2021 Hyundai Staria Review: Futuristic Design Meets Timeless Practicality

If all minivans looked this cool, maybe they’d ditch the “uncool” reputation that much faster.

byLewin DayDec 13, 2021 11:55 AM
2021 Hyundai Staria Review: Futuristic Design Meets Timeless Practicality
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Hyundai was once a budget manufacturer, producing cheap runabouts that weren't quite on the level of quality and performance of established Japanese rivals. However, the company has worked hard in the past decades, reaching new milestones with each new generation of vehicles released. The Korean automaker has come far, learned a lot, and established itself as a modern leader. The 2021 Hyundai Staria is one of the latest examples that push that narrative. Even though it's not sold in the U.S., its striking design has made it the rare international-market car that's impossible for Americans to ignore.

But me? I'm in Australia, where the Staria is impossible to ignore because it actually exists here, off of the screen and out on the road, comingling in traffic with Holdens and 70-Series Cruisers. Not only that, but it also comes in a stripped-down cargo guise. The Staria might look like it's from the future, but really, its mission is grounded in the past: to serve as a practical, capable, and ultimately useful van. 

What my weeklong test showed is that under the skin, the 2021 Hyundai Staria is a very solid and straightforward vehicle that bets heavily on the value of aesthetics—and that's not a bad bet at all considering the number of people who buy cars on looks alone. Admittedly, some will see just a minivan and nothing more. But few could ignore the huge strides Hyundai has made in recent years, and the bold styling direction it has taken in this pivotal moment in the automotive timeline as new technology puts everything in flux. Wearing a new design language and delivering on usability, the Staria is here to plant Hyundai's flag firmly in the ground.

Lewin Day

2021 Hyundai Staria Specs

  • Base price (as tested): $48,500 AUD ($66,500 AUD; approximately $35,000 and $47,000 USD) 
  • Powertrain: 2.2-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel | 8-speed automatic | all-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 175 @ 6,500 rpm
  • Torque: 318 lb-ft @ 1,500 to 2,500 rpm 
  • Curb weight: 4,852 pounds
  • Seating capacity: 7 or 8 people
  • 0-60 mph: 13.5 seconds 
  • Australian fuel economy: 22.6 mpg urban | 33.6 extra urban | 28 combined
  • Quick take: A solid eight-seater van that looks like it's from the future.

[All prices in AUD unless otherwise noted.]

Spaceship Hyundai

The Hyundai Staria is the new van that steps in to replace the outgoing Hyundai Starex, also known as the iMax and iLoad for its passenger and cargo versions respectively. Despite being referred to as a minivan, the Staria is no compact kid hauler, measuring a full 206.8 inches long and 78.5 inches wide—a full four inches longer and three inches wider than the previous model. It's a people mover that isn't afraid to take up space and draw attention.

With its futuristic lighting and swooping design, the Staria is very much a van that Hyundai wants you to look at. Unlike previous vans from the automaker, the Staria immediately draws eyes with its perforated, color-matched grille and full-width LED running lights up the front. The exterior of the van is extremely smooth, free of the usual bumps and creases of its anonymous predecessors. 

The Staria follows Hyundai's new design language, as seen on the Ioniq 5 and that glorious retromod Grandeur concept everybody is frothing over. It's all about pixelated lights and smooth clean lines, giving an almost Tron-like aesthetic that's very much of the moment. It's forward-looking enough that some even asked if the van was an EV based solely on its looks.

Available as an eight-seater people mover in Australia, it also shares its design with the cargo-focused Staria Load. Other markets will see 7, 9, and 11-seater versions. Gasoline-driven models boast a 3.5-liter V6 paired with a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels. Diesel models, like the top Highlander-spec of the test car, come in all-wheel drive only with a 2.2-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder and the eight-speed automatic as the sole transmission option.

The diesel offers less power and acceleration but significantly more torque than the gasoline engine. It also offers superior fuel economy around town, using just 22.6 mpg in the city compared to a thirsty 16 mpg quoted for the gasoline-driven V6. 

Passenger Comforts

Fundamentally, the Hyundai Staria has a real job to do, which is more important than looking good. It needs to be able to transport eight people in comfort and all their luggage and cargo along the way. In this regard, it measures up well. The van indeed has eight seats; you can put people in them and drive around. That's true of just about any minivan on the market though, so let's dive into the finer details.

What the Staria does well is that it takes care of all the passengers, right throughout the vehicle. Both second and third rows get posture adjustment on the seats, as well as cup holders and USB ports for charging. Rear windows can also be propped open for a little airflow if needed, and there's also a set of rear climate controls accessible to the second-row passengers. 

