It’s an unattractive box on wheels, but, as Stuart Martin finds, it still holds its appeal in the van market

Employing the mantra “if you are on a good thing, stick to it” has served Toyota well with its HiAce.

While many of its opposition have been substantially overhauled, to the point of changing body structure and engine layout, the Japanese giant has stuck to its guns and it has paid off in the sales columns.

The big load lugger is being trialled here in Super Long Wheelbase guise, propelled by a three-litre turbodiesel and four-speed automatic driveline turning the rear wheels.

At $44,990 – plus $2500 for the automatic and including the $4000 hike for a diesel over a petrol – it’s by no means the cheapest van in the segment, something for which you would have been forgiven thinking given its dominance of the segment.

Fixed-price servicing for the HiAce costs $180 for each of the first six scheduled services in the first three years or 60,000 km, but the intervals are every 6 months or 10,000 km, and the factory warranty is three years or 100,000 km.

HiAce has 6181 sales under its belt so far this year, up 14.8 percent despite its veteran status – that’s more than double the segment growth rate.

Toyota has sold HiAce here for more than 45 years and is has racked up sales of more than 300,000.Toyota-Hiace_7

The cheaper Hyundai iLoad has managed 3946 sales for the year so far, up 5.5 percent for a share just under 30 percent.

Some new variants introduced earlier this year have probably renewed interest in the range – a more powerful and efficient petrol drivetrain, a diesel five-seat crew van and a 12-seat no-cost option for the petrol commuter bus so it can be driven on a standard licence.

But the attraction for HiAce runs deeper than model options – the known quantity is backed by resale values in the high 50 percent range after three years, which is between 5 and 10 percent better than the bulk of its opposition. Ford’s Transit dwells in the high 40s and low 50s, whereas the Hyundai, Renault, Mercedes-Benz and VW opposition generally sit in the mid 50 percent range.

Toyota is, however, now up against the wall long-term, as OH&S reigns supreme and demands five-star safety ratings, of which the HiAce is one star short – it does have stability and traction control, dual front airbags, pre-tensioner and load-limiter equipped seatbelts, anti-lock brakes with emergency assistance and a hill-hold device. It is also equipped with rear parking sensors and a reversing camera, the image from which is displayed in the auto-dimming mirror – it’s not an ideal method of relaying the feed from the camera as polarising sunglasses and ambient light can make the small output hard to see, but it’s better than nothing.

The features list also includes cloth trim, air conditioning with clean air filter, front power windows and mirrors, remote central locking, USB and Bluetooth-equipped CD sound system (but with only two speakers), a gated auto gear shift, 15-inch steel wheels, a trip computer, double wishbone type front suspension, tilt-only adjustment for the plastic steering wheel directing the rack and pinion power-assisted steering, cruise control and a front passenger’s seat that is now able to slide, whereas previously it was fixed in place.

The 2015 kg SLWB van has – as the name suggests – a long wheelbase of 3110 mm, part of an overall length of 5380 mm, width of 1880 mm and a height of 2285 mm. The tall and wide body contains a loadspace of 9.8 cubic metres of cargo volume, which offers a 1185 kg payload, a load bay that’s 3470 mm long, 1730 mm wide (1300 mm between the wheel arches) and 1635 mm tall.

Toyota-Hiace_1It is rated at only 400 kg unbraked towing capacity, or 1400 kg when equipped with trailer brakes, an area where the iLoad does just have its measure at 750 kg and 1500 kg respectively. Access to the loadspace is offered from either side, with sliding doors that are wide enough for a pallet to be loaded via forklift without rearranging the bodywork. The tall rear tailgate does offer easy walk-up access for taller folk, but it would prevent a full-sized forklift from loading from the rear. The option of barn-style doors would make better use of the loadspace, an area that would easily swallow a pallet between the wheel wells and secure it by way of six tie-down points.

The spacious van has been powered by this 3.0-litre, direct-injection, common-rail, turbocharged, intercooled, 16-valve DOHC four-cylinder diesel since 2010, offering 100 kW at 3400 rpm and 300 Nm of torque between 1200 and 2400 rpm, although it feels a little lazier than that.

Despite the claims by the maker that it has an “engine compartment silencer” the grumbles of the powerplant beneath your seat are still more than noticeable, but exactly where in the rev range it is at its worst is tough to discuss, given the absence of a tachometer.

The engine noise is drowned out to some extent by the boom from the cargo area and wind noise, something which would no doubt reduce if a solid cargo divider was put in place, a fitment that would also help the air conditioning cope in extreme weather.

Fuel economy is claimed at 9.2 litres/100 km on the combined cycle, rising to 11.5 in the city and 7.8 on the highway cycle, but the lab-derived city cycle figure is closer to the real-world figure of 12 l/100 km from the 70-litre tank.

Exorbitant throttle use will get the HiAce underway with more urgency, but it will see the average fuel use well into the mid teens, as will urgent highway work.

Gear ratios and wind resistance all conspire to make sitting on the national limit a thirsty pace – the HiAce is much happier dawdling at 90 km/h than it is hovering around 100 km/h, and, according to its own fuel use readout, uses between 2 and 3 litres per 100 km less as a result of the more leisurely pace.Toyota-Hiace_2

The price at the pump is offset by good manoeuvrability, even if it is more like driving a small truck than a passenger car – a tight turning circle and the presence of decent-sized mirrors, rear sensors and a reversing camera all make it easy enough to slot into tight spots.

The centre console doubles nicely as an armrest but has the storage space and flat-top to make it a useful work station of sorts.

Annoyances for the driver are few – the HiAce is far from happy in a cross wind, stepping up to the point of extreme distress if unladen in a strong wind, a behaviour which makes the Benz crosswind assistance aspect of the German’s stability control system all the more welcome.

The downward plunge of the steering column near the brake pedal does invite a clash with the driver’s foot as the brake pedal is pushed, which takes some familiarity to avoid, as do the black marks on the back of your leg if the van is parked with wheels askew.

There are certainly more modern, more stylish and cheaper commercial vans on the market – many of them are also more car-like to drive and easier to live with. But, many are manual only, and even an old four-speed auto is better than a clutch pedal for some, as is the stylised T on the nose, which clearly makes many overlook the HiAce’s faults and quirks to keep coming back to buy them.

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