Ryan Bubear spends a little time with the refreshed nine-seater Hyundai H-1 2.5 CRDi Wagon...
Remember 2009? Back when Barack Obama took over from George W. Bush in the US, Avatar and its bizarre blue-skinned humanoids hit the big screen, and one Schabir Shaik waltzed out of prison on, er, medical parole?
Feels like a long time ago, right?
Well, that's because it was — particularly for a certain convicted fraudster who was supposedly on his deathbed way back then. But, alas, we digress. Yes, 2009 was also the year the Hyundai H-1 range arrived in South Africa.
Thing is, this 5150mm-long bus (along with the panel-van and later-introduced multicab derivative) has plodded along virtually unchanged over the past seven years, racking up somewhere in the region of 11 000 local sales. Pretty impressive, considering.
Now the Korean brand has finally seen fit to give the ageing H-1 a little attention. The cosmetic updates are subtle, and comprise little more than a tweaked front grille design, a faintly redesigned front bumper, and a shiny new set of 16-inch alloys. Around back, though, absolutely nothing has changed.
Inside, the alterations are similarly understated, with the dashboard's remodelled centre stack — which houses new air-conditioning and audio controls — the most obvious. But look closer and you'll notice that the Hyundai H-1 wagon has also gained Bluetooth and a leather-wrapped multi-functional steering wheel, along with cruise control.
Further specification updates include a fully automatic climate control system (still with a handy rear fan control up front), a small cooled glovebox, an auto-down function for the driver's window, and electrically retractable side-mirrors. Side airbags have also been added to the mix, taking the total tally to four, and this diesel model gains an electronic stability programme, too.
The Seoul-based automaker, however, has opted to leave the powertrain untouched, which is a great pity where the long-in-the-tooth 2.4-litre petrol mill is concerned. Thankfully, though, the unchanged 2.5-litre turbo-diesel engine in the flagship model is more than sufficient (and more frugal, with a claimed consumption of 9.8 litres per 100km), even if it commands a R100k premium.
Still, the diesel variant is slightly better equipped and employs a surprisingly agreeable five-speed automatic transmission (considering its age), rather than the manual cog-swapper found in the petrol model. The 2497cc oil-burner still provides the rear wheels with 125kW at 3600rpm and a useful 441Nm, although the full serving of the latter is on tap only in the narrow band between 2000rpm and 2250rpm.
But the self-shifting transmission does an admirable job of keeping the four-cylinder forced induction engine on the boil, although we didn't manage to put it to the sternest of tests — travelling with all nine seats occupied.
Yes, technically, the Hyundai H-1 2.5 CRDi Wagon is a nine-seater, if you count the tiny, fold-down perch squeezed between the driver and front passenger. And this gives it a small advantage over some of its closest rivals (such as the new Volkswagen Kombi and Ford Tourneo Custom), which carry fewer passengers.
But, despite the fact that it has the ability to seat just two members short of a full cricket team, the Hyundai H-1 bus still has luggage space in spades. Yes, the load volume comes in at a frankly massive 842 litres (with a full-size spare steelie mounted underneath the vehicle), although sadly the third row still doesn't fold flat, preventing it from easily transforming into a load-lugging van.
Access to the second and third rows — each of which seats three — is fairly painless, thanks a lightweight sliding door on either side of the vehicle. The second row furthermore has the capacity to tilt and slide forwards, making ingress to the rearmost quarters a cinch.
The centre passenger in every row, it must be noted, has to make do with a lap-belt, while IsoFix child-seat anchors are sadly not offered. Other minor bugbears include a lack of reach adjustment on the steering and the absence of one-touch lane-change indicators. In addition, we noticed a few minor creaks and rattles around the cabin, seemingly emanating from certain seats and the dashboard, despite the fact that the vehicle had covered just 5500km.
The bus derivative retains its five-link rear suspension setup (the workhorse models employ leaf springs), which makes for a fairly settled ride. The driving position is obviously lofty and visibility a strength, while the standard rear parking sensors take some stress out of low-speed manoeuvres.
After the latest round of local price hikes, the Hyundai H-1 2.5 CRDi Wagon's price-tag has swelled to R599 900, which means it's no longer not quite the bargain it once was. Still, if one takes into account its relatively strong standard specification, the big Hyundai is competitively positioned against the likes of the somewhat classier but not-as-spacious Volkswagen Kombi and Mercedes-Benz V-Class.
Ultimately, the latest updates — as subtle as they are — are likely sufficient to keep the H-1 bus relevant in the multi-seat-MPV segment. But the fact that Hyundai describes the refresh as a "mid-cycle make-over" makes us hope we won't have to wait another seven years for the next generation.
Because, by 2023, the game will most certainly have moved along. But whether Mr Shaik will have, is another question altogether...
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See page two for specs and pricing.