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Hyundai Staria Highlander 2023 review


It’s far cheaper than many large SUVs and packs serious space, practicality and fun. But can the Staria Highlander overcome its drab people-mover image?

Good points

  • Space-age looks
  • Boot is way bigger than most SUVs
  • Impressive safety suite
  • Interior visibility is great for everyone
  • Relatively cheap to run
  • More affordable than a large SUV

Needs work

  • Only two ISOFIX points
  • Interior is dated in some areas
  • Some cheap cabin plastics
  • 2.5T towing hindered by ball weight
  • Restricted to eight-seat layout
  • It’s tall, perhaps too tall

“Your perspective on cars is going to change so much when you become a dad and I’m excited to see it”.

It was an unsuspecting comment made by a middle-aged dad friend of mine not long after I’d driven Hyundai’s new Staria people mover and came away feeling that it was all very impressive but a bit… unnecessary.

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 rear 3/4

The boot was huge, the seats were impressively adjustable and there were more cup holders than seats at most cafes. Why on earth would anyone need this much car?

Do these sound like the thoughts of an only child? That’s because they are.

It’s coming up on a year now since I became a dad and I’ve since plonked our baby seat in just about every segment of vehicle you can think of; from hatches to medium SUVs to bush-bashing 4WD utes.

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 front 3/4 snow 2

But this is the first time I’d brought home a people mover and it’s safe to say I’ve gained a new-found respect for this type of vehicle.

Long gone are the days of the once indomitable Toyota Tarago, with the people mover game now dominated by the Kia Carnival in Australia, a model that has made short work of its competitors and hoovers up 82.9 percent of the entire segment in terms of sales.

Since its introduction in 2021, the Staria has been about the only competitor to hold a candle to its Korean rival, but then the field has become thinner with the departure of the Honda Odyssey, while others such as the Volkswagen Multivan and LDV Mifa are far more expensive.

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 side

In comparison, the Staria starts from $49,000 (before on-roads) for the petrol V6 base model and goes all the way up to $67,000 as you see it here in top-spec diesel Highlander trim.

That’s not cheap, but when a top-spec, large SUVs like the Hyundai Palisade Highlander diesel ($78,370) and Toyota Kluger Grande Hybrid ($80,230) command so much, could the Staria actually be a bit of a bargain?

What are the Staria Highlander’s features and options for the price?

Hyundai offers the Staria people mover in three core grades, starting with the ‘Staria’ base model, followed by the Elite and flagship Highlander.

All are offered with either a 200kW/331Nm 3.5-litre petrol V6 or a 130kW/430Nm 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder, though the latter comes at a $3000 premium.

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 engine

Both engines are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission as standard with the petrol V6 sending power to the front wheels only, while the diesel is mated to an on-demand all-wheel-drive system.

It’s worth noting that the Staria is also offered in two commercial-focused variants, which I recently covered off in detail within my review of the top-spec Staria Load Premium.

As far as what is offered on the Staria, the following is fitted as standard on the base model:

  • Eight-seat layout
  • Cloth seats
  • Leather steering wheel
  • 8.0-inch touchscreen 
  • Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • 360-degree camera
  • Wireless phone charger
  • Six-speaker audio system
  • 4.2-inch digital driver’s display w/ analogue dials
  • 16 cup and bottle holders
  • Rear climate controls with lockout
  • 18-inch alloys with a full-size spare
  • Heated and powered folding mirrors

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 multimedia

Stepping up the Elite adds the following:

  • 10.25-inch touchscreen
  • Wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Leather upholstery
  • 12-way power-adjustable touchscreen
  • Power sliding doors and tailgate

Finally, the Highlander adds:

  • Dual power sunroof
  • Heated and ventilated front seats
  • Heated steering wheel
  • LED cabin lights
  • Rear passengers view monitor

With all these inclusions, the Staria Highlander does shape up to be good value but you can see where Hyundai has saved the money in comparison to the $11K dearer Palisade Highlander; with features like electric adjustment for the front passenger, a head-up display, rear-seat heating or a premium stereo nowhere to be found on any grade.

