Hyundai i800

Koreans’ largest model is big on value. Is that enough to win?

Badge heritage isn’t normally something you associate with Hyundai, but van-based family car buyers are usually more willing than most to leave their brand snobbery behind in search of a bargain. You don’t choose a Fiat Doblo, Citroen Berlingo or Peugeot Partner Tepee for fashion! The Caravelle sidesteps the stigma that comes with most boxy models. Can the i800 do the same?
Lined up next to the VW, the Korean car looks awkward. It makes no apologies for its commercial origins, with its upright headlamps, huge windscreen and plain shape. That alone will persuade some people to spend the extra on the Caravelle.
But before you’re too hasty, it’s worth taking a look inside. Open the door and you’ll need to use the built-in step to climb up into the driver’s seat – you sit so high, you can look 4x4 drivers in the eye. While the Hyundai’s dashboard is solidly built and generously equipped, it doesn’t have the class or quality that comes as standard with the VW.
It’s a different story altogether in the rear. Where the Caravelle Startline has the look of a van with some expensive seats fitted, the Hyundai feels more like a properly finished car. The second row features a sliding bench for three, while there’s room for another three behind that. While an adult won’t be comfortable in the eighth seat for long, such extensive accommodation is unique. And even with eight people on board, you get a massive 851-litre luggage capacity. 
But there is a catch. The seats aren’t removable without the aid of a tool kit, and they don’t even fold! Although the seatbacks recline, they are fixed in place, severely limiting the Hyundai’s versatility. Making up for this is the fact the i800 is 235mm longer than the VW, at 5,125mm, so it’s still an incredibly capable load carrier with all its seats in place.
More points are scored under the bonnet. While the entry-level Startline makes do with an underpowered engine driving the front wheels, the i800 gets a gutsy 168bhp 2.5-litre diesel driving the rear. Performance is still far from brisk, but this punch gives the Hyundai the edge for overtaking, particularly when fully laden.
Despite the extra pace, the i800 is more intimidating to drive than its opponent here. Even though it’s only 16mm wider than the VW, at 1,920mm, the Hyundai is more difficult to place on the road, thanks to its vague steering and less precise handling.
Unless you drive on narrow lanes every day, though, you’ll forgive this when you see the price. While steeper depreciation wipes out much of the i800’s £4,125 saving over the Caravelle, you won’t need to spend as much on options – the Startline appears sparsely equipped in comparison. Plus, the Hyundai comes with a five-year warranty. 
The sole sticking point could be economy – it returned only 25.9mpg in our hands, and might prove costly for high-mileage drivers.


Chart position: 1WHY: Decent carrying capacity and family fun needn’t cost the earth, as this eight-seater with plenty of equipment shows.

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