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Hyundai iMax 2013: Road Test

words - Ken Gratton
Hyundai iMax breaks even at the box office with plenty of seats, but only four stars
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Hyundai iMax 2.5L CRDi SLX Automatic
Road Test

Price Guide (recommended price before statutory and delivery charges): $42,490
Options fitted (not included in above price): N/A
Crash rating: Four-star (ANCAP)
Fuel: Diesel
Claimed fuel economy (L/100km): 9.0
CO2 emissions (g/km): 238
Also consider: Chrysler Grand Voyager (from $57,000); Kia Grand Carnival (from $38,990); Volkswagen Caravelle (from $49,990)

A little over four years ago we tested Hyundai's iMax people mover and offered the opinion that it was a good first try, but flawed.

Among the Hyundai's shortcomings back then were the lack of properly conceived modular seating, lack of side impact protection and lack of an automatic transmission option for the diesel.

In 2013 not much has changed. The iMax now comes with an automatic for the diesel, but the second and third-row seats still cannot be removed or even folded up for a flat load area and there are still no side curtain airbags – although the Hyundai rates a four-star safety rating from ANCAP nonetheless.

So the Hyundai's versatility remains compromised. Other people movers – such as the significantly more expensive Chrysler Grand Voyager, for instance – do offer the facility to remove seats to increase the goods-carrying ability of the vehicle. At least the second-row seat will slide back and forth to optimise legroom where it's required, but the narrower section that provides the entry point to the third row is located on the driver's side of the car.

Points such as this and the lack of a seat return memory, for instance, work against the iMax as a solution for larger families. It's probably a further reason why the Hyundai sold 1733 units last year, versus 3676 of the cheaper Kia Carnival.

Everything about the iMax can be qualified by its rear-wheel drive van origins. With fittings flapping and banging over bumps, the iMax, which is based on the iLoad van, was less refined than a Honda Odyssey, to use one unlikely example of a competitor that fulfils a similar role.

Huge expanses of grey vinyl and a half-hearted attempt to inject some panache into the interior with a satin-finish placky centre fascia just couldn't match the Honda's much nicer cabin. Where the iMax has it all over the Odyssey though is the Hyundai's sheer bulk and ability to accommodate people, dogs, sporting gear, furniture, tools, goods, etc.

And it's surprisingly nimble around town. It has a tighter turning circle than many front-driven cars of similar footprint and it's quite easy to park, considering its size. In this it's helped by reversing camera, big side mirrors and ultrasonic sensors. It could be manoeuvred within inches of side fence, gates, overhanging branches, external window blinds and an open garage door (the iMax's roof is too high to fit underneath a standard double garage door).

We're pleased the reversing camera displays in a large screen in the centre console, rather than in the rear view mirror, as Hyundai is wont to do in other cars. It means that as your head swivels from left to right external mirrors, your eyes can glance at the reversing camera display on the way through, making the safety feature genuinely practical for someone who backs using the mirrors.

The field of vision from the driver's seat makes the iMax a fairly handy vehicle to drive around the back streets near the HQ. Knowing where the left-side wheels are means you can pull the iMax over very close to the gutter in exceptionally narrow lanes to let oncoming SUVs and luxury sedans pass.

There was some wind noise present at highway speeds in the iMax, and a light hum from the engine, which is relatively quiet across a range of speeds. It's more refined than many diesels powering commercial vehicles and offers strong performance with minimal turbo lag from launch.

Acceleration when the light changes to green is more than enough to keep conventional passenger cars honest. The five-speed automatic transmission provides a fine match for the diesel, shifting smoothly without the turbo slipping back to idling. Controls, including the lever handbrake down besides the driver's seat, are all within easy reach and there's a little pocket in the centre fascia below the audio system that looks designed for an iPhone or iPod. Either will hook up to a USB port for recharging and streaming music (which can also be played through the audio system wirelessly).

Being rear-wheel driven and with a live axle at the rear the iMax is occasionally prone to traits that perhaps many drivers are no longer accustomed to in day-to-day driving; wheelspin, for example, or a minor brake lock-up at low speeds on a damp section of road. But  on balance the iMax's passive dynamic ability (even when unloaded) is surprisingly adept — it steers quite well and corners neatly for a vehicle of its size and height — but the ride can be jittery at times and the impact over sharper undulations (such as railway lines, for instance) is certainly transmitted to the cabin.

I haven't driven the iLoad, which is suspended at the rear by a leaf-sprung live axle, but reckon the coil-sprung iMax's ride quality would be more consistent across a range of speeds and surfaces. More payload would probably help iron out the ride in the iMax also, but the maximum number we had in the vehicle during the week was four — driver, one other adult and two kids. Out on the open road however, the iMax is a capable tourer.

Despite earlier comments about the limited versatility of the iMax, there was still room behind the third row — just — to accommodate an 80-litre wheelbarrow. Another thing a conventional people mover so rarely provides, but the iMax does, is a walk-through facility from the front to the second row. There are other aspects of the Hyundai's packaging that are commendable, including a second-tier glovebox and the air conditioning for the third-row passengers (which can be enabled and disabled from the front).

The iMax sits high off the ground and climbing in would normally be a chore, but there's a step concealed when the door is closed, for both the front doors and the sliding side doors. Although one feels a bit like the school marm riding a horse, side-saddle is the better way to get behind the wheel. Place the left foot on the step, grab the wheel with the left hand, step up, spin clockwise and lower the posterior onto the seat before lifting both feet and swinging the legs into the cabin. That's assuming you're vertically challenged....

The iMax is improving over time, as the addition of the automatic transmission indicates, and in many respects it has made a strong start in this market, but the seating needs to offer added practicality before it can hope to snare large families in the market for one vehicle to suit all purposes.

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Published : Thursday, 10 January 2013

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