Generally, when it comes to reviewing vehicles in the name of work (a real laborious task if you’re wondering) it’s relatively straightforward in attempting to evaluate them. Sedans and hatchbacks get used as we all do with our daily drives. Pick-ups and SUVs should get their shoes soiled a little and maybe their backs loaded up with large cargo.
Sporty or performance models? Well that’s definitely an early morning drive up Genting or Sungai Koyan to Cameron Highlands. MPVs, sort of the same as daily drives but with a few more people loaded in the rear.
Large passenger vans can be a bit of a stickler though. Firstly, they seat in the double digits and above. Secondly, we don’t have that many friends.
And now, we’ll take a short intermission to gaze back on vans in our market. Vans tend to be shunned in this part of the world. It’s sadly understandable given their utilitarian roots that were prioritised for maximum cargo space ahead of refinement. However, the need to occasionally haul a football team’s worth of people is very real and MPVs simply won’t cut it for a lack of seating capacity.
Typical MPVs cease their clown-car act at a max of seven or eight so you’ll have to make the leap to a van and truth be told, the options are few and far between. For industrial applications such as ferrying employees, cargo vans fitted with bench seats, lap belts and not much more hark back to the van’s roots but for more civilised intentions something a little more refined and comfortable is required.
For a number of years now, the Hyundai Grand Starex has been the de facto choice solely from a lack of competition. The Korean however is way past its sell-by-date, having survived on minor facelifts such as a DVD player and that garish take on the Lexus-ish predator grille.
Competition breeds excellence though and a new contender has emerged with some mighty impressive credentials. The Weststar Maxus G10 is a 10-seater built on a ladder-frame with a front engine driving the rear wheels and is a product SAIC Motors; one of the more established carmakers from China.
Nonetheless, the first red flag was the use of a 2.0-litre turbo four petrol engine in place of the usual turbo-diesel that can muster the torque required for hauling the load. This is highly unusual as an turbo -diesel is regarded as the default choice for the segment.
Maxus does have a diesel engine in its portfolio but reasoned that diesels are still stigmatised here as commercial workhorses and a petrol engine would appeal more towards families and private owners for personal use.
However, this petrol mill isn’t lacking in terms of performance. It sends 225hp and 345Nm to the rear wheels through the six-speed automatic ZF box. In comparison, the Starex makes 100Nm more torque but loses out a little in horsepower as all diesels do.
Trying to make a box handsome is akin to polishing a turd. There isn’t much wiggle room for swooshes or strokes that don’t sacrifice cabin space. Having said that, the G10 is certainly easier on the eyes than the abomination that is the current Starex. Inoffensive can be used generally for every angle. It seats 10 so the dimensions reflect that. It measures in larger than the Starex too.
Two trims are available; an entry-level and SE pack. Even the basics are impressive though. You get 16-inch wheels, xenon headlamps with LED DRLs, LED taillights, a sunroof, keyless entry, cruise control, climate control, parking sensors, reverse camera, ESC and leather seats.
You should splurge on the SE though, for the convenience more than anything. Fortunately, we had the SE to try and find another nine friends aided by powered sliding doors on both sides, a 360-degree birds-eye view camera, a 220V three-pin power point and touchscreen infotainment. There’s also 18-inch wheels but the 16s would’ve probably been more comfortable in something like this.
The 10 seats are split in a 2-3-2-3 configuration with the third row being captain chairs and the second and forth benches. If the 10 came packing bags, you’d be a in a bit of a pickle but the last row bench offers 60:40 folding so you can easily fit eight (one in the last row) and their luggage; which is all the friends we could muster anyways.
Although both sides have sliding doors, the second row is pushed a little to the right for easier ingress and egress from the third and fourth rows. Maxus has gone Oprah with the seatbelts; everyone gets one, although the middle occupant makes do with a lapbelt. Isofix mounts are standard for baby seats.
All in, room isn’t an issue in the G10. The second and third rows can slide to adjust legroom and air-conditioning vents for all rows kept everyone cool during the roadtrip. Yeah, we took it on a roadtrip with eight and luggage that covered over 1,000km in a couple of days.
Now before anyone brings up the issue of build quality, let us assure you it was way beyond impressive. There’s no nappa leather or crystal knobs but the fittings and fit & finish was all on point. Switchgear felt stout, not flimsy. Panels had uniform gaps and didn’t rattle. Luxury wasn’t the goal here, it was more towards refinement. That ginormous touchscreen is pretty nifty as well and the infotainment system is relatively user-friendly.
The same can be said about its ride and demeanour on the road. Said roadtrip was the acid test for the petrol engine and the initial skepticism was quashed with immediacy. The G10 had no issue keeping pace with highway traffic even with a load of eight (we keep repeating that figure because we finally need more than one hand to count our friends). If you're curious what it rides on, that'll be Macphersons at the front and a rear five-link coil setup with Nivomat self-levelling monotube shocks.
It’s no slouch although you can’t drive it expecting instantaneous response from the engine. Once the turbo is well fed though, it does drive with some haste and lag is eliminated early on.
The six-speed auto is more than adequate for the job. Gears are spaced out well for city traffic and highway cruising. We managed to get it up to well beyond the speed limit while cruising and it never once felt like we asked too much of it. In fact, it barely broke a sweat maintaining said pace for extended durations.
Were there times we wished it had a torquey turbodiesel? Not at all. It even took on the ascend to Cameron Highlands with a steady pace. Did we feel it might have been a little easier with an oil burner? Yes, but it never once felt like it needed one.
Perplexing at first, it was hard to quantify the G10’s ride. There was simply nothing to say about it. Call it uneventful, but in a vehicle such as this that’s probably what you want… no, that’s what you need. Sometimes, having nothing to say can be a good thing.
A concern though is the handling aspect of it. Gravity, momentum and most other laws of physics are against it here. Isaac Newton was probably more of a convertible man with those luscious locks of his.
Given its conflict with physics, the bare minimum expected from the G10 was handling that didn’t shake the confidence of the driver. Something many forget when getting behind the wheel (yeap, we did it again) of a heavier vehicle is the momentum it builds up has to be taken into account when braking or changing directions.
Newton’s first law states that every object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force. The external force is the driver braking or executing steering input.
Fortunately, everything was up to the task. Discount any sort of enthusiastic driving here, the focus is solely on the feedback to the driver in maneuvering with a full load of 10 while in motion.
Speaking of maneuvering, navigating the G10 through tight confines can leak some sweat in sensitive areas. The 360-degree bird’s eye view system helps tremendously although the cameras don’t function too well in low light conditions. Still, much like carrying a gun… it’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.
Having said that, summing up the G10 is pretty much a case of precisely that. It has everything you could possibly need or want in a large passenger van. Throughout the roadtrip, it didn’t put a foot wrong. Just over a 1,000km and the G10 aced it all, so much so that none of our new friends (last time, scouts’ honour) could point out any glaring shortcomings.