Hyundai's i800 is a newcomer to the small but apparently growing market for vehicles that can comfortably transport more than half a dozen adults - and what a newcomer it is. It's rare to find, a group of motoring journalists gathered round a car saying, "isn't this just great?" but that's pretty much what I've seen happening with the i800.
It is truly vast, so much so that at six foot three I can sit in every one of the eight seats without any feeling of being squashed in. All those seats are impressively comfortable, they have proper three-point lap-and-diagonal belts, and access to each of them is excellent - there's no question here of having to clamber over or squeeze past things to reach the back row.
It's common for cars with an unusually high number of seats to have very little room left over for luggage, but that's not the case here. Even with eight adults on board the storage volume is a startling 851 litres, and although this is partly due to the i800's considerable height (which is in itself very useful if you have to carry anything tall) there is still about as much space up to the top of the rear seats as you'll find in, say, a medium-sized family car.
When you start folding seats, of course, the capacity increases hugely, to the point where you might be able to use the i800 to move house. In fact, if you want to escape the rat race of the property market, the i800 could actually be your next house.
The reason there's so much space is that the i800 is basically a van (not one that's sold in the UK at the moment, though Hyundai is looking into that). That's why it has as much room as a van, and why it looks like a van, why it has a van-like seating position and why it drives very much like a van.
There's nothing particularly wrong with that as long as you're prepared to make a few compromises. Entering a sharp corner without taking off a lot of speed first would be unwise, and the ride is a bit crashy over bumps, though passengers in all three rows assured me that it feels very comfortable on more even road surfaces.
Mind you, the level of equipment is far from being van-ish. As standard, the i800 comes with alloy wheels, air-conditioning (separately adjustable by the occupants of all three rows), privacy glass, heating and height adjustment for the driver's seat, a modest amount of leather trim, a reclining function for every seat, reversing sensors (a good idea considering how long this thing is) and rear "mood" lighting with a choice of colours. The only thing I really missed was reach adjustment for the steering wheel, though you can alter its height, which I suppose is something.
The only engine available for the i800 is a 2.5-litre turbo diesel producing 168bhp. On paper it doesn't make the car perform especially well (0-62mph in 14.5 seconds, top speed of 112mph) but frankly that's as much performance as you need; if there were any more the driving experience could become rather alarming. The only gearbox provided is a five-speed manual - there's no automatic option.
Perhaps the i800's great selling-point is the fact that you get all this for just £19,495, which is an incredible sum considering all the practicality you get in return. Running costs might be fairly high because the official combined fuel economy figure is just over 33mpg (it's likely to be in the mid- to high-20s in real life) and the 225g/km CO2 rating means you'll pay £300 in VED next year. That was a close-run thing, actually - 1g/km more and the i800 would have been one band higher, and annual tax would have shot up to £415.
If any of this is an issue, Hyundai has some splendid news. Later this year it will be introducing a lower-spec i800, with about 35bhp less power from a detuned version of the same engine and slightly more basic Comfort trim, for about £18,500. As well as being cheaper to buy it will also be more economical and probably fall into a lower tax bracket, and that's going to make it a very appealing machine. Even as things stand, though, the i800 Style is a remarkable piece of work which I'm sure will delight the few hundred UK customers Hyundai expects to attract each year.
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