How does the Staria Highlander drive?

Those who love the high-riding seat position of SUVs should find themselves at home in the Staria and I uncovered more similarities in how they drove as time went on.

There’s no getting around the fact that the Staria is a large vehicle, measuring 5253mm long and 1997mm wide, but with the short front end and large glasshouse with impressively low window lines, I was rarely caught by surprise by the size.

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 driving front 3/4

Aiding this further is the addition of large mirrors and, on the Highlander grade, Hyundai’s fantastic blind-spot view monitor that beams a live view of the side of the Staria into the 10.25-inch digital driver’s display.

The aforementioned feature is a great addition and in many ways streamlines the driving process, which can be a real advantage when your attention is constantly being drawn by your hyperactive occupants.

A major difference between how the Staria and your typical large SUV drives is the weight, with the lower ride height of the people mover providing a comparatively underslung centre of gravity that can provide a more comfortable and settled driving experience, particularly when hooting along country roads.

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 driving highway 2

That’s not to say that the Staria doesn’t have a lot of weight up top, because it does, and you do feel it, with the Hyundai sitting quite tall compared to its rivals at 1990mm high.

While great for headroom, this could be a genuine hindrance when it comes to navigating some inner-city underground car parks and you can forget about leaving roof racks on all the time unless you plan on peeling off the roof like a tin of sardines.

Once you’ve swerved away from small bridges and low-lying aircraft, however, you’re in for a much more pleasant experience, with the cabin of the Staria Highlander relatively hushed at both highway and urban speeds.

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 driving highway

It’s backed by suspension that provides a reasonably controlled and comfortable ride, with the big Staria often coasting through Sydney’s undulating roads like an ocean liner cutting through a wave.

The Staria’s 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine is easy to love; it offers strong and smooth torque delivery and can only really be heard when pulling onto the highway.

If I’m being picky though, it would be great to have a bit more grunt as after I loaded up the Staria with roughly 400kg of people and gear it did feel a bit hunkered down.

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 front 3/4 snow

Notably, the Kia Carnival, which features a similar-sized diesel engine, offers an extra 18kW and 10Nm, but the Staria counters these figures by adding all-wheel drive, which should offer the driver the ability to put more power down more frequently in adverse driving conditions.

The AWD system is relatively seamless, sending power smoothly to the rear when needed and there is also the option of locking the system in a 50/50 split front and rear if you do find yourself on one of Australia’s many dirt roads and require more consistent behaviour.

I’d shy away from any serious off-roading however, as the 186mm ground clearance is down on a traditional SUV like the Palisade (203mm) and the Staria has a very long belly to snag and drag.

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 front driving

I was shocked to learn that the Staria offers a pretty impressive 2500kg braked towing capacity but, equally, disappointed to find that it comes with the huge limitation of a 100kg cap on the maximum towball weight – a trait found across much of Hyundai’s SUV lineup and, strangely, also on the leaf-sprung Staria Load.

Hyundai does offer some load assistance tow packages on its Santa Fe and Palisade SUVs that swap in progressive loading springs at the rear and increase the down ball weight, but at the time of review no such options are available for the Staria.

What is the Staria Highlander’s interior and tech like?

The first thing you’re likely to notice about the interior cabin space of the Staria is that, well, there’s a lot of it, and this is a huge advantage over many SUVs out there.

Up front, my 180cm frame was easily accommodated and you get the sense that especially talk folk would do well here with plenty of shoulder and leg room, not to mention enough headroom to indulge the family top-hat enthusiast.

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 interior

As you would expect at this price, the seats are leather and so is the steering wheel, and while it’s not the plushest cowhide I’ve come across in a vehicle, it feels durable. Also, the fact the trim had few signs of wear despite showing over 22,000kms on the odometer is promising.

