Summer’s gone and it’s back-to-school season again and with a number of long holiday out-of-town weekends in distant memory, Inquirer Motoring takes a look at several passenger vans and minivans from the premium segment to the entry level commuter shuttles for those who either have growing families or even growing enterprises that are in the market for a passenger van.
Toyota Alphard, Previa and HiAce
With a price tag just a few thousand pesos below the P3-million mark, Toyota offers the only Japanese-made van in the premium segment aside from its Previa model. Popular in other Asian markets, it comes with a 3.5-liter and 2.4-liter gas engine variants with an added premium on the pearl white color. With its plush interiors and spacious cabin, it is no wonder this minivan took the 2010-2011 Car of the Year Awards (Coty) as the best premium van and MPV of the year.
Introduced in the local market last August, the most powerful variant is equipped with a 3.5 liter, 24-valve DOHC Dual VVT-I engine and matched with a 6-speed automatic transmission that gives out a maximum output of 275Ps at 6,200 rpm and 340Nm of torque at 4,700 rpm. This 7-seater has an electric ottoman for its front and second row seats. Cabin goodies like a high-end audio system features an NXT ceiling actuators Navigation system, power amenities not only for windows but for sliding and hatch doors as well as power seats makes it the best in class. Closely behind it is its cousin Previa, with stylish looks and matching comfortable cabin and similar amenities, makes this slightly smaller 7-seater a better value proposition than the Alphard.
If the Alphard is the Alpha male among premium vans, when it comes to commuter vans, Toyota’s HiAce is probably the longest surviving model in this country. Ergonomically, nothing much has changed over the years. However, its ever-reliable 2.5 liter turbo diesel engine can propel the trusty 11-seater van in and out of urban traffic as well as offer a decent cruising speed for a quick out-of-town family getaway. With a nice dual air-conditioning system and various configurations, it is considered an overall good performer for either a large family commuter or a business shuttle van.
Hyundai Grand Starex
When we think about Hyundai’s Starex, we normally think about the regular Grand Starex variant. The Hyundai Starex van came into the local automotive scene in the late 1990s when the first generation Starex vans were being brought into this market. By 2001, with the official launch of Hyundai Asia Resources, Inc. (Hari), the country’s distributor for Hyundai vehicles, saw the van quickly becoming its flagship model. After three years, the Starex GRX model came with a new engine, using its first generation CRDi (Common Rail Direct Injection) diesel engine in 2004. After another three years, Hari unveiled its third generation model called Grand Starex equipped with a more enhanced CRDi engine and a Variable Geometry Turbocharger (VGT).
Its “limousine” variant came out recently. When we say “limo,” it usually means the vehicle is a special model long wheelbase sedan. Hyundai chose the name Grand Starex Limousine to imply its topline van model is a limousine with a high ceiling bubble top roof and a luxurious as well as spacious interior. More than just a full-sized van, the Grand Starex Limo is fitted with 17-inch chrome wheels and the pull down-blinds, hiding the identity of its passengers with an air of celebrity mystery. Its interior features premium leathered swivel seats and its main highlight is its 21” flat-screen LCD TV featuring a DVD Dolby Digital 5.1 entertainment system with a 6.5” LCD touch-screen monitor on the dashboard unit complete with a navigation system and USB and memory card slots. Complementing the video system is a six-speaker system giving this limo van a surround sound theater effect, complete with mood LED lights.
The powerplant of the Grand Starex Limo is a 2.5L CRDi VGT engine type, with a maximum output of 170ps @ 3800 rpm while giving a peak torque of 40kg-m @ 2000-2500rpm range. Its tranny is an H-matic 5-speed automatic. For better stopping power, front and rear disc brakes are used. Despite that this special model gives the owner a kind of celebrity flair with its fancy blinds and on-board entertainment package, it is actually a good van for the family as well. Its roomy interior and large screen monitor allow the kids to stay put in their seats with enough elbow room to do a little horsing around while mom can pick up her favorite book with a personal light on, even with the shades up. For most purposes however, the standard Grand Starex model is better recommended, since the bubbletop limousine variant offers an above-average headroom for low ceiling mall parking buildings and basements.
Foton View Van and MPX Van
With over a dozen branches nationwide, Foton is the fastest-growing Chinese-made vehicle brand in the country today. Its Foton Blizzard pickup truck recently won as Best Pickup in the 2010-2011 Car of the Year Awards held at the PTTC last April. More than just a hauler, its View Van and MPX models have slowly been accepted in the mainstream market. It recently also launched a highly customized View Van model offering limousine versatility in interior comfort for hardworking celebrities and VIPs who require customized seating with amenities similar to motorhomes like a minibar and audio-video entertainment systems.
Its Foton MPX is a classic example of a strategically designed, value-for-money vehicle catering to a wide range of applications from personal transport to commercial and business demands. Its X-TEC chassis technology and steering system was developed by Lotus UK, makers of the famous line of British sportscars. Its safety features include ABS and EBD brake systems from Bosch as well as passive safety feature like air bags, door collision bars and a high-strength body aided by computer simulated collision design improvements by US firm Autel Co.
Aside from the MPX van, the View Van is a no-frills basic passenger van intended for either commercial or private use. Its robust four-cylinder CRDI turbo diesel engine seems to have enough horsepower for the stated load capacity and then some. It recently gained much attention since it was a van of choice by a popular game show as a raffle prize and its affordable cost and basic package offers excellent value especially for fleet and commercial purposes.
The E-150 Club Wagon’s 4.6 liter V-8 gas engine is matted with a 4-speed automatic transmission with overdrive that produces 225 horsepower but more than that it is flex fuel capable. Ford’s Flex Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) can run on E85 (85 percent ethanol/15 percent gasoline) or on straight gasoline, or any combination of the two, giving it the versatility on the pump and on power on the pedal. Its center-aisle ship-thru option offers full size comfort for seating up to seven passengers, and all rear bench seats have center-position, 3-point, seat-integrated safety belts that are easy to remove and re-install with its self-latching system. Its front captain’s chair has been re-engineered and reshaped with a comfortably new design, the new front Quad Captain’s chairs comes with six-way power driver’s seat and are built for all-day support.
Its AdvanceTrac system with RSC (Roll Stability Control) works in conjunction with the van’s ABS, traction control and yaw control which automatically determines when and how to apply individual brakes and modify its engine power to help keep all four wheels firmly planted on the road. This is the only stability control system that is equipped with gyroscopic sensors that measures both vehicle roll and turning rates. When the van is turning or swerving too quickly, the RSC applies brake pressure and reduces engine power to help keep the van under control. It is also equipped with a tire pressure monitor to ensure even tire pressure at all times. One can travel in luxury and safety with its leather trimmed seats and premium mobile media entertainment system packaged in a large cocoon of comfort and power.
About five years ago, Universal Motors Corporation introduced the “Ur Van, Ur Business” (UVUB) program. It was an innovative Entrepreneurship-Corporate Social Responsibility program that cleverly ties up vehicle marketing and promotions targeting entrepreneurship among the economically active OFW and entrepreneur market. Offering a myriad of seating configurations and platforms, the Urvan has 12-, 15-, 18- and even 21-seater configurations as well as cargo and ambulance van configurations to match any commercial and even personal passenger requirements. Its powerful 2.7 liter diesel engine is flexible and robust to handle most applications that have the extra punch for highway cruising and stop-and-go urban traffic acceleration. Its dual air-conditioning system allows it to be a versatile and comfortable shuttle and commuter van.