Boxing Clever | VAN REVIEW -Toyota surpasses all expectations with the all-new HiAce

Toyota surpasses all expectations with the all-new HiAce – Report by Chris Mullett

The all-purpose box on wheels that has underpinned Toyota’s fortune for over half a century has now reached a new milestone with the release of the Sixth-Generation model range. Launched originally in October 1967, this one continuous nameplate has sold 6.3 million vehicles in a total of 150 countries.

The revamp of Generation Five, some 15 years ago, produced a vehicle that looked better than its predecessor but that didn’t set amazing new standards in performance and ability. The chief designer at the time stated it was benchmarked against the preceding HiAce, rather than the burgeoning army of European vans – such as Iveco, Mercedes, Ford and VW – with the aim of producing a better carrier for boxes, with possibly less regard for advancing comfort levels for the driver.

Fast forward to the introduction of Generation Six and the result is a whole world apart in the creation of an all-new design. Higher levels of ride comfort, lower levels of interior noise intrusion, greater levels of safety and increased levels of performance, ride and handling are obvious throughout the design. In a nutshell, new HiAce is an absolute cracker of a product.

The semi-bonneted van (SBV) concept is not new to Toyota, which sold the Granvia SBV in the Australian market from 1999-2005 marketed as the HiAce SBV, alongside the Generation Four product range. Powered by a 2.4-litre petrol engine that developed 88 kW at 4800 rpm and with 200 Nm of torque, it was joined by the smaller SBV LiteAce, powered by a 1.8-litre petrol engine.

Amazingly, there are still examples of the HiAce SBV from that era remaining in fleets today, proving that brand loyalty, and the convenience of the right product, have the potential to outlast expectations. Undoubtedly, they might resemble Grandfather’s axe in having enjoyed replacement engines, transmissions and undergone a new paint job during that time in service.

The introduction of the Sixth-Generation HiAce (SBV) was led by chief engineer Takuo Ishikawa and this time around the same question about benchmarking produced the reply from his team that all competitive models, including those from Europe and particularly the Hyundai H1 (ILoad and IMax), had been considered during the research and development phase.

Let’s first look at the driveline. There are two choices, a 3.5-litre petrol V6 that produces 207 kW at 6000 rpm and 351 Nm of torque at 4600 rpm and a 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel that knocks out 130 kW at 3400 rpm in the van and crew van, downrated to 120 kW at 3600 rpm in the Commuter Bus. The mapping of the diesel engine also sees a variation in torque output, with the van and crew van running at 420 Nm between 1400-260 0rpm with the manual transmission and 450 Nm at 1600-2400 rpm when teamed with the auto. The Commuter Bus figures are 420 Nm rated from 1600-2200 rpm.

The inclusion of the new 3.5-litre petrol engine brings with it up to 30 kW more power than the 3.0-litre unit it replaces from Generation Five. With 351 Nm of torque output, it provides a tangible gain of 150 Nm. These are Euro5 emissions compliant engines and they couple with six-speed manual or automatic transmissions.

Both engines are impressive, with the diesel delivering solid performance well in advance of its predecessor. But it’s the petrol V6 that provides all the surprises, performing more like a sportscar than a common or garden delivery van while producing an exhaust note to match when under full acceleration.

Braking systems have been upgraded to discs all round, and feature autonomous emergency braking, electronic stability programming and traction control, plus the inclusion of hill start or hill hold for start-off without roll back. The steering system remains with a power-assisted rack and pinion design but this time it is speed sensitive.

The suspension layout retains rear multi-stage leaf springs but by comparison with the previous model these are 200 mm longer and have their travel increased by 30 mm. At the front you’ll find a new independent MacPherson strut system that proves to be very stable.

Having moved the driver and front passengers inside the wheelbase through adopting the semi-bonneted design and moving the engine forwards, you ride between the front and rear wheels in comfort, rather than bouncing up and down in unison with the front suspension. The result is a more compliant, more comfortable ride but the vehicle stability has improved dramatically.

Steering control is sharper, with more feel and better turn-in on cornering. Meanwhile, with the rear end being much better controlled, there’s none of the wandering or wind-affected deviation off the chosen path for the vehicle on the road.

The ESP programming is far and away ahead of the previous Gen-5 model, and handling is also equally improved to the point that it drives like a car and not like a drunken sailor caught in a strong wind. If something does go awry, there are seven airbags to cushion the blow.

Climbing into the seat is now easier with the seat base being 50mm lower than the previous model, meaning that you now step into the vehicle and sit down, rather than conduct the bum jump and slide movement onto the seat squab that was a feature of Generations 1-5.  Once seated, you’ll immediately notice the improved leg room, shoulder width and head room, larger side windows and the multi-function steering wheel that controls the electronic access to individual features. The wheel itself is now adjustable for reach and rake and the turning circle radius is now 6.9 metres. Cross-cab access is also now a major benefit for the driver.