The second and third rows also get window blinds in the Elite and Highlander trims, good for helping the back passengers get some shuteye on long trips. With the huge amount of cargo space in the rear, the Staria would make a beautiful tour van for a three-piece band, probably even a four-piece if your cousin plays a mean lead guitar. The rear cargo volume measures 831 liters (29.3 cubic feet) with the three-row seats in their usual configuration but can be opened up to a maximum of 1,303 liters (46 cubic feet) with everything folded down.

Features like the power sliding doors on both sides and the power-lift tailgate also provide for a rock star exit, albeit when you're rocking up to load in 12 hours before your show starts. Jokes aside, though, the power doors and tailgate are useful features, particularly for families with children that aren't quite capable of reliably opening and closing a heavy sliding door. You'll need to step up above the base trim to the Elite or Highlander for these, however.

Those involved in heists and bank jobs will be pleased to know you can drive with the side door open so your crew can dive in for a quick getaway. From my semi-exhaustive testing, however, I found that you'll want to hit the "door close" button before you take off again because otherwise, it may not engage. 

The back two rows of seating are easy to fold and reconfigure and can be laid flat to maximize space for carrying items as needed. Just don't stick your fingers in the holes in the seat rails like I did, or you'll get a big gob of grease on your fingers and eventually, all over your face. It was pretty embarrassing, but it was kind of my own fault.

Getting Around

In day-to-day suburban driving, the Staria does well to make the experience largely enjoyable. Sit in the driver's seat and you're treated to a comfortable upright seating position, nice and high above the road. Visibility to the front and sides is excellent by virtue of the huge windscreen and side windows, something that does well for the Staria in its cargo guise, too. 

The center console is big with two cupholders and cavernous storage for all your stuff, which is always appreciated. Crucially, it's not connected to the rest of the dash. This makes it much easier if your passenger has to slide over to the driver's seat and take control of the vehicle in the event you are incapacitated; something to keep in mind if you regularly drive around the president or other VIPs.

Creature comforts up front are plentiful in the Highlander trim, with a heated steering wheel as well as heated and vented front seats. The latter are particularly great for making sure you get out of the car without your back dripping with sweat, a great feature for dealing with the Australian heat. The wireless phone charger is also a nice feature, letting you neatly pop your phone in the dash to suck up electrons while you drive.

Touch controls lack tactile feedback, but wiping them down is easier than getting dirt out of the crevasses of typical buttons.  The infotainment stack has a piano black finish that does show dust easily., Lewin Day

The infotainment unit is relatively straightforward to use, complete with the usual complement of AM/FM/digital radio and satellite navigation. There's also provision for multiple Bluetooth connections as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality. Wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are only available on the base model with the eight-inch infotainment system, however. The 10.25-inch screen on the higher-spec models only offers wired functionality.

My favorite feature by far, though, is the blind spot cameras. Indicate left or right, and one of the gauges on the LCD cluster turns into a live video feed from a high-resolution camera. It gives you a great view of any cyclists in the bike lane or cars in the next lane over and turns at a surprisingly high-frame rate. It's a top feature and with the video placed in the gauge cluster, you don't have to take your eyes too far off the road either. Those who have driven Hyundais for a while will be familiar with this, but it's an absolutely killer feature I'd like to see more automakers take up. 

As far as the driving experience goes, the diesel does a perfectly good job of hauling the van around town. Having plenty of torque on hand and a low-ratio eight-speed gearbox helps, and the Staria never felt short on acceleration—for a minivan, anyway. Lean into the throttle and you'll get that characteristic diesel rattle, but y'know, it's a van. We're not expecting it to sing like the angels, here. It's not overly loud, but if that sort of noise bothers you, don't go for the diesel. 

Running through a curvaceous hillside road with the local country traffic, the Staria had no trouble at all. Guiding the van through the bends was a cinch, with body roll kept to a minimum and the Staria always feeling under control. The diesel proved worthy enough to push the van uphill without frustrating myself or other motorists. Though, with a full complement of eight onboard, it might be a little more sluggish. Again, it felt as if the eight-speed auto went a long way here, providing short ratios so that I wasn't stuck lugging along when the going got tough. I even put it in Sport mode, which turned the gauges red and caused the transmission to shift at a higher rpm. Radical stuff.

