The Hyundai iLoad, for good reasons, has become something of a surprise heavyweight in the light commercial arena, become almost on-par with many new customers looking for a one-tonne haul van in terms of being foremost in mind with the Toyota HiAce.
It’s been a full decade since the second-generation Starex, which is called the iMax locally, first appeared out of Hyundai’s factories, spawning the pared-down iLoad cargo carrier that’s come to form a considerable amount of the logistical lifeblood of Australia.
Available as the panel van (the focus of this review) or Crew configurations with 2 rows of seats, the iLoad’s blend of value, and dependability is a tough one to pass up for the budget conscious business owner, big or small. Despite it getting a little long in the tooth as far as normal cars are measured, the duration elapsed has only strengthened the Hyundai’s reputation.
In the time intervening, the iLoad has gone through some significant updates that have brought the package up to snuff with the competition. For a life continually devoted to hard service, even the smallest tweak can lead to tremendous real-world consequences, good or bad.
Fortunately, Hyundai has managed to be very careful with how they tamper with the iLoad formula, if at all. But what is it about the iLoad that makes it such a trusted workhorse?
Starting with the exterior, there’s really not all that much to fuss over. Nondescript is probably the most apt word to describe it - even after its last update in early 2016 - fitting of its purpose, but the iLoad Series II also projects Hyundai’s brand identity (albeit a dated one) quite clearly despite its vanilla appearance.
Despite its rear-wheel drive configuration causing it to lose out some raw volume from the likes of the Toyota HiAce, its still presents a solid 4,426-litres of space to work with and a maximum payload of 1,098kg (or 1,113kg with the manual) and a braked towing capacity quoted at 1,500kg. Yes, that is lower than most of its competitors, but not by a huge margin, and typically doesn’t concern the buyers that choose it.
In its most commodious bodystyle, the iLoad’s stretched out wheelbase means as much space is utilised for cargo, more specifically as floor that measures 2,375mm long, 1,620mm wide, and a maximum height of 1,340mm - basically enough space to prove more than useful for anyone seeking a vehicle of this type and class, and accessed through standard dual sliding doors.
Fitting a full-sized Australian pallet (1165mm by 1165mm) should pose no issue. However, it also has to be mentioned that the iLoad, unlike many of its competitors, cannot be had with an isolated bulkhead. Instead there’s a steel mesh divider to separate the passengers from the cargo stored behind, though that’s optional.
Speaking of storage, Hyundai has also thought of ways to improve the number and ease of access to storage areas for the occupants up front. There isn’t a laptop workstation, though, but there are plenty of cupholders as well as storage areas on the dashboard top and two full-size glove compartments.
The ‘cabin’ itself is very airy with room for three, and the interior material choices post Series I have made it a better place to sit. These cloth seats, which are thankfully adjustable, are also comfortable and should remain so even during long hauls, at which time the relatively large 7-inch central infotainment display - which also feeds in video from the reversing camera - can help with coping. Hyundai even equips it with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
Hyundai does offer the iLoad with a choice of either a petrol or diesel engine, which is a choice that may not jive with everyone to have. The 2.4-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol exerts 127kW and 227Nm on to the road, which is willing enough but only comes with a manual transmission and, in terms of pulling power, pales in comparison to the grunt of a turbodiesel.
A 2.5-litre CRDi four-cylinder turbo oil-burner is, naturally, the most popular engine choice due to its much stronger torque figures and the stretches it can manage between trips to the pumps. Despite its on paper superiority, an important point to keep in mind that its maximum output of 125kW and 441Nm is only applicable when paired with the 5-speed automatic transmission. Choose the manual, and those figures drop to 100kW and 343Nm.
That said, it’s only when fully loaded that the extra 25kW and 98Nm deficit is felt. Otherwise, these engines should feel uncannily identical despite their different tunes, and during most situations feel more than up to the task with plenty of grunt available from low in the rev range even if it isn’t as refined as the diesels found in some competitors. Though, because of its larger capacity, its claimed fuel consumption figure of 8.8-litres/100km is a little on the high side.
The iLoad, thanks to its rather peppy turbodiesel, rarely feels strained unless nearing its weighted cargo capacity. To some drivers, this might translate to a zippier journey, but comparing its (relative) agility to that of the Ford Transit Custom is one that sees the Hyundai lose.
Despite it not being as dynamic, the importance of which is questionable in vehicle such as this, the iLoad doesn’t handle like wet soap either. Steering is well weighted and predictable, while a sharp turning circle means that negotiating tight spots is a lot either than one would expect from an object this size - the good visibility and that rearview camera helps too.
When laden, the rear leaf springs do yield to make for a less busy ride, as expected, but even when unburdened the refinement levels are hardly unbearable even up to highway cruising speed provided the roads are sufficiently smooth. As the surface gets a little less predictable, having the cargo press onto the rear wheels does aid in traction.
With a 4-star ANCAP safety rating (given in 2011), the iLoad does indeed fall just shy of that coveted full score, and it stands out as one of the few present-day Hyundais sold in Australia to not have that bragging point. That doesn’t mean it should be looked down upon, though.
Front passengers have front and side airbags, there’s anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), and mandated electronic stability programme (ESP). Driving it doesn’t feel compromised and the sensation of solidity is still here despite the refinement levels dipping due to the open access nature of the passenger bulkhead to the cargo are behind.
The primary snare-tactic that Hyundai employs to keep the iLoad such a popular choice is the attractive cost of ownership prospects. The peace of mind offered by the standard five-year 160,000km warranty and comprehensive capped price service program to last the lifetime of the vehicle is, so far, unrivalled in the space. Though, depending on how much highway duty the iLoad is tasked with, the 15,000km service intervals could arrive a little quicker than some professional long-distance haulers would prefer.
WhatVan? - “It looks good, handles well, offers a user-friendly gear change and its easily-accessible cargo area boasts ten load tie-down points plus a full-height steel bulkhead.”
Behind The Wheel - “After a week in it, I wouldn’t mind driving a Hyundai iLoad and I don’t even have the need for one.”
HonestJohn Vans - 3/5 - “Keen pricing tops off the Hyundai’s list of temptations, which makes it a sound choice for those who are in this market. It’s just a shame Hyundai has not expanded the range further to appeal to more buyers.”
AutoExpress - 3.8/5 - “With a high specification and well-equipped cab, the Hyundai is good to drive and easy to live with. Twin sliding side doors are standard too, making it easy to access the load area from either side of the vehicle.”
CarAdvice - 7/10 - “This latest spruce from Hyundai has seen some worthwhile changes and additions, but it lacks configuration options available from the Volkswagen Transporter and Renault Trafic models. It’s still better than a HiAce to drive and live with, and for that reason we’d happily recommend the Hyundai ahead of the top-seller.”
CarsGuide - 7.8/10 - “…offers numerous features the venerable Toyota can't match, including one tonne-plus payload capacity, the ability to carry pallets, a choice of rear door options, greater power and torque, superior driver comfort and unmatched warranty/service/customer support. While not perfect it's a great all-round package worthy of serious consideration.”