2011 Hyundai iMax CRDi 2.5-litre four-cylinder diesel, five-speed automatic transmission - $42,490 (manufacturer's list price)
It’s a great looking eight-seat people mover with a highly efficient diesel engine and an automatic transmission; it’s also got Bluetooth audio streaming and it’s as easy to drive as any large sedan. Meet the Hyundai iMax.
Of course, if you don’t mind petrol power and want to save a few thousand dollars, you can get into the iMax 2.4-litre variant for as little as $37,290 and that still includes Bluetooth streaming and an automatic gearbox.
That said, if you can stretch your budget some, you’re far better off with the diesel/auto combination for sheer driveability alone, not to mention an inherently better resale value, which is where you recoup the extra dollars you’ve shelled out at purchase time. The good news is, Hyundai knows how to build very capable diesel engines, and the bonus is you won’t have to stop so frequently to fill up the 75-litre tank.
The 2.5-litre common rail diesel in the iMax is an incredibly versatile powertrain, and one of the prime reasons why such a large vehicle is also a breeze to drive around town. It uses an intercooled variable geometry turbocharger, which means when you tap the throttle, the response is pretty much instant. Add to that a solid 392Nm of torque at 2000rpm and there’s a stack of low down punch for rapid progress, even on the steepest of inclines.
The real test for the 5.1m long iMax, however, was the infamous Awaba Street in the Sydney suburb of Balmoral and the home of the Balmoral Burn charity sprint event. It’s quite possibly Sydney’s steepest and most brutal hill that has some of the light car class actually stopping near the top, and needing to engage first gear before being able to proceed onto the summit. Not so with the iMax. Put the pedal down and this people mover will exceed the national speed limit even on this gigantic slope. Not bad for a 2249kg eight-seat minibus.
While the ride height is similar to that of your average sedan, the seats in the iMax are elevated, and as such, require the driver and passengers to step up into the cockpit via the assistance of a built-in step and extra large grab handles on each side of the vehicle. The large glass area means excellent all round vision for all occupants and plenty of natural light in the cabin.
The seats themselves are well bolstered for this type of vehicle, and that includes the third row, which have built-in seat and side bolsters that help keep your torso upright in corners. The only negative sitting back there during a long journey is the lack of a centre armrest for either of the rear seat rows, which makes things less comfortable than they ought to be.
As wide as it is (1.920m), access through the ‘easy to open’ side sliding doors is simple and effective for those tight spots in your local mall car park. Most underground parking areas have a height restriction of two metres, and that's fine for the iMax, which tops out at 1.925m, but you might find the occasional 1.9m limit, which can be a nuisance.
Although the doors slide back far enough to expose the second row seats only, the seats slide forward easily to permit access to the third row.
Rear seat passengers are also well catered for when it comes to leg space and headroom with plenty of each in both rows. Air conditioning won’t be a problem back there either with controllable temperature vents on the roof as well as well-positioned floor-mounted outlets.
Fully laden with eight people on-board, there’s still load space behind the third row seats for a tonne of luggage. I suppose that’s the real advantage of a people mover over a traditional SUV, in which load space is often compromised. My only beef is that the rear seats do not fold flat (at least, I couldn’t get them to) which might be restrictive if you want to transport a ladder or even surfboard in the cabin, but I guess you can always use roof racks for such items.
Apart from the thoroughly contemporary styling, both the iMax and iLoad have one thing in common. They both drive more like cars than super size vans. Put that down to superb chassis dynamics for composed steering and handling, and a relatively pliant ride despite their body length. Turn the evenly weighted steering wheel into a corner and the iMax responds quickly and with minimal body roll. As I have said previously, it’s not like you’re driving a large cumbersome van, more like a large car that’s well behaved.
While an expansive glass area does provide good forward and side vision, backing is up into a car space at the local mall would be a job and a half if it wasn’t for the standard fit parking sensors. Perhaps Hyundai could look at the option of a rear camera and integrated satellite navigation in the near future. And if you're concerned about tight spots and three-point turns, don't be. You can turn an iMax around in a one-lane street and still have room.
The iMax is car-like in other ways too with easy to use Bluetooth streaming on the 2011 model (as well as an iPod cable for charging), and a better than average audio unit to boot. For those of you that might be unfamiliar with the term Bluetooth streaming, it means that once you spend the few minutes required to ‘pair’ your mobile phone with the car's head unit, every time you get into your car, the system will stream music from your phone through the audio speakers as well as all your mobile calls. There are also remote controls on the steering wheel to change the track and volume. It’s a brilliant system that eliminates any risk of copping a hefty fine and subsequent loss of points and also reduces your risk of having an accident.
Hyundai is usually generous with safety equipment in its vehicles and the iMax is no exception with a four-star ANCAP safety rating and a full suite of active safety systems on board including ABS and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD), Electronic Stability Control (ESP) with Traction Control System (TCS) as standard fitment across the range. The glaring omission is the lack of curtain airbags for rear seat passengers. Most of its competitors, including the Toyota Tarago, Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Grand Voyager, all have three-row curtain airbags. It must be said though that the iMax is at least $5000 less expensive than any of these competitors, two of which do not offer a diesel powertrain and are only seven seaters.
As well as carrying lots of people and their luggage in relative comfort, great fuel economy is one of the iMax's stronger suits. Even when I was embarrassingly late last week for a film crew pick up and had to push a little harder, we still managed 9.2L/100km over a distance of 60km, which for a vehicle of these dimensions and weight, is exemplary.
When you drill down into the specifications, equipment, load space, powertrain and price, Hyundai’s iMax is the clear choice when it comes to an all-round package in this segment.