SHAPE-SHIFTER | Van Review – Toyota HiAce

Neil Dowling reviews the all-new Hiace van

Preparing to go to work punting a delivery van through city traffic is usually as warmly anticipated in terms of excitement and pleasure as waiting at the dentist before root canal surgery.

Vans can be the coldest, noisiest and most body-shaking mobility machine on the market, with levels of acceptability directly correlating to the van’s age and life history.

But if you wanted to get a smile on your face before going to work in a van, make the van you choose this one.

Toyota’s square-meal Hiace has paved the road for ongoing market segment leadership with its sixth-generation model emphasising operator safety, comfort and reduced ownership costs.

After 15 years of wearing the same facial expression, it also gets a new look that is distinctive and purposeful, with the aim of improving occupant and pedestrian safety. It’s full of new gear including engine transplants for better economy and more power and performance under load.

There is a cost for all this extra gear and power but it’s a marginal price rise given the upgrades.

The Hiace now has a starting price of $38,640 plus on-road costs for the V6 petrol manual, up from its predecessor’s $34,470 (petrol) and $37,530 (diesel).

The spec upgrade includes the 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine shared – in various stages of tune and ancillaries – with everything from the Toyota Kluger SUV, Toyota Prado, Lexus GS350 and Lotus Evora.

In the Hiace it’s rated at 207 kW at 6000 rpm and 351 Nm at 4100 rpm, a substantial hike on the previous petrol engine which was a 2.7-litre four-cylinder with a relatively piddling 118 kW and 243 Nm.

Compared with the outgoing Hiace diesel, the new oiler loses 200 cc by dropping to 2.8-litres yet ups output to 130 kW (up 30 kW) at 3400 rpm and 420 Nm (up 150 Nm) at 1400-2600 rpm. The engine is similar to that of the Prado and Hilux, but it now has stop/start to save a few grams of fuel at the traffic lights.

There are three van bodies – LWB (long wheelbase as the entree so there’s no SWB); SLWB (adds 650 mm to both the length and wheelbase, while adding 290 mm to the height); and LWB Crew-Cab that seats five. There are also two buses, the Commuter and Commuter GL.

As the new Hiace is considerably longer than its predecessor, there’ll be more cargo room. Right? Not exactly. Tape measure in hand, the newcomer LWB has a cargo length of 2530 mm, down 400 mm on the outgoing van. That’s the difference between the extra vehicle length and the reduced cargo area caused by the longer nose.

With a 6.2 cubic metre volume – up from the oldie’s 6.0 cu.m – the growth comes from the cargo area being a whopping 215 mm wider than before (now 1760 mm). The width between the wheel arches is now 1268 mm, an increase of 148 mm, making it far more capable for hauling boxy items and improving access for a pallet. It’s also taller at 1340 mm, up a mere 5 mm, and has a payload (in LWB diesel auto format) of 955 kg compared with the old model’s 965 kg.

The interior has lightweight panels covering bare metal and the headliner extends from above the driver through to the back door. It not only looks great, but the materials substantially reduce noise and act as insulation.

There’s now no barn door option. This may frustrate loading operations that use forklifts but Toyota has no apologies. To increase loading flexibility there are right and left-side sliding doors, with the left-side including a glass panel as standard to make nearside visibility in traffic or when parking offside, a whole lot easier.

The side doors have a 990 mm opening, but this increases for those opting for the bigger SLWB Hiace who gain a 1250mm opening that will accommodate a forklift load. Inside, the cargo area has four tie-down points.

Drive is to the rear wheels through either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic and, in case you are wondering, there is no 4WD version available.

Outwardly, all this packs into a van that is spacious, safe and very comfortable. In the past comfort would often be an unusual feature to find in a workhorse, and yet this is now so good that it is easy to see why Toyota used the latest Hiace as the basis for its Tarago people-mover model replacement, the Granvia.

Our test vehicle for this evaluation was the diesel LWB automatic. Externally it’s all nose and the initial concern is that any extra body length sacrifices cargo load room.

That nose makes engine access easy and suits the longitudinal engine layout as its drive heads to the back wheels. It also gives a lot of extra protection to the occupants’ legs in a frontal collision, plus moves the engine away from the passenger cell and dramatically reducing noise transfer.

The layout has another bonus – it reduces the floor height as the engine and transmission are pushed out of the passenger-cell zone.

Getting into and out of the Hiace – something most operators will be frequently doing through the working day – wasn’t particularly pretty in the outgoing version, but in the new model it’s a snap.

There’s no wheel arch to climb over and the seat is actually 50 mm lower than the previous seating, so, while it’s easier to get into, it’s also less like sitting on a box and more like a regular vehicle. There’s now a lot more adjustment with better cushioning and lateral support to the driver’s seat, so everyone can get comfortable for longer distances.

The dash features a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen and ahead of the driver is a 4.2-inch multi-information display.

Storage space is reasonable but nothing exceptional. This may appear unusual, given the amount of blank fascia panels in the dash, but the blanks cover a lot of HVAC (heating, cooling and air conditioning) equipment.

Operators would appreciate some extra storage – a clipboard space, for example – though there are cupholders and door-mounted bottle holders, plus slim console spaces for a mobile phone.

There’s walk-through room between the two front seats with a centre storage bin only available on the crew-cab model or the Commuter bus.

On the road, it’s the difference between chalk and cheese compared with the old van. The confidence of a heap of safety gear – autonomous emergency braking with night and day pedestrian detection and daytime cyclist detection – is great news on a commercial van.

Toyota has added standard-equipment that includes blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert (the bee’s knees when reversing the van out of a 90-degree parking bay), lane-keeping assist, road sign detection with an alert if you exceed the signpost, and auto high-beam headlights, seven airbags, front and rear parking sensors and a reverse camera with a decent screen image.

The drive is smooth, quiet and more like a large car than a hollow van. Toyota has done exceptionally work on the suspension because even unladen, the ride is smooth and compliant with no noise intrusion from beneath the body.

With a bit of weight aboard, it’s equally as comfortable and the engine barely felt the 320kg additional weight in the rear.

The diesel engine gets top marks for its perkiness as it will more than keep up with traffic and always feels composed and never stressed. The six-speed automatic gearbox suits the urban role of the van (the manual wasn’t available for a test) and is the pick, given its smoothness and the preference these days of fleets for self-shifting transmissions.

Fuel consumption is claimed to be 8.2 L/100km on the combined circuit and 9.2 L/100km on the city cycle. This test averaged 8.9 L/100km for a mix of driving conditions and some load work. By comparison, the sweet V6 petrol claims an average of 12.0 L/100km.

Toyota introduces the Hiace with a range of accessories to suit particular trades and simply those who want to make the van more efficient. These include ladder racks fitted inside and out (or both), and aluminium cladding and grilles for cargo walls and windows.

The Hiace comes with a five-year or 160,000 km warranty for commercial users, while private users get the same time period, but with unlimited distance.

The service intervals are Toyota standard – that’s not particularly good – at every six months or 10,000 km, which can be a bit of an ask for owners needing their vehicle for work. The good news is the capped-price service programme that is $180 for each service for the V6 petrol, and $240 a visit for the diesel. The fixed cost schedule lasts for three years, but beyond that there is an online guide for future maintenance programme costs.

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