The influence of the Staria’s commercial twin creeps through in some areas when it comes to cabin materials, with some pretty harsh plastics found around the interior – though some families may argue it’s actually an advantage to have these hard-wearing materials.

Sitting centre stage in the Staria’s minimalist dash is the 10.25-inch touchscreen display that is bright and easy to reach. It has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto but both require a cable to use, which makes the wireless phone charger a bit redundant in my opinion.

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 digital dash

The litany of buttons below however are far more appreciated, with controls dedicated to climate control at the rear so there’s no fussing about on the screen.

Hyundai has integrated a passenger view camera in the second row that you can access via the aforementioned touchscreen and generally, I’m a huge fan of this feature as it stops you spinning your head around while driving to observe the chaos behind.

If I’m being critical though, the low angle of the camera means you can’t spot the face of a rearwards-facing baby and I do believe this feature deserves its own dedicated button.

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 rear camera view

Despite this being the Highlander grade, buyers are saddled with the same six-speaker stereo as the base model and while the system does get the job done, the audio quality is average at best and it would be great to see a better quality arrangement introduced in future.

Overseas, the Staria is offered in a multitude of different seating layouts including up to 11 seats along with seven- and nine-seat options with captain’s chairs – and even a campervan option!

In Australia though, we are restricted to a conventional eight-seat layout with two sliding three-seat benches behind the twin front seats.

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 rear camera

A genuine deal breaker for some buyers may be the fact that Staria only has two ISOFIX points, which are placed on the outboard seats of the second row. There are no top-tether points in the third row either.

This means that if you’ve got two rearwards-facing baby seats strapped in, your ability to slide the second row forward to load up those in the third row could be significantly restricted without first removing the aforementioned safety aids.

Essentially this means that Hyundai’s largest car has as many ISOFIX points as its smallest, the i20N hot hatch, and that’s not the sort of contrast the Staria needs.

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 rear seats

Chasing Cars understands that Australia’s unique child seat requirements, in comparison to other right-hand-drive markets, has made it difficult for Hyundai to develop and offer a unique seating configuration for our market but we hope this changes in a future facelift.

In contrast, the Kia Carnival packs a whopping five ISOFIX points across its eight seats, as does the seven-seat Volkswagen Multivan, with the German also offering direct walk-through access to the third row thanks to its dual captain’s chairs in the middle row.

That being said, I will note that the high seat and roof height of the Staria made it literally the easiest vehicle I’ve ever strapped a baby seat into. No hunched-over back or head smacking on the ceiling required.

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 baby seat

Furthermore, the (powered) sliding doors are a huge advantage over a traditional SUV or sedan as you don’t have to accommodate the extra room required to open the back doors to load babies and kids in and out.

Numerous storage pockets can be found throughout the Staria’s interior dash but my favourite is the massive centre bin between the front seats, and the pop-out cup holders in the second row are a similar exercise in everyday packaging brilliance.

With such massive dimensions, it will come as no surprise that legroom is spacious throughout; though it’s a bit nicer up front on long trips, where occupants benefit from both seat heating and cooling options.

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 front seats
Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 rear climate

During my time with the Staria, I carted the family on a long trip down the coast and a shorter trip to the zoo and in both adventures, all occupants reported feeling relatively comfortable in the cabin.

Hyundai has wisely equipped the huge windows of the Staria with sunshades in both the second AND third rows, with a plethora of old-style USB A ports in the backseats to keep devices topped up and separate climate controls in the second row to either prevent or create arguments.

Those large windows may also be a real asset for kids who are prone to car sickness, with this fantastic visibility combined with an abundance of air vents and the open-air feel of the massive interior working together to hopefully prevent tired parents from spending another night scrubbing out their floor mats.

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 boot

The spacious seats have hardly compromised the boot either, with the massive 831-litre boot actually large enough to fit a pram without even folding it up!

And remember, it does all this without compromising any space in the third row and retains a full-size spare wheel – unlike quite a lot of SUVs out there. The rear tailgate on the Staria is truly massive, however, so you may want to practise your front-in parking.

