Ever since the TRAIN law nudged the universally adored midsize SUV way past the P1.4-million mark, people have had to look elsewhere to satiate their need for seven seats. And that elsewhere ended up being the compact MPV segment.
The excise taxes levied on cars have had such a profound effect on the automotive landscape that in a chat I had with a product planner for one of the major Japanese brands, he admitted that the compact MPV category has now replaced the midsize SUV as the most highly contested segment in the market today.
Take a quick gander at our Driven section and you can confirm that this is indeed true. The space has been getting quite crowded as of late with the likes of the Mitsubishi Xpander, the Toyota Avanza, the Honda BR-V, the Nissan Livina, the Suzuki Ertiga, and many others all vying for the Filipino family’s love and affection.
Now, Hyundai throws its hat into the ring with the Stargazer. And in this range-topping GLS Premium trim, the Stargazer provides an opulent experience incomparable to the early days of the small MPV.
And I say MPV because as much as automakers like to upsell these things as mini SUVs, the Stargazer is an MPV through and through. The experience behind the wheel is calm and relaxed. The suspension does a decent job of soaking up sunken manholes, unrepaired Manila Water excavations, and the occasional roadkill.
However, the car does tend to yaw from side to side when pitched into a corner. The steering is nice and light with the ratio standing on the slower side of things. Though there is a Sport mode available, the Stargazer is devoid of anything to urge the driver into going fast and furious.
The IVT or Intelligent Variable Transmission is also tuned more for efficiency than anything else. It is quite good at keeping the revs low and delivering ample power when needed. It’s great for a CVT, too. It’s smooth and responsive, and feels quite natural—almost making you forget that this is not a gear-shifting automatic.
Hyundai has made a habit of putting top-notch engines in all its vehicles, and the 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine that powers the Stargazer is no different. With 113hp and 143.5Nm, it is slightly down on the BR-V’s class-leading 119hp.
But even then, the Stargazer still has good power down low and is undoubtedly capable of pulling a fully laden cabin up a mountain pass. It’s spritely in city traffic and impresses in terms of fuel economy. It consistently returned 8km/L, and even got up as high as 9.3km/L in pure city driving. And that’s without ever trying to discipline my right foot.
Inside, the Stargazer’s cabin design is dripping with retro-futuristic charm. Chunky slabs of functional, hard-wearing plastic dominate the dashboard, reminiscent of brutalist architectural structures of the ’70s and the ’80s. But there are enough silver accents and quirky shapes to remind you that this is indeed a modern interior.
The space is functional and capacious as well. There’s an abundance of vertical room, and passengers sit in a comfortable upright position. The second row can realistically seat three adults all with decent legroom, which can’t be said of the BR-V. The seats themselves could be improved upon, though, especially in the second row. They’re so flat that they might as well be park benches.
Nonetheless, practicality is also another strong suit of the Stargazer. Isofix anchors are present in the second row, which will surely be useful to growing families.
Of course, third-row seating is one of (if not) the biggest draws for potential buyers, and I’m happy to report that the adjustable second row makes the Stargazer’s third row a versatile space that can be used to seat modestly sized adults as well. Both rows can also fold flat into a large cargo floor.
The retro-futurism continues on the exterior of the vehicle. The front fascia’s unconventional looks mimic those of the Staria’s, and it honestly looks like the more stately and elegant execution of the Xpander’s front end.
Down the sides, the silhouette of the Stargazer is round and flowing, and Hyundai narrowly avoids making the car look like an egg with polygonal wheel arches. It has been said many times before, but yes, the taillight assembly does remind me of the Imperial Army’s TIE fighters, too.
The 16-inch alloy wheels may look a little too small, especially compared to the BR-V’s beefy stance. But overall, this is an adorable little car. One that makes you take a second look as you walk away from it. It’s interesting, quirky, and honestly very good-looking.
When it comes to electronics, the Stargazer wows right off the bat with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a wireless charging pad, and an abundant supply of USB ports front and back.
Dig deeper and it also comes with a respectable list of driver aids such as drive modes, lane-keep and lane-following assist, collision-mitigation system, blind-spot monitors, and all that good stuff.
It’s honestly not as comprehensive as the Honda BR-V’s Sensing safety suite due to the lack of an adaptive cruise control system, but then again, the Stargazer is P132,000 cheaper than the BR-V.
I really can’t fault this car. It’s well-built, well-rounded, and frugal. It’s everything anyone would want from an MPV and more in a futuristic and tasteful package. It’s also priced well at just P1,258,000 for this GLS Premium variant.
But more than anything, the Stargazer is a very strong showing in a field full of heavy hitters—a clear and decisive statement that Hyundai is back and ready to reclaim its rightful place in the industry. And I can’t see this as anything but a runaway success.
HYUNDAI STARGAZER GLS IVT PREMIUM
|Engine||1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline|
|Power||113hp @ 6,300rpm|
|Torque||143.5Nm @ 4,500rpm|
|Dimensions||4,460mm x 1,780mm x 1,695mm|
|Upside||The Stargazer is a practical and economical family hauler wrapped in a stylish, retro-futuristic package.|
|Downside||Not much, really. NVH could be better, but that's it.|