When it comes to load carrying the Gen-6 HiAce does not disappoint. With cargo volumes of 6.2 and 9.2 cubic metres (LWB and SLWB), the wheelbase has been extended by 640 mm and the track front and rear has been widened by 205 mm. The interior of the cargo area has been widened by 215 mm to 1670 mm and there’s room to fit a pallet in the 1.3m space between the wheel-arches.

The side and rear interior body panels can be lined with aluminium sheeting, preventing panel damage from parcels on the inside trying to move outside. There’s also an acoustic barrier and cargo protection frame that slots behind the driver and passenger seats to segregate the driving compartment from the load-space, improving HVAC performance (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning).

Load access is via sliding side-load doors fitted to both sides (excluding the Commuter Bus which has nearside entry only). The rear access is via a tailgate only, suggesting that forklifts will be slotting in their pallets from either side unless they have extensions for the tines.

Visibility of other road users has come in for some serious upgrading, thanks to blind spot prevention warning incorporated in the door mirrors which flag the presence of a vehicle close by on either side through a yellow alert light in the lens. But the really impressive addition, available with the option pack, is the fitment of a digital interior mirror which displays the rear vision across three lanes thanks to a camera fitted at the rear.

If for example the vehicle is travelling in the centre lane of a three-lane freeway, the driver sees clear, uninterrupted vision of the nearside, centre and right-hand lanes behind the vehicle. No blind spots, no parcels to interrupt the view and no heads in seats, as would be the case with rear seat passengers. Just perfect broadcast-quality vision displayed in the central rear vision mirror. This feature is such as step-up in safety that Delivery Magazine can’t wait until this technology becomes available in all vehicles.

Safety systems extend much further than any previous version of the HiAce, with five-star ANCAP rating, pre-collision avoidance warning, lane-departure assistance, yaw assistance, automatic high-beam dipping and trailer-sway control.

According to Sean Hanley, Toyota’s vice president of sales and marketing, fleet buyers make up 75 percent of the buyer group, and they will be taking advantage of the five-year general warranty, supported by a seven-year engine and driveline warranty, plus fixed-price six-monthly servicing of $180 for petrol drivelines and $240 for those running diesels.

Fuel economy can be a major factor in the decision-making process of choosing petrol versus diesel and the combined figures for the 3.5 litre come in at 12.4 and 12.0 litres per 100km for the manual versus auto for both the LWB and SLWB respectively. Expect 9.8 and 9.5 L/100km for those running country trips. For the 2.8-litre diesel the figures come in at 7.5 and 8.2 L/100km, with country or freeway runs coming in at around 6.6-7.6 L/100km.

Towing a trailer is usually a rare event for van owners, with the exception of running a box on wheels for luggage when doing hotel and airport transfers with a Commuter Bus. Maximum braked trailer weights are 1500 kg for the crew van and Commuter Bus, with a rise to 1900 kg for the LWB van.

When it comes to overall dimensions the front and rear overhang measurements are common throughout all versions at 950 mm for the front and 1105 mm for the rear. The variances in overall length result from different wheelbases of 3210 mm for the LWB and 3860 mm for the SWLB, to give overall lengths of 5265 mm and 5915 mm.

Toyota Genuine Accessories are available for the new HiAce from day one and the choices include roof-mounted ladder racks and conduit holders, a solid-looking nudge bar on the front and a rear step and bumper that contains reversing sensors.

Interior protective panels are fabricated from aluminium rather than the more common plywood and can include slotted versions to cover the windows in the rear and side doors. There’s also a nifty interior ladder rack that removes any clutter from the roof, while maintaining the lowest possible overall roof height for those needing to access underground carparks. The overall height for the standard roof is 1990 mm rising to 2280 mm for the Commuter Bus and SWLB van.

In the final purchase decision, the cost factor obviously looms large and here the pricing starts at $38,640 for the V6 manual van, adding a further $2000 for the automatic transmission. The SLWB petrol van shifts the pricing up another $10,000, the crew cab version comes in at $47,140 and then it’s a fairly big jump to the 12-seat Commuter Bus which is priced at $67,140. The warranty is five years, with an option to extend to seven years for the drivetrain, and fixed price servicing is set at $180 for the petrol and $240 for the diesel versions, but service intervals are each six months, rather than once a year.

Summing up, the Generation Six version of the HiAce is a long overdue but very welcome step up in just about every aspect. No longer is Toyota competing at the base grass-roots level, it now has a highly competitive alternative to European van manufacturers. With the known reliability and resale value of the Toyota brand, this latest development is indeed something worth taking very seriously.

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