It’s not often that we come across a vehicle that can inspire happiness and joy every time you think about it, but the 2022 Hyundai Staria Highlander does just that. And as an added bonus, it has all-wheel drive and a diesel powertrain.

Looking more like a Galactic Empire Navy Star Destroyer, it’s not hard to imagine the Staria Highlander as a vacation/road trip memory maker for Vader families. Hyundai’s Stormtrooper carrier turned heads everywhere.

His size and appearance aroused great interest from fellow road riders and sheer jealousy from their imprisoned families. The Staria’s futuristic spaceship look is complemented by the beautiful factory 18-inch alloy wheels, front horizontal DRL lightbar and rear LED taillights.

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Sleek but minimal lines and a tailgate spoiler give it the look and feel of a sleek intergalactic explorer. If it weren’t for the Hyundai logo on the front, back and rims, you’d be scratching your head and wondering, “What the heck is that?”

Inside the Staria, the spaceship theme continues. With comfortable leather seats throughout, we guarantee that at least one of your astronauts will be unconscious by the end of your journey. The front pair is heated and ventilated with rider power adjustable.

Inside the 2022 Hyundai Staria Highlander AWD

A heated leather steering wheel, mood lighting and a 10.25-inch full-color touchscreen infotainment system complete the package. Considering the Staria Highlander has a commercial twin, the Staria-Load, there are some hard plastics as well.

We can’t help but think that these hardened internals are part of a ploy to keep costs to a minimum to serve the van’s dual purpose. However, all variants of Staria’s People Mover variant are available as eight-seaters.

Second-row seats get top tether, as well as ISOFIX attachment points for the provision of child seats and restraints, but no matter where you end up sitting, the adjustability in the Staria allows for premium travel, even with eight full-fledged adults.

All without compromising luggage space (which is an impressive 831 liters with all seats in use and 1,303 liters with the third row seats stowed). In addition, you get a 12v socket in the front (additional 12v sockets for the passenger and rear would be ideal).

However, there are six USB ports (two in the front and two each for second and third row seating) and ten cup holders. A piece of advice: if you forget to use the wireless charging pad for your phone, you can lose it in one of the many storage pockets or compartments.

Inside the 2022 Hyundai Staria Highlander AWD

Now that the occupants are both entertained and hydrated, you can appreciate the dual panoramic moonroof and massive glass surfaces that allow for brilliant visibility. There are also electrically operated sliding doors and a tailgate.

The infotainment setup is brilliant, offering wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (wireless is currently only available on the base model), Bluetooth, satellite navigation, live traffic updates, AM/FM radio and DAB+ digital radio.

There’s also a USB input and even a handy nanny cam (roof-mounted camera) to keep an eye on the occupants in your Shawshank aft cabin. Aside from the lack of extra 12V outlets, there are other improvements we think would make the Staria epic.

For example, we’d like to see a refrigerator in the center console, armrests on the front seats, power seats for the passenger, automatic wipers, trunk lighting and a larger instrument cluster, or at least a head-up display.

If there were a speaker system upgrade with an optional subwoofer, we would also tick the box multiple times as the standard 6 speaker system quotes Ace Ventura quoting Scotty from Star Trek: “I just can’t do it, Captain. I do not have power”.

Apple CarPlay in the 2022 Hyundai Staria Highlander AWD

On several occasions, the desire to become a party bus was strong, but the distortion kills the mood once you crank up the volume on a Venga Boys classic (Editor’s note: maybe it’s author’s choice).

On the road, the Staria is an absolute pleasure to drive. Affectionately called “Daddy’s Bus”, despite being a Santa Fe SUV, it drives like a van and is a real gentle giant when it comes to handling and road presence.

The steering feels nice for a people mover, and the suspension and smooth gear changes make for a comfortable ride for all. On-demand active four-wheel drive provides solid stability, especially in wet weather.

We also handled some very light off-road driving during testing, and clearance wasn’t a problem, as the HTRAC AWD provided the goods for extra traction. The Staria’s 11.94m steering circle is also great for maneuvering into the perfect parking space.

The Highlander’s sensors and 360-degree camera system are the perfect co-navigators. The cameras also replace the dials when changing lanes (Blind Spot Assist) and can be viewed while driving, providing crisp and clear images day or night.

2022 Hyundai Staria Highlander AWD

The towing capacity is 2,500 kg if you have other holiday mobile homes. The 2022 Staria Highlander AWD is powered by a 130 kW 2.2-liter four-cylinder turbo diesel mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.

But there is no shifter. Don’t worry, but Hyundai has replaced the traditional gear stick with knobs linked to their shift-by-wire system, which takes some getting used to, as does the slight engagement lag when you grab drive or reverse.

It does have a sport mode that gives you a changed instrument cluster and there are some flapping paddles to keep you entertained, but everything feels more like novelty than purposeful. It won’t reach the speed of light, let’s put it that way.

It has a claimed fuel consumption of 8.2 litres/100 km – we managed 9.0 liters in real tests. The Staria’s gargantuan size at 5,253mm long, along with its height and massive tailgate clearance, are also worth considering as part of your purchasing decision.

It has a glowing 5-star ANCAP safety rating, as well as our two thumbs up, and is packed with safety features including seven airbags, rollover sensor, blind spot collision avoidance, forward collision assist, and lane following and lane keeping assist.

Trunk in the 2022 Hyundai Staria Highlander AWD

There’s also a rear occupant alarm, traffic sign recognition and smart cruise control. We urge you to make your way to Hyundai’s website to see the full list of inclusions. It comes with a 5-year unlimited mileage warranty. Hyundai also offers a range of service plans.

Each of these includes roadside assistance and satellite navigation updates. Hyundai’s latest people mover is available in three variants (Staria, Elite and Highlander) and there are two engine choices (the other is petrol).

Our test car has a starting price of $72,249 — but we suggest you shop around for the best deal. Alternatively, you can visit a site like PriceMyCar to see if you’re getting the best deal.

There are five colors to choose from, including Olivine Grey, Moonlight Blue, Gaia Brown, Graphite Gray and Abyss Black (as tested). Inside, there’s a choice of standard black leather or two-tone black and beige leather (also as tested).

Our test vehicle was provided by Hyundai Australia. To learn more about the 2022 Hyundai Staria Highlander, contact your local Hyundai dealer.

Inside the 2022 Hyundai Staria Highlander AWD