Is the Staria Highlander a safe car?

The Hyundai Staria was tested locally by ANCAP in 2021 and was awarded five stars with the following individual ratings on key areas:

  • 85% for adult occupant protection
  • 86% for child occupant protection
  • 65% for vulnerable road user protection
  • 74% for driver assistance technology

As standard, the Staria is fitted with the following safety features:

  • Seven airbags including curtain airbags in the third row and a front-centre airbag
  • Forwards AEB with pedestrian, cyclist and junction detection
  • 360-degree camera
  • Safety exit warning
  • Blind-spot monitoring
  • Lane keep assist
  • Rear cross-traffic assistance
  • Adaptive cruise control
  • Front and rear parking sensors
  • Front camera

The only safety features reserved for more expensive grades are safe exit assist on the Elite and above (which is borderline essential in a family car), and the blind-spot view monitor on the Highlander grade.

While this list of features is quite lengthy, the tuning of the lane-keep assistance was often inaccurate and too aggressive with its adjustment so I found myself turning it off.

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 safety

And with the Staria being such a family-focused car, I’m baffled to not find reversing AEB on the list – a genuine must-have for this type of vehicle in my opinion.

So while the Staria’s rear cross traffic smarts will alert the driver and then come to a complete stop if it believes you are reversing into the path of an oncoming vehicle, without reversing AEB there’s no such avoidance in play for pedestrians behind the Hyundai.

What are the Staria Highlander’s ownership costs?

During our testing, we saw an average consumption of 8.1L/100km of diesel, which is a real credit to the design and aerodynamics team considering the fundamental shape of the Staria resembles a mildly sledgehammered shipping container.

Hyundai quotes a combined average fuel consumption of 8.2L/100km so it wasn’t too far off the mark and it’s much more frugal than the V6 petrol, with its combined consumption of 10.5L/100km.

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 front driving snow

The Staria Highlander diesel needs to be serviced every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first. Hyundai offers a pre-paid service plan over five-years and 75,000km that totals $1800.

That’s substantially cheaper than the equivalent Kia Carnival diesel, which will cost $2607 over that same time and distance driven.

The tables turn when it comes to warranty, with Hyundai continuing to offer the industry standard five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty while Kia offers up to seven years.

The honest verdict on the Staria Highlander

Hyundai it seems has taken the dowdy reputation of the people mover and made it a personal mission to make it cool again and I’d argue that on this front they’ve succeeded, though not at the expense of its ability to be a good everyday vehicle.

It hasn’t nailed everything, but Hyundai clearly has an idea of what matters to van buyers and what really doesn’t, and in the process manages to keep the price of the Staria relatively affordable, even in this top-spec Highlander trim.

It doesn’t pack all the fruit of some large SUVs out there, but the monetary savings speak for themselves and you still get a vehicle that packs a strong petrol V6 with front drive or the turbo-diesel all-paw option and either can tow a serious trailer.

Hyundai Staria Highlander diesel 2021 front 3/4

The restrictive child seat seating arrangement means the Staria may be restricted to those with older kids, or heavily staggered age ranges, and that’s a real shame. The lack of reversing AEB is also a crucial misstep on what is an otherwise very safe vehicle.

Looks are subjective and not everyone is a fan but I found myself quite taken by the Staria’s spaceship vibe, which builds alongside its many incremental practical innovations to be a decision you can make with both your head and your heart.

Overall rating
Overall rating
Running costs
Overall rating
Running costs
Approximate on‑road price Including registration and government charges

Key specs (as tested)

2199 cc
Diesel Turbo
130kW at 3800rpm
430Nm at 1500rpm
Power to weight ratio
Fuel type
Fuel capacity
75 litres
8.2L/100km (claimed)
Average Range
914km (claimed)
All Wheel Drive
5253 mm
1997 mm
1990 mm
Unoccupied weight
2255 kg

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