Join Delivery’s Ed Higginson for a drive in Toyota’s Commuter GL .
Toyota’s Hiace van has a long history in Australia, with its first appearance way back in 1967. Now into its sixth generation and after a 15-year wait, the new update is a major event for Australia’s largest selling mid-size van.
This is indeed a big deal, with Toyota having fitted new engines, provided longer wheelbases, improved the performance, ride and handling while including additional safety features all of which are contained within a small price increase over the previous model.
Time for first impressions and straight away the major difference with the updated model is that the flat nose, for which HiAce was known, has now gone in favour of a semi-bonneted design. Allowing for improved safety, this latest version is now awarded the maximum 5-star ANCAP rating and brings with it more room inside the cabin.
The new Hiace range comes with five variants, the Long Wheelbase Van (LWB) and LWB Crew Van, the Super Long Wheelbase Van (SLWB), SLWB Commuter, and the SLWB Commuter GL. The 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine is standard but a 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel is yours for an extra $3500. Choice of transmission is either a six-speed manual or an automatic six-speed transmission for an additional $2000.
For the base model Hiace LWB with six-speed manual transmission attached to the V6 petrol engine the prices start at $38,640 plus on-roads. Pricing then increases all the way to the top spec’d Commuter GL at $70,140 plus on-roads.
The diesel option, which we expect most Australian’s will choose, is the 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbocharger unit also found in the Hilux. This produces 130 kW of power at 3400 rpm and 450 Nm of torque in automatic van/crew models (peak torque 1400-2600 rpm) and 420 Nm of torque (1400-2600 rpm) when fitted to the manual transmission. The same unit fitted to the Commuter with the automatic transmission produces slightly less power at 120 kW at 3600 rpm and 420 Nm of torque (peak torque between 1600-2200 rpm).
Toyota claims that the diesel will achieve a fuel economy of 7.5-litres per 100 km fitted with the manual and 8.2 l/100 km with the automatic in the LWB. The Crew Vans are slightly higher with 8.4 l/100 km, with the stop/start feature helping to keep the figures as low as possible.
The V6 petrol engine which shares a similar configuration with the Kluger, is a 3.5-litre naturally-aspirated V6 that produces 207 kW of power at 6000 rpm and 351 Nm of torque (peak torque at 4600 rpm). However, fuel economy will hurt at 12.4-l/100 km for manual variants and 12.0-l/100 km for the automatic.
The issue with all the Hiace models is the limitation imposed by a 70-litre fuel tank. Considering many of the Commuters will go on tour, the kilometre range isn’t what it should be.
With Toyota eager to showcase their new range topping Commuter GL 12-seater, Delivery Magazine was offered a trial unit over Christmas and New Year, which was great for moving the family around between festive gatherings with seats to spare.
The Commuter GL has been fitted with a long list of extras over the standard SLWB Commuter which replaces the Toyota Hiace mini-bus, the maxi-taxi of choice for years. However, the old 14-seater option has now been dropped with the new line up.
The GL comes with an improved interior over the standard Commuter, with plush synthetic leather seats and passenger USB chargers next to all 12 seats along with dual-zone air conditioning providing ducts for every passenger. For the exterior, the GL gets colour-coded door handles and bumpers, 16-inch alloy wheels with a full spare, LED daytime running lights and fog lights.
Entertainment comes in the form of a 7.0-inch entertainment system with colour touchscreen for the AM/FM/DAB+ digital radio with satellite navigation and six speakers, along with an option for Apple CarPlay.
To improve passenger access and egress the left-side door is now powered electrically and it’s very easy to step in and out with the fitment of the frame for the handle, along with ambient entry lighting and a large glass roof hatch for extra light. The driver hasn’t been left out either, with electric windows and a button to operate the sliding door from the front.
For safety, the Commuter gets a pre-collision safety system, lane-departure alert, auto high beam, road-sign assist, three airbags and a digital rear-view mirror with auto-dimming.
The demo unit I was presented with the day before the Toyota factory closed for its Christmas break, was in a beautiful pale blue, rather than the typical white you’d expect with a small tour bus. Inside, the striking black and white coloured seating looked and felt luxurious.
The same colour scheme also applied to the dash, however, this doesn’t look as grand through the use of white plastic trim. Others may not agree as it comes down to taste. There is certainly no room for disappointment with Toyota’s build quality, as everything feels well put together.
The dash now looks a lot more modern, with a 4.2-inch colour display in front of the driver for trip computer functions, along with speed recognition which displays the speed zone on the screen turning into a very useful feature.
From the driver’s seat you don’t notice the semi-bonnet design, so if you have been driving Hiace vans or minibuses for a while, you’ll need to be careful when pulling up behind cars at the lights or when parking. Visibility is great through the front and side windows, assisted by the view from the rear-vision camera.
Performance wise, the 2.8-litre diesel works well with the Commuter GL’s kerb weight of 2665 kg. But if fully loaded with a payload of 1040 kg and pulling the maximum braked trailer weight of 1500 kg – which would be more likely with large tour groups – the maximum gross combined mass of 5220 kg will slow things down.
Right from the start of driving the new Hiace it’s obvious that the steering performance has been considerably improved, with a 45-degree steering cut enabling a tighter turning circle. With the LWB Commuter being over half a metre longer than the previous model with a 750 mm longer wheelbase, the improved steering helps manoeuvring in tight spaces.
Out on the road, especially when travelling on country roads, the new overall dimensions along with a 70 mm wider stance has improved the handling and ride considerably. Another point in its favour is the noticeable improvement provided by the enhanced sound insulation which lowers noise intrusion, especially when accelerating.
Loading the rear can be a challenge as the Hiace doesn’t have a barn door option so you need to keep plenty of space behind the van to lift up the tailgate. A strap hangs down when the tailgate is open, making it easy to reach for closure, but an electric option would be better.
There were no luggage racks fitted to the Commuter and this is one factor that limits the useable loading space and lets items slide under the seats. Undoubtedly, this is something that the aftermarket suppliers can offer in the future.
From the perspective of ownership of the new Hiace one area to consider is the short service intervals, which are at every 10,000 km or six months. Warranty is much better with five years and unlimited kilometres for private buyers, or five years and 160,000 km for business and fleets which can be extended to seven.
In overall terms, the Toyota Hiace sixth-generation is a real improvement over the previous model, which we need to remember was already the bestselling mid-size van on the market.
The Commuter GL as driven here is at a new level all together with the added luxury touches, improvements in handling, performance and safety features. It might just take a while to get used to the new look half bonnet design.