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Hyundai's H1 bargain bus driven

2009-02-09 13:02

Lance Branquinho

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Hyundai
Model H1
Engine 2.4l, in-line four
Power 126kW @ 6 000r/min
Torque 224Nm @ 4 200r/min
Transmission Five-speed manual
Zero To Hundred 16.2 sec
Top Speed 180km/h
Fuel Tank 75l
Fuel Consumption 10.2l/100km (claimed)
Weight 2 102kg
ABS Yes, with EBD
Airbags Dual front
Tyres 215/70 16
Front Suspension Mcpherson struts
Rear Suspension Live axle, coil springs
Service Intervals 15 000km
Service Plan 5 year/100 000km
Warranty 5 year/150 000km
Price R289 900 (panel van R234 000)
Rivals Mercedes-Benz Vito
Want to start up an airport or hotel shuttle service in time for 2010? Hyundai’s H1 is the latest nine-seater bus alternative.

In a forbidding market, where customers are demanding – operating running rental fleets or ferrying screaming kids to school - the large MPV market has long been the sole preserve of Mercedes-Benz, Toyota and VW.

Not necessarily beautiful, but big

A touch over 5.1m in length and levelling off at the same height as Schalk Burger, the H1 is not an inconspicuous vehicle. Styled to be as capacious as possible, H1 is not a thing of great beauty either - though the large dual-slat grille does blend well within the oversized proportions.

Those oversized proportions yield simply vast interior space. No kidding, if your five-year old gets lost between the second and third row of seats – or heaven forbid, the luggage area – you’ll have to set aside an entire afternoon to find him or her again.

H1 interior is simply massive, quality redoubtable throughout.

With the second and third row of seats in place, you still have 851L of symmetrical load-space without any nasty rear-wheel mouldings intruding. Merc’s class leading Vito offers only 730L of load-space by comparison.

Typically Korean, the interior is feature laden and assembled at a standard of perceived build quality comparable to anything Europe can muster.

H1, in the GLS trim we drove, sports a full complement of leather seats, independent front and rear air-conditioning (featuring both roof and floor mounted vents for the rear passengers) and slideable windows in the side doors.

Passenger access and debussing is easy thanks to the H1’s dual sliding doors. Third row seating is simply an under-seat straight-bar tug and push away, as the second row of seats slide forward quite easily on the floor-runners, which are well insulated from sand intrusion with comprehensive rubber protectors covering their grooves.

Cabins is well appointed, trim a bit light, those seats are sure to take abuse with regular use. Front dual passenger bench a waste of space.

I’ve always regarded the South Koreans as the world’s most industrious, logical people. Therefore the H1’s front seating configuration truly puzzled me.

It’s a dual seat bench and a separate driver’s seat (obviously) but the middle-section of the dual bench seat is completely useless, it runs right up against the centre-console. Seriously, I had my friend’s five-year old try and sit there and he immediately clambered over the back to the second row seats.

You can fold the middle seatback down to render a shallow stowage space with dual cup holders, but they should have simply made it a single passenger seat up front, and bolted in a nice, capacious load bin. It’s an inexplicable waste of space as it stands.

No diesel option

In Europe, large MPVs primarily navigate congested urban areas, delivering tourists to hotels and guest houses. Locally they hum along isolated rural byroads ferrying Europeans to exotic game lodges. Front-wheel drive just doesn’t cut it.

Squaring with a local market which demands durability and load carrying ability, H1 is configured in a traditional workhorse, rear-wheel drive layout. Suspended by McPherson struts up front and a five-link live-axle at the rear, it only carries a touch over 600kg though, which is practically a third less than the Vito’s 915kg payload capability.

Powering the H1 is a 2.4l, long-stroke four-cylinder engine profiled for torque. It produces 126kW at 6 000r/min and 224Nm at a rather peaky 4 200r/min. Having to move the H1’s 2.1 tonne bulk around it’s probably a bit out of its depth.

A centre-console mounted five-speed gearbox drives the rear wheels. The hydraulic power steering is keenly geared at a ratio of 15.61 and only needs three and a half rotations from lock to lock.

Easy driver, if a bit relaxed

In true Hyundai fashion H1 is an awfully easy vehicle to drive. Ergonomics are generally sound, visibility good and controls light. The only serious issue I had was the absence of steering wheel infotainment controls and the bizarre front seating arrangement.

When up to speed (eventually) the H1 has decent road manners. We drove H1 during severe Cape crosswind conditions and though the over assisted power steering is hardly telepathic, it doesn’t wander across the highway like a drunken colleague at the office Christmas party.

Sound insulation is good, and the ride is entirely acceptable. In fact, the only dynamic issue is the complete lack of available resources generating forward momentum. Hyundai says the H1 will sprint from 0-100km/h in 16.2 second, and I have no reason to doubt the integrity of the good people at Hyundai, but it's still awfully slow – everywhere.

Overtaking is a word banished from the H1 vocabulary, and if you actually drove it with seven passengers onboard and some luggage, you’ll be resigned to the centre - or even extreme left - lane of the N1.

It’s not overly scientific observation, but I believe a large van needs 300Nm - minimum - to get around with anything resembling drivable performance, and the torque peak should arrive between 1800- and 2800r/min. H1’s 224Nm is hopelessly inadequate and only online at 4 200r/min its murderously to high up the engine speed range.

You end up having to change gear incessantly, and with a rubbery, dynamically obnoxious throw the five-speed manual gearbox is hardly an encouraging dynamic aid.

In real world performance terms the turbodiesel Vito is light-years ahead dynamically. If Hyundai can fit the Sante Fe 2.2l turbodiesel to the H1 range, for reasons peculiarly of performance (not traditional diesel economy rational), they'll have a serious contender.

Priced at only R289 900, it offers ridiculous value - a Vito is R344 400. Even more so, the leaf-sprung panel van version retails for only R234 900.

H1 has the interior space, features and competitive pricing to be a runaway success. All it needs now is a heart transplant from an athletic donor.

Steel wheels don't have aesthetic appeal, but they'll handle dirt-road stone chips a lot better than alloys.

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