I'll be honest in saying that I didn't notice the all-wheel drive. One doesn't really push a van hard through the corners, so you're not picking up on the lack of understeer that you'd note versus the front-wheel-drive model. Regardless, it's more something you'd want if you lived somewhere snowy or where it regularly gets slippery. A center-diff lock is present, too, for such situations. 

The gauge cluster is bright, clear, and easy to read. There are too many controls on the steering wheel, but that's true of most cars these days., Lewin Day

The leading vehicle departure alert was great, dinging a little chime now and then to remind you that the light has gone green and you should stop staring at that new restaurant in your area that still hasn't got any customers.

There's one area, though, in which the Staria falls down as a daily driver. It purely has to do with size. It's a large vehicle by Australian standards; perhaps less so in the United States where gigantic trucks are the norm. But it is worth noting. Driving the Staria on a daily basis is a delight until it comes to parking in a tight, multi-story or navigating a narrow alleyway. Then things get a little nervy. Parking is assisted by top-down view cameras along with side and rear views, but cameras don't change the fact that there's still plenty of van to squeeze into a tight spot.

This isn't the Staria's fault, per se. If you wanna move eight people around and give them all plenty of legroom, you'll need a bigger vehicle. That's simple physics. It wouldn't be such a problem in a country like the U.S., where the average spot is around 8.5 to nine feet wide. However, in Australia, where 7.9 feet is the norm, it's just a little tight. 

The size would keep me from having a Staria as a daily, but then, as an adult with zero children, that's fine. I will note that the Staria's predecessor was a full 2.9 inches narrower. That extra width makes space for broad shoulders and more cupholders, but it's shrinking the margin of error when you're parking. But with most cars getting bigger year on year, though, it was ever thus.

Button shifters should be the norm in every auto car. , Lewin Day

Competitors

Fundamentally, most vans on the market today are pretty good. They've got decent seats, fit a bunch of people inside, offer a great alternative to SUVs, and will, at the end of the day, get you and yours from point A to point B. Thus, to split the bunch, you have to look at the finer details.

In the local market, the closest competitor is the Kia Carnival, priced to a similar degree from $40,800 to $70,790 depending on trim. With a 56 percent market share in the segment, the Carnival has the Australian market sewn up. Built on the same platform as the Staria and Santa Fe—due to Kia's close links with Hyundai—it has the benefit of an established name and a touch more power in its diesel-powered version. It gives up AWD and has way fewer USB ports around the cabin, but otherwise, equipment is fairly comparable between the two.

The Honda Odyssey is another rival, though shorter and narrower than Kia or the Hyundai. It retails from $44,250 to $56,000 in the Australian currency, though is only available in a seven-seat variant in Australia, which can be a deal-breaker for some. It's a touch down on power and short on torque relative to its Korean competition, though, and the fifth-generation model, launched in 2013, is getting long in the tooth now—though it did receive a facelift in 2017. And if the Staria was sold in the U.S., you'd have to also throw models like the Chrysler Pacifica and Toyota Sienna in the mix. 

But the Staria's looks alone have got all those others beat.

Value and Verdict

As you might expect from its price point, the Staria isn't a budget model and comes well-equipped as standard. The base trim comes with plenty of kit, with a wireless phone charger and six USB charge ports as standard. Front windows come with auto-up and down switches, something that's excruciatingly left out of so many cars. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are both present across the range, too, as well as heated power-folding mirrors—a key feature for a van of this size. Jumping up to the Elite trim gets you remote start functionality, as well as multiple driver profiles for getting your seats and mirrors set up all nice when you hop in. There are also power sliding doors and a power tailgate, which are great for stunting on everyone else who has to use their hands like it's 1925 or something. Elite spec also provisions sliding windows for the second row, and window curtains for all rear passengers. 

I drove the top Highlander trim, however, plumped up with a couple of nice extra features. The beautiful 10.25" "Supervision" cluster, with its high-resolution blind-spot video feeds, was greatly appreciated during my time behind the wheel. Parents will also dig the rear passenger camera, which helps keep an eye on the kids. This trim is also the one with the heated steering wheel and heated and ventilated front seats. Finally, the Highlander gets a power sunroof option; it's a neat thing if you like looking up a lot.

Lewin Day

It's without a doubt that the Hyundai Staria is so 3008 and its competitors are all very much 2000 and late. It's competitive on price and features, but it simply looks two generations newer than most of the competition. Aesthetic charm goes a long way with buyers, and Hyundai is presently trying to wield that weapon across its range. Staria sales in the minivan segment will go a long way in telling us if that strategy pays off. 

Got a tip? Let the author know: lewin@thedrive.com.