way.
This is an all-wheel-drive vehicle, something that I initially thought was excessive for a seven-seater vehicle even for one as big as this. My mind changed when I drove through the mountainous, two-lane Cavite East-West Road to Pico de Loro on a rainy day. There was loose gravel and a lot of wild tall brush creeping on the side of the newly cemented road. The unlit, unmanned road posed a potential risk for careless drivers. The sure-footedness of an all-wheel-drive layout certainly gave me confidence through precise steering and grippy traction. Executives, doctors, or owners who travel a lot will surely love the peace of mind and stability this platform offers. Sure, two fewer wheels to drive will consume less fuel, but it already gets 11.7 km/l in mixed driving conditions. I would rather keep that consumption than give up AWD.
Like most modern range-topping models, it is replete with cutting-edge safety features. My favorites include cruise control (with Smart Stop & Go), Lane Keeping Assist, and an alert that even tells you to stop for a break (if you have driven too long) or to keep your hands on the steering wheel if you have loosened your grip.
I loved my long drives with it. It was stable at high speeds, moved gracefully in the city and on the highway, and was an absolute head-turner and a conversation starter. I wish its Bose Surround Sound system was tuned optimally for the cabin, as the sound is not as crisp at high speeds and on less-than-perfect roads.
There are minivans, vans, LCVs, and then there is the Staria. This model may fall short of a few features and amenities, but at PHP 2.930 million, it is a million less than some of its more appointed rivals in the segment but has all-wheel drive. It isn’t cheap, but if you can live with a smaller engine and stiffer suspension, you’ll be keeping a significant chunk of change in your pocket. The 2023 Hyundai Staria 2.2 CRDi Premium AWD poses an intriguing proposition in the executive mover segment, so if you are in the market, keep this on your shortlist.