Stuart Martin tackles Toyota’s latest diesel Hiace and finds smaller horses are definitely better
If ever there was a company that lived by the motto “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” it’s Toyota.
The now-superseded Hiace was an epic example of that mantra, remaining largely unchanged for 15 years. It dominated the segment in the face of ever-stronger competition, sitting the occupants above the power plant, while others opted for semi-bonneted configurations for safety and refinement targets.
Hiace has gone down that same path with its new van, built on a new platform and substantially longer and wider.
Priced from $38,640 for the six-speed manual, the range kicks off with the LWB van we’re in, with a 207 kW/351 Nm twin-cam 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine with dual variable-valve timing and direct or port fuel injection.
It’s a punchy all-alloy unit which offers 89 extra kilowatts and 108 Newton metres over the outgoing four-cylinder petrol offering, but it prefers to rev and that comes at a thirsty cost.
The combined cycle figure of 12 L/100 km is similar to that of the outgoing petrol model and well up from the 9.8 combined cycle thirst of the old Hiace.
Our time in the V6 six-speed automatic (which adds $2000 to the price-tag) ended with the trip computer showing 17 L/100 km, which is nearer the urban cycle laboratory figure from Toyota. Our driving did include some open-road work and time heavily laden, with an average of 35 km/h.
The entry-level model sits on 215/70R rubber on 16-inch steel wheels with full-size spare. It has dual sliding rear doors as standard fare, with a glass panel within the passenger side door.
The side doors are wide but only on the extended wheelbase model does the side aperture take a standard pallet from a forklift. The payload remains at just over one tonne (it’s not been increased much) and there are six tie-down points.
The entry-level LWB variant is 5265 mm long, 570 mm longer than the outgoing equivalent model, as well as being 255 mm wider (at 1950 mm in width), with track increases of 200 mm and 205 mm (at the rear) to match.
The height has grown by just 10 mm (taking the roof to 1990 mm), but importantly the wheelbase has grown by 640 mm to 3210 mm. It does weigh an extra 400 kg which is going to count at the pump. The expanded dimensions result in improved interior space; a cargo capacity of 6.2 cubic metres is listed for the LWB model.
Despite the increase in overall length of the new Hiace, the new speed-sensitive power steering offers an 11 m turning circle, which is pretty similar to the outgoing model and feels useful in real-world use.
We loaded it with 2.4 m long fence posts and rolls of fencing mesh to almost two-thirds of its listed one-tonne payload, with two occupants on board, a burden well tolerated by the engine and suspension.
When unladen, the leaf sprung rear end could get somewhat unruly on road ripples, but once distracted by a decent load, it settled nicely to match the good work of the MacPherson strut front end.
Toyota says each wheelbase gets unique springs for load-carrying prowess and there’s no question the brand has ticked the right boxes there. It all adds up to a chassis that tradespeople with racks, gear and product on board would have little cause for complaint.
The change in configuration has resulted in a refined and quiet cabin, not a lot of engine noise and only a little bit of boom through the rear. The load bay can be partitioned off further after a glance at the accessories list.
The safety features list has improved dramatically and needed to. Now there’s a pre-collision safety system with pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection that’s standard, along with lane departure alert with steering assist.
That system uses braking rather than exerting any force on the power steering, which remains hydraulically assisted without the advanced option of electric assistance that would allow the vehicle to steer itself.
The lane-departure system is bordering on aggressive but remains worth having. There’s also road sign assist (only for certain speed signs) and auto high beam for the still-halogen headlights.
Further standard safety features includes a jump to seven airbags (driver and passenger front, front side door, front side curtain, driver knee), anti-lock brakes for the four-wheel discs (not standard range wide, with rear drums on entry-level manual models), vehicle traction stability control, hill-start assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors.
The vehicle stability control system also includes a trailer sway control system to cope with a wayward trailer, which can now weigh another 100 kg (up to 1500 kg) if it’s got its own braking system.
One key improvement that results for the semi-bonneted design is cabin space and layout, with a better driving position and easier cabin access, especially for taller drivers.
The driver gets a height-adjustable seat, reach and rake steering adjustment and a normal lever handbrake and can get comfortable with it all easily.
The leather-wrapped wheel has controls for the phone, cruise and audio systems, the latter having only two speakers and retaining its CD player, but at least it now includes digital radio. Also on the wheel is the control for the centre stack information screen, which has a digital speed readout among its easy-to-read information.
The dash top is dominated by a seven-inch touchscreen that has integrated satellite navigation (with real-time traffic info) and several large cupholders. But there’