June 14, 2024

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2021 Hyundai Staria Highlander review: Long-term update 3, off-roading and manners


Our Hyundai Staria long-term test car has all-wheel drive, so we go off-road to see how this people mover handles the rough stuff.

  • Cavernous and expandable cargo space
  • Fuel economy average in the mid-8s
  • Sides are easy to clean because they’re flat
  • Impossible to clean the roof unless you have go-go-Gadget arms
  • So much carpet to clean too
  • Ground clearance and AWD system not really for off-roading

Now, let’s get stuck into chapter three. As promised, we took the Hyundai Staria eight-seat people mover off-road to explore its lifestyle capabilities and off-roading prowess. Then I had to wash the Hyundai Staria, and I can tell you I’ve never washed a car so big. 

I can also tell you that if the roof was dirty before the wash, it’s still dirty now. I just can’t reach it. Hopefully Melbourne’s semi-regular rainy days will take care of the roof, but if not, it’s not like many other road users can see my dirty secret. Truckies, maybe, and pedestrians on overpasses.

So, how did the all-wheel-drive Staria go off-road, I hear nobody ask? Absolutely fine, but it wasn’t like we tackled the Canning Stock Route. We went out to Lerderderg State Park about 35 minutes west of Melbourne near Bacchus Marsh. There’s a great bushwalking track that starts at Mackenzies Flat and goes to Grahams Dam, which takes about an hour. 

But if you take two young boys like we did, then it will take a lot longer… Possibly. I don’t know because an unusually sunny winter’s day became rainy and wet soon after we arrived. So all we did was teach my two-year-old how to skip rocks in the Lerderderg River.

Then we went back out to Camerons Road and followed it north, deeper into the park. The bitumen road quickly turns to dirt, but it’s graded and well maintained so wouldn’t challenge a Corolla. 

We turned off onto a chopped-up side track to see how the Staria’s on-demand all-wheel-drive system handles itself in rougher terrain, and it just felt weird. Really weird. Not because the car did anything wrong. The Staria did fine, traversing the ruts with what little wheel articulation and ground clearance it has been endowed with, and the all-wheel-drive system did the job, shuffling drive to the rear wheels when the fronts started to slip.

What felt weird was seeing such a big, boxy, tall van in the bush on an off-road track. It’s like seeing Kim Kardashian at a wrestling match or John Howard bowling a cricket ball. It just doesn’t look right.

Truth be told, the Staria’s limited ground clearance and long wheelbase, and its light-duty all-wheel-drive system, are not really designed for off-roading. This van is absolutely capable of handling forestry trails to your favourite bushwalking or mountain-biking track as long as the grader keeps things flat and firm. If your idea of a dirty weekend involves anything more strenuous, then a proper SUV or 4WD is what you need. 

But for a family of four keen to get out after three weeks of Covid-positive lockdown – it went through all of us, but at least now we’re out the other side – a quick breath of country air was exactly what we needed.

On the drive back, I started to notice how thoughtful the Staria is. This is one very caring van. 

For example, heading into the CityLink tunnel, the Staria informed me that it had closed the external air vents and popped the AC onto recirc to keep those nasty fumes from our lungs. 

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When we got home, it reminded me to check the back seats because it could tell there was something weighty back there. We knew this, though, because the boys have discovered the joy of torturing us parents by babbling nonsense-words incessantly.

It also reminded me to grab my phone from the charging mat, which I am thankful for because I’ve left it there before. 

When day turns to dusk, the Staria automatically changes the colour schemes of the screens from bright white to softer black. It’s not the only car to do this, but it’s still a nice touch.

I have also discovered the Staria will automatically turn on the seat heater and steering wheel heater when I start the car on cold mornings. Another convenience feature that you don’t know you need until you have it.

Key details 2021 Hyundai Staria Highlander 2.2D AWD
Engine configuration Four-cylinder turbo diesel
Displacement 2.2-litre (2199cc)
Power 130kW at 3800rpm
Torque 430Nm at 1500–3800rpm
Transmission Eight-speed torque converter automatic
Drive type All-wheel drive
Weight (kerb) 2325kg
Power to weight ratio 55.9kW/t
Estimated range 915km
Sales category People Mover
Key competitors Kia Carnival | Honda Odyssey | Volkswagen Caravelle

That last one is a mixed blessing because the Staria’s wheel has alloy trim that does not heat up, and the contrast between toasty leather and freezing alloy is stark when your hand accidentally strays onto the latter.

One more convenience feature is the automatically closing tailgate. It has sensors back there to tell when you finish loading and step away from it, then it beeps three times and closes itself. 

All of this will make the next update a bittersweet one. Our six months with the Staria are coming to an end. But before then, I need to move the family back from Geelong to Melbourne. Last month we put our house on the market, and decamped to a family friend’s empty house so the real estate team could have unfettered access for the campaign’s duration.

It was also so we didn’t have to attempt the Herculean task of cleaning the house twice a week after the boys spend the intervening days remaking the world’s biggest mess. 

Now the campaign is over and it’s time to go back home. The house didn’t sell because we had the misfortune of timing our campaign with the Reserve Bank’s decision to hike interest rates to the moon (relatively speaking), which effectively poured ice-cold water over a once-hot property market.

Fuel Useage Fuel Stats
Fuel cons. (claimed) 8.2L/100km
Fuel cons. (on test) 8.3L/100km
Fuel type Diesel
Fuel tank size 75L

Driving from Geelong to the office three times a week has piled on the kilometres and lowered the average fuel consumption slightly. We are now showing an overall average of 8.3L/100km. Not bad for a two-tonner capable of carrying eight. 

So, one more mega-load of life’s clutter and the Staria will go bye-bye. Will I miss it? Find out next month. 

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Glenn Butler

Glenn Butler is one of Australia’s best-known motoring journalists having spent the last 25 years reporting on cars on radio, TV, web and print. He’s a former editor of Wheels, Australia’s most respected car magazine, and was deputy editor of Drive.com.au before that. Glenn’s also worked at an executive level for two of Australia’s most prominent car companies, so he understands how much care and consideration goes into designing and developing new cars. As a journalist, he’s driven everything from Ferraris to Fiats on all continents except Antarctica (which he one day hopes to achieve) and loves discovering each car’s unique personality and strengths. Glenn knows a car’s price isn’t indicative of its competence, and even the cheapest car can enhance your life and expand your horizons. 

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