Against car-like rivals such as the Kia Carnival and Honda Odyssey, the van-based Hyundai iMax eight-seat people-mover appears a little anachronistic.
However, year in and year out, the iMax continues to sell in significant numbers. This year it’s number three in its segment behind the Kia and Honda, with people drawn to the acres of cabin space the van body offers.
Priced at $46,490 plus on-road costs in diesel-automatic guise as tested, the Hyundai iMax Series II sits between the base and mid-spec Kia Carnival auto with a related diesel engine, and is $3500 cheaper than the entry level Volkswagen Multivan. Decent value.
This equation was improved in February as part of a range-wide update. You now get niceties including a 7.0-inch touchscreen, climate control, a reversing camera, new alloy wheels and cruise control. Additionally, front-side airbags are now fitted, taking the airbag count to four — an improvement, but still behind the class leaders.
Hop behind the wheel and the iMax’s van roots are clear. This yields positives and negatives. You get a fantastically commanding view of the road as good as in any SUV, with a high perch and a snub bonnet that’s easy to see over. The large windows and thin pillars also give the cabin a spacious feel.
The ergonomics are generally sharp, tough there’s no telescopic wheel adjustment. And against the glitz and glam of the Carnival, and even the budget LDV G10, the dash appears fairly austere, with dull, hard grey plastics everywhere the eye falls. The positive trade-off is the dependable build quality that ensures the iMax will happily cop a tough life.
There are also a ton of storage options including multiple deep door pockets, two lidded gloveboxes, flip-out cupholders and an open cubby atop the dash. All that’s missing is a partitioned storage area between the front seats in lieu of the big open piece of real estate.
The equipment list is far from long, but the basics are covered. The seats are also relatively supportive with ample height/reach/lumbar adjustment, and are trimmed in hard-wearing cloth (and have flip-down armrests). The cruise control and climate control systems are welcome.
The new 7.0-inch screen’s interface is simple to navigate, and quick to re-pair the Bluetooth. There’s also excellent Siri Eyes Free and Google Now voice control that actually works. On the downside, there’s no satellite-navigation (par for the course with these van-based people-movers), and no Apple CarPlay like that in the Tucson. Yet.
The good news is Hyundai Australia has confirmed that an imminent software update will add CarPlay to the Series II retroactively.
Access to the two rows of rear seats is via manually-operated sliding van doors that appear very uncool next to a large SUV, but are great for car parks. The middle seat splits 60:40 and can both slide and tilt.
The iMax is a seriously big car, about a foot longer than a Toyota Kluger (285mm to be precise) and 170mm taller than a Carnival. As a result, middle-row occupants get remarkable headroom, excellent outward visibility (with pop-out windows) and there’s enough width for three adults across. This is a bonus of the iMax being a commercial van.
You have a separate set of air vents with controls, though both ambient lighting and cabin storage back there could be better. As could the audio quality from the meagre four-speaker setup. It’s obvious the iMax is designed as a people-moving workhorse rather than anything aiming to cosset its occupants. Not that this is a bad thing, and as with the front row, everything feels as tough as nails and built to handle abuse.
On the safety angle, you get two ISOFIX anchors in the middle row, but there’s no side airbag protection — just reinforced side impact beams in the doors. The conceptually identical Volkswagen Multivan rival, at $49,990, gets curtain airbags these days. Ditto the SUV-based Carnival, and the Odyssey. There’s no escaping this fact.
The fixed third row of seats can tilt 60:40 and, like the middle row, is super spacious and offers bus-like outward visibility. The high roof makes it easy enough for anyone remotely limber to climb past the folded middle row to get access. Exiting is a little awkward, because the pull-tab-operated middle row doesn't stay fixed in place when folded flat, meaning you can’t pull on it for support when clambering out.
Reflecting the iMax’s intended use as an airport shuttle (and roles of that ilk), there’s a sizeable cargo area behind the third row — which is positioned rather far forward. There's about 850 litres (VDA), enough for multiple suitcases stacked atop one another. There is also a full-size spare wheel accommodated.
So how does the iMax drive? Value shoppers will settle for the $39,990 2.4 petrol, but the engine to buy if you can afford it is the $6500 more expensive diesel (in auto guise), though it’s a massive jump to make - even if the oil-burner also comes with a few extra features, detailed here. We reckon you might want to haggle on that.
The 2.5-litre four-cylinder unit makes 125kW of power at 3600rpm and 441Nm of torque for a brief window around 2000rpm, as tested with the five-speed auto transmission (with the manual gearbox the engine has to be detuned to 100kW/343Nm).
This torque output is more than 200Nm greater than the petrol, and it makes the iMax an effortless cruiser, even fully loaded to near its 800kg maximum. It pulls strongly from right down low in the rev band, and the five-speed auto uses its relatively few ratios (but well-spaced) to full advantage. You can tow up to a two-tonne braked trailer on top of the GVM maximum.
The claimed fuel economy on the combined cycle is 9.0L/100km, which is average at best, though the advantage of such a conservative claim is that we were about able to match it unladen on our test route. The 75-litre tank gives you a rough theoretical range in excess of 800km.
The high driving position and almost cab-over design make the iMax feel more manoeuvrable than it is, though the 11.2 metre turning circle isn’t too bad. The hydraulically-assisted steering is relatively light for urban use, but the system has almost four turns lock-to-lock.
This is a van, and in some respects it handles like one. Though, like the iLoad, it’s relatively good to drive. The noise tucks in eagerly enough and, unlike the leaf-sprung iLoad, the iMax gets a five-link rigid rear axle with coil springs, helping road-holding.
The Hyundai also rides relatively well, with good body control over big hits and a pleasant way of ironing out sharp corrugations. The 300mm/324mm all-round disc brakes also pull up the iMax well enough in an emergency, while the ESC system chomps down quickly to stop lateral movement — perhaps too eagerly, but that’s better than the alternative.
From an ownership perspective, the iMax is strong, with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty that’s second only to the Carnival, and capped-price servicing set at $349, $349, $349, $499 and $349 for the first five visits at current rates (with 12-month/15,000km intervals).
So that’s the updated 2016 Hyundai iMax diesel auto. It remains a solid, spacious, dependable and cheap-to-run people-carrier with an excellent diesel engine, though the cabin is austere at best, lacks some tech and there isn't airbag protection for all occupants.
As a reliable business-focused shuttle, the iMax is hard to top, though the Volkswagen Multivan is making ground (among other Euro rivals). But if you’re buying a people-carrier for the family and largely private use, perhaps look into the more car-like Carnival and Odyssey while you're at it.
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