A prototype of the next-generation Hyundai iMax/iLoad has been caught testing, and it could be moving to front-wheel drive.
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The 2021 Hyundai iMax has been seen testing in heavy camouflage overseas, giving us a glimpse of what we can expect as the all-new van nears production.

The iMax is the people-mover version of the Hyundai iLoad – one Australia's most popular commercial vans, with nearly one in every four vans sold in Australia being an iLoad, despite the model having been on-sale since 2008.

Though hidden under heavy vinyl camouflage, the front of the new model appears to follow Hyundai's current design language, with a full-width front grille and integrated headlights.

The current iMax/iLoad is hardly compromised for visibility, but the deeper glasshouse of the prototype shown points to improved outward visibility.

A blanking panel beneath the front number plate also looks like the ideal position for a radar sensor, suggesting a significant upgrade in safety tech. Expect active cruise control and autonomous emergency braking in the new model.

The next-generation van from Hyundai also has short overhangs front and rear, helping to maximise interior space, and creating a more comfortable cabin for the driver and front passenger.

Entering its third generation overseas, the iLoad/iMax is rumoured to be making a change from its current front-engine, rear-wheel-drive platform.

Talk in the industry is the underpinnings could move to a heavy-duty version of the new Kia Carnival front-wheel-drive platform, according to Auto Post Korea.

The change wouldn’t be unprecedented, with rivals like the Renault Trafic, Mitsubishi Express, Ford Transit Custom, and Volkswagen Transporter all now based on front-wheel-drive architectures.

However, the iLoad continues with a six-stud wheel pattern, while the Carnival has five-stud wheels – suggesting the platform changes run deeper than just new upper body work.

In spy images seen by CarAdvice, rear suspension arms hint at an independent linkage in place of the current live axle – though this could be reserved for people-carrier iMax versions to help improve ride quality.

The combination of a more compact rear axle and less space required for a driveshaft means a front-wheel-drive iMax/iLoad could potentially yield greater load space without increasing body dimensions.

Muddying the waters is the suggestion from some overseas publications that the iMax could be spun-off as a separate model from the iLoad.

Earlier photos of heavily-camouflaged development mules showed a low-roof people-mover from the Korean car maker, leading to speculation there could be a more pronounced split between people-mover and commercial models.

However, it's likely this was the Chinese-market Hyundai Custo – shown here in August 2020 – which may actually be the suggested Carnival-based people-mover the industry rumours have been hinting at.

While it's possible Hyundai could split the two models – providing a dedicated people-mover body alongside a commercial van body – the likelihood is Hyundai will retain the current recipe of one body across both models.

Despite the current iMax/iLoad first appearing in 2007, commercial vehicles are engineered from the outset to be in production for much longer than typical passenger cars – up to 15 years in some cases – which means this new model could potentially be on-sale to 2036.