Dec 6 2008 John Scantlebury
Hyundai i800 2.5 CRDi
YEARS ago I used to coach a mini-rugby team and one of the major problems on Sunday morning was finding a sufficient number of parents' cars to take the squad to away fixtures. What I would have given for the Hyundai i800 then!
This is not just huge, it is enormous, well over five metres long and nearly two metres tall and wide. That means it swallows eight people with ease and still has a very large space left over for luggage, which puts the vehicle in a class of its own.
The only rival would be a minibus, but this is much smarter than that and I can see it appealing as a means of mass transport for hotels, businesses, clubs and, yes, even super-sized families. What makes it especially tempting is a price tag that is under £20,000, even in this specially-equipped Style version.
The i800 doesn't go in for clever tricks, in that the 2-3-3 full-size seating doesn't disappear into the floor, for example, and can't be removed - you just have a slide facility to adjust the share-out of space and to facilitate easy access and exit. But the seats recline and, in practical terms, the walk-through from first to second rows and the sliding rear doors are helpful.
You also get a step and a grab handle to haul yourself aboard and, once in, there's a wonderful, lofty look-out for all occupants, apart from the familiar front-pillar problems. The driver has to remember, though, that other cars, bikes and pedestrians are well below eye level and be especially wary, particularly at night. The curious absence of a rear wiper means that rearward visibility is dodgy, too, in bad weather, and the standard reversing sensors are vital.
What is surprising is that such a lump of a vehicle actually behaves itself quite well and is not a pain to drive. Indeed, the i800 has a quite sophisticated suspension, with multi-link at the rear, MacPherson struts at the front and gas-filled shock absorbers, and, beyond some inevitable lean through bends and jiggle on poorer surfaces, it shows quite nice control.
Clearly, you are not going to enjoy agility, verve and driving pleasure, but the rear-wheel drive adds to the secure feel, there's an electronic stability programme, with traction control, at work and the ABS includes electronic brake force distribution. At this bulk, there are some places you wouldn't take the car, yet, remarkably, it has a turning radius of only 5.61 metres, so it is not impossible to manoeuvre.
And there are no doubts about the willingness of the new 168hp 2.5-litre turbo diesel engine. It's a bit rumbly initially as it works to get 2,270kg of car under way, but it evolves into a smooth cruiser and there's no shortage of pull, 289lb/ft of it, so a full load is taken in its stride. Given the mass it is propelling, the 33mpg average economy is quite fair, but CO2 emissions of 225g/km are off-putting.
The engine is teamed with a routine five-speed manual transmission, with the shift sited in the metal-grain centre console. That means it comes easily to hand, unlike the hand brake lever which is a long way down. I put the adjusting driver's seat to its lowest level to combat this but a lean and stretch was still required.
The seat-height variation does partly compensate for height-only adjustment of the leather-covered steering wheel, but all other functions are well-thought-out, with a quite neat controls console that also includes pop-out drinks holders and couple of power points.
Other facilities include air conditioning with separate controls for passengers in the rear (they also get mood lighting and privacy glass), heated driver's seat, six-speaker radio/CD player with MP3 compatibility, electric front windows and door mirrors, trip computer, automatic dimming rear-view mirror, 16in alloys and front fog lights, while the sliding doors have childproof locks.
Disappointingly, there are just front airbags and not a lot of in-car stowage facilities, although there are double bins in the doors. Luggage capacity is 581 litres.
The i800 is for a very specialised market, but Hyundai has been quite clever in spotting the gap and filling it with bargain-price style. Add in the company's five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty and it becomes a very tempting choice for group travel.
Hyundai i800 2.5 CRDi
Price : £19,995
Mechanical : 168bhp, 2,497cc, 4cyl diesel engine driving rear wheels via 5spd manual gearbox
Max speed : 112mph
0-62mph : 14.5 secs
Combined mpg : 33.2
Insurance group : 14
CO2 emissions : 225g/km
BiK rating : 35%
Warranty : 5yrs/ unlimited mileage, 6yrs paint, 6yrs anti-rust