High spec, low price and neat touches make the i800 a useful minibus, says David Wilkins. What do the panel think?

Model: Hyundai i800 2.5 CRDi Style
Price: £19,495
Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel
Performance: 112mph, 0-62mph in 14.5 seconds, 33.2mpg
CO2: 225g/km
Worth considering: Ssangyong Rodius, VW Caravelle, Mercedes Viano

A few weeks ago, when our panel tried out the Golf-sized Hyundai i30, I took the opportunity to explain how Hyundai is trying to position its cars as premium products that can compete with the better European and Japanese models on equal terms.

At first sight, this week's test car, the enormous, keenly priced i800, doesn't really seem to fit into this picture. Bigger than most large people-carriers, it costs less than £20,000 yet can carry eight occupants in three rows of generously sized seats, as well as a huge amount of luggage, even with the third row in place. The Style version tested here is the top-of-the-range model; the slightly less well-equipped Comfort will cost even less, which should make it one of the cheaper vehicles available on a pounds-per-seat basis.

Now, it's true that there's no such thing as an Audi or a BMW minibus, but the i800 isn't that far off beam, given Hyundai's aspirations. For a start, some of the posh European manufacturers do offer vehicles in this bracket – the Mercedes Viano and Volkswagen Caravelle spring to mind, although they start at about £24,000 and £29,000 respectively. And once you spend time with the i800, you realise that it has a fair amount of substance. The interior appears extremely tough and hard-wearing; the seats are actually faced in plastic, although clever texturing means that this isn't apparent at first glance. Equipment levels are high.

I suppose it's stating the obvious to say that this Hyundai's size, weight and shape mean it isn't going to be the first choice of the keen driver, but it acquits itself pretty well on the road. In particular, the i800's 168bhp diesel engine gives it a remarkable turn of speed and supports high gearing (through a five-speed manual) that makes for relaxed motorway cruising. And it is surprisingly easy to thread through narrow spaces.

Quibbles? Only the mysterious failure to fit a rear wiper; fix that, and I foresee a successful life for the i800 on airport taxi fleets.

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David Bradshaw, 61
ICT manager, Ripponden
Usual cars: Audi A6 Allroad quattro TDI, Merc SLK 280

However you approach it, the i800 is big. Once in the driving seat, though, it is not in the least intimidating. The view forward is superb, while the mirrors are large and allow for accurate manoeuvring in town and country, and on the motorway. The lack of a wiper for the large rear window is a strange omission. The dash and controls are car-like and clearly laid out, but the handbrake is a bit of a stretch down. On the move, the powerful diesel engine is never obtrusive and pulls like a train from low revs. The gear-change was a little woolly but the steering was precise and light. For the larger family – or for the airport taxi-run – the eight seats and vast boot space mean that the i800 represents excellent value, with its high standard specification. I liked it.

Pete Scholes, 51
Managing director, Leeds
Usual car: Ford Mondeo Diesel Estate

First impressions are that the i800 looks like a van and drives like a van. I'd expected more from the 2.5-litre diesel engine, which could be noisy at times, although it is pulling quite a weight. But as I drove it, I warmed to it. It feels solid, well built and refined enough to use for business and the family. Unlike smaller people-carriers, you can seat eight people and still have plenty of space for luggage. The driving position is good, and the dashboard simple and functional. It cruised nicely at speed on the motorway, and the huge door mirrors ensure that you have no blind spots. I particularly liked the independent air-con and heating for the rear seats. On the downside, the tinted windows just made a grey day look even greyer.

Pauline Pickett, 51, with Louise, 16, and Emily, 13
Clinical psychologist, Leeds
Usual car: Suzuki Wagon R

This is a large and practical vehicle, especially inside. Seven of us sat comfortably, with plenty of legroom. The seats are easy to move back and forth, and people in the back can get themselves out easily. The rear luggage space is impressive. Heating and heated driver's seat are good. It feels solid and safe to drive, with clear controls, and has good visibility with large wing mirrors and high windows. Reversing is easy as you can see the four corners. I'm not keen on the darkened windows or the lack of a rear wiper, and the gear-stick had indentations that hurt my hand. The large sliding door on each side makes access good, as do the handles to help you get in. The large step up to enter the vehicle would be difficult for some.

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