Hyundai H-1 2.4 GLS (2009) Driving Impression


There was a time when minibuses were rather popular family cars in South Africa. Consider the iconic VW Kombi and David Kramer combination of the ‘80s, for example. But even Toyota’s Hiace once sold well to private buyers.

Due to a number of factors, but mostly rising costs, high theft rates and the popularity of SUVs, sales of these vehicles have declined sharply. A family friendly version of Volkswagen’s classy T5 now sells for more than R350 000, beyond the financial reach of most households. And on the other hand, most well-to-do families won’t consider a Quantum for fear of theft etc.

But now Hyundai has introduced the H-1, a spacious, well-equipped nine-seater bus that sells for less than R300 000, with a long service plan included. Could it reignite interest in the minibus?

Not a box

Unlike most minibuses available in South Africa at present, the Hyundai H-1 doesn’t look particularly utilitarian. Yes, the cheap-looking 16-inch steel wheels are unfortunate, but as for the rest the Hyundai looks appreciably upmarket. Through the clever use of colour-coding, hidden rear door rails and a curve here and there, the H-1 avoids the slab-sided look that plagues most rivals.

But don’t for a moment be fooled into thinking that its rounded design has negatively impacted occupant and cargo space. The H-1 is a big vehicle, measuring 5 125 mm in length and standing 1 935 mm high. If you plan to park it in your garage, make sure it’ll fit first…

Like most vehicles in this segment the H-1 boasts three rows of seating, each catering for three passengers. But unlike its main rivals, the H-1 features lots of seating adjustment, meaning occupants can tailor legroom not only for themselves, but also to the benefit of those seated behind them.

For example, the front bench seat for two passengers is separate to the driver’s and can slide backward/forwards to improve legroom. Even so, the centre “seat” in the front row should be reserved for the person who drew the short straw, as it’s not particularly comfortable and also doubles as a type of drinks table.

The middle row is arguably the best, boasting sliding functionality over a range of 100 mm, as well as reclining backrests. The sliding function allows middle passengers to move slightly forward, to free up legroom for those seated in the rear. Hyundai has made sure that all passengers are as comfortable as possible, with second- and third-row passengers benefiting from overhead ventilation outlets, drinks holders and reading lights. The boot is massive, too, with Hyundai claiming an 851-litre capacity.

Upmarket ambience

Where the Hyundai puts clear distance between itself and class rivals is in the look and feel of its interior fittings. Surprisingly, the facia is mostly constructed out of soft-touch materials. The charcoal-coloured upper section of the cabin contrasts nicely with the beige upholstery and trim lower down, too. This is, however, not the most practical colour for the vehicle’s potential frequenters (children).

With a height-adjustable driver’s seat, as well as rake-adjustment for the steering wheel, the H-1 driving position is more “SUV” than “minibus”. The centre section of the facia is also neatly laid out, with clearly marked controls and a handsome silver finish. The gear-lever sprouts from the bottom of the facia, freeing up foot space and falling easily to hand. Unfortunately (some of) the controls for the audio system require a bit of a stretch, an irritation exacerbated by the lack of remote audio controls on the steering wheel.

The standard features list is comprehensive, as you’d expect from Hyundai, but possibly not for this size of vehicle and at this affordable price level. It includes air-conditioning (with separate rear controls), power steering, and radio/CD system with auxiliary support, electric windows/mirrors, dual front airbags as well as ABS with EBD.

The fly in the ointment

If the H-1 has a weak spot, unfortunately it is in the powertrain department. Even in the smaller Sonata sedan, the 2.4-litre petrol engine is neither the most energetic nor most efficient of engines, feeling more asthmatic than its 126 kW and 224 Nm output figures would suggest.

In the H-1 its relatively poor flexibility (important for overtaking acceleration) is highlighted by the vehicle’s more than 2-tonne weight. That said, it feels decent around town, only suffering at higher speeds and when called upon to overtake. Another negative of the engine is its high fuel consumption – expect to achieve around 13 litres/100 km… at best.

If you’re not in a hurry, however, the H-1 is a lovely vehicle to drive, and to be driven in. The NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) control is really good, lending the H-1 a refined character that fits perfectly with the upmarket cabin ambience.


At the price, the Hyundai H-1 GLS is excellent value for money, offering the kind of space, practicality and luxury that once made minibuses very attractive alternatives to sedans or stations wagons. Yes, the engine doesn’t quite deliver the goods, and it’s thirsty, but it shouldn’t be a deal breaker, as the rest of the package is quite superb.

We like:

Value for money

Build quality

Driver comfort

Large boot


We don’t like:

Impractical beige trim

Fuel thirst

Lacks overtaking power

Fast facts

Engine: 2.4-litre, four-cylinder, petrol

Power: 126 kW @ 6 000 rpm

Torque: 224 Nm @ 4 200 rpm

Transmission: five-speed manual

Wheels: 16-inch steel

Top speed: 182 km/h

0-100 km/h: 16.5 seconds

Fuel economy: 10.2 litres/100 km

Also consider:

Nissan Primastar 1.9 dCi:

Consider this weird-looking vehicle to be part utilitarian workhorse, part people carrier. Surprisingly nice to drive (it’s mostly French, after all), and massively spacious.

SsangYong Stavic SV270 XDi:

Certainly an odd-ball choice, but the Stavic is not without its charms. Features a plucky 2.7-litre turbodiesel engine and good comfort levels. Only seven seats, though, and it’s popular with funeral companies…

Toyota Quantum 2.7 10-seat:

Don’t laugh… The Quantum may be more utilitarian than the Hyundai, but if you need a reliable people transporter for your business, then it’s still worth a good look. Packs two airbags as part of a surprisingly comprehensive standard features list.