When seven seats aren’t enough, or if you want to treat your sixth, seventh and eighth members of your family with a dignity most seven-seater SUVs can’t muster, then the Hyundai iMax could be the right fit.
It’s a niche segment, the people-mover one, representing just 1.2 per cent of total new-car sales in 2019. Of that, Kia’s rather excellent Carnival hogs the limelight accounting for over half of all people-mover sales, leaving the rest of the boxy warriors in this niche segment to fight over the scraps.
The Hyundai iMax enters the fight, not as a heavyweight contender, but rather an ageing warrior whose best days are arguably behind them. On test here is the 2020 Hyundai iMax Elite with a list price of $48,490 plus on-road costs – $4500 more than the only other iMax in the range, the Active.
That’s a decent value proposition in a segment where a nicely specced diesel-powered Kia Carnival SLi will set you back around $55,000 and an eight-seater Toyota Granvia VX a whopping $75K plus on-road costs. At the other end of the tape, a nine-seater LDV G10 diesel asks for $37,990, around $11K more affordable with an additional seat.
This generation of iMax – and its delivery van sibling iLoad – has been around since 2007, receiving a much-needed facelift in 2018, the adoption of Hyundai’s signature ‘cascading grille’ the biggest visual change. Inside, though, its 2007 genesis is evident in multiple areas. More on that later.
Under the iMax’s stubby bonnet lives Hyundai’s 2.5-litre inline four-cylinder turbo diesel pumping out 125kW and 441Nm. Transmitting those outputs to the rear wheels is a five-speed torque converter automatic; a marriage that while not exactly lusty is perfectly adequate. For the most part.
Around town, the iMax makes a decent fist of negotiating the daily traffic grind. It’s quick enough off the line to not feel like you’re lumbering about in a people mover, while the steering – on the light side – allows for surprisingly easy manoeuvrability, even in tight city confines. An 11.2m turning circle, kerb to kerb, is better than the Carnival’s (11.7m), but just shy of the Granvia’s (11.0m).
While the iMax’s motivation around town is decent enough, any shortcomings it has make themselves known pretty quickly once out on the highway at cruising speed. The five-speed auto is inadequate for comfortable cruising, with the iMax sitting at 100km/h at a tickle under 2000rpm.
It’s not thrashing away, but neither is it refined. Urge the iMax on to speeds beyond 100km/h for an overtake in the fast lane, say, and the family lugger responds with a lot of noise and not much else. The five-speed transmission is lacking ratios and remains indecisive, while forward momentum is incrementally slow. Plan your overtakes, is all.
Where the iMax shines, or at least throws a ray of light, is on the road, its manners composed and compliant. Minor ripples and lumps are dealt with easily, while even major obstacles such as speed humps are dealt with crisply and comfortably. The iMax rolls over them easily and settles back down without any of the tell-tale porpoising or wobbling sometimes associated with vehicles of this type. Chubby tyres on 17-inch alloys help, too, we’d venture.
There is some road noise out on the motorway, but it’s acceptable, and won’t have you shouting at your passengers to be heard. Around town, NVH levels are fine.
The short of it is, the cabin remains quiet and settled, which is something key in this segment where passenger comfort should be a consideration. And if comfort equates to roominess, then the iMax is a winner inside.
As spacious as it is, however, the iMax is showing its age. Cheap plastics abound, although Hyundai has done its best to tart up the interior with some perforated leather inserts on the doors that match the perforated leather on the seats.
There’s no centre console of any kind, so no storage to be found there. Instead, a large empty space exists between two commodious captain’s chairs.
There are a couple of cupholders that extract from the lower dash, while a tiny nook isn’t big enough to hold much of anything, least of all a smartphone, not even an old Nokia 3310. That makes connecting your phone – Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible – to the infotainment system anchored by a tiny 7.0-inch colour touchscreen problematic, as there is nowhere to stow your phone once connected via the single USB outlet.
The best option is to tuck it away into one of the two gloveboxes found on the passenger side. It's an imperfect solution, but at least you won’t be tempted to glance down at your phone while driving.
The infotainment itself is pretty rudimentary. Aside from the low-res quality of the 7.0-inch screen, there’s not much in the way of info- or ’tainment. There's AM/FM radio and Bluetooth streaming compatibility and that’s about it. There’s no inbuilt satellite navigation, either, making the ability to mirror your smartphone vital. The view from the reversing camera is grainy, which is in stark contrast to many of today’s near-broadcast-resolution offerings.
The front seats are comfortable and supportive, as well as heated plus ventilated for the driver. An armrest for each makes up for the lack of a central storage bin. So, too, the two separate door pockets on each front door, including holders for larger-sized bottles.
The driver display dates back to 2007, as well – a pair of analogue dials and that’s pretty much it. There’s no digital speedo, no fuel-use display, simply a digital trip meter and reading estimating how many kilometres to empty.
Hyundai's official fuel consumption claim is listed at 8.8L/100km, but our testing showed a figure of 10.1L/100km.
There’s also non-adaptive cruise control, although in fairness it works well and speeds can be adjusted incrementally via up/down buttons on the steering wheel. It’s all very basic, very 2007.
You do get a packet of Hyundai Genuine Parts latex gloves in – appropriately enough – the glovebox to be used when filling up the iMax with diesel.
Slide into the second row and there is a pleasing amount of space. The seats are firm but supportive, and slide fore and aft. There are air vents and climate controls, as well as a separate control for the two-pane sunroof. The middle pew is slightly higher and firmer, but we’d venture it’s also the premium seat if you value leg room thanks to a total absence of any type of centre console. Stretch your legs into the space between the front captain’s chairs and you’ll feel like you’re flying business class.
Thanks to the iMax’s large glasshouse and that two-pane sunroof, it’s all very light and airy back there, and while there are no cupholders, there are large bottle holders in the doors.
Access to the third row isn’t as easy as you might think. The seat backs of the second row fold down, but the seat base doesn’t tilt forward as they do in some other people movers. That leaves a small ungainly aperture if the seats are in the normal position. You need to slide the seats fully forward to open up a reasonable entrance.
Once inside, though, it’s pretty spacious with decent toe, knee and leg room. There are no amenities other than a couple of drink holders in the side panels.
And that’s the thing about the iMax – it’s essentially all very utilitarian. The sliding side doors, for example, are manually operated in an era where electric sliding doors are increasingly the norm. So, too, the tailgate – the big heavy (and tall) tailgate.
Once open, though, there’s a decent amount of cargo space. Hyundai quotes 842L in the cargo area, down on Kia’s 960L claim. Interestingly, those seats in the iMax don’t fold away, so your 842L is pretty much it. Still, it’s a large-enough area for several large suitcases or a basketball team’s worth of soft bags.
It’s acreage a seven-seater SUV, the default go-to for larger families these days, simply can’t match. The popular Toyota Kluger, for example, only has 195L of cargo space if all seven seats are in use. Even dropping the third row and turning the Kluger into a five-seater only expands that to 529L. So, yeah, the iMax has space, and plenty of it.
So far, so adequate. But, there’s a glaring inadequacy that makes the iMax hard to recommend.
Safety. The iMax was last crash-tested in 2009. That’s Neolithic in automotive safety terms. And so too was the four-star safety rating ANCAP awarded it, with the iMax let down in almost every area that matters.
From airbags (it only has four in total, covering the driver and front passenger only) to the total absence of active safety tech (other than mandatory systems such as ABS) and its below-average results in crash-testing, the iMax is a 2007 people mover with a level of safety that was considered below optimal in 2009. And that makes it hard to recommend, and more so if you’re intending to cart your large family.
The game has moved on, as evidenced by the Toyota Granvia’s five-star ANCAP score awarded in 2019 under much more rigorous criteria. It, however, is expensive in comparison.
The iMax might be an affordable option in the people-mover segment, but like an ageing warrior stepping into the ring long past their prime, the game has changed.
Its adequate if a little underwhelming performance, absence of meaningful amenities, and a suite of safety features that were par for 2007 but don’t stand up in 2020, make it difficult for us to recommend the iMax.
And that’s why if your automotive needs run to an eight-seat people mover, it’s hard to go past the segment-leading Kia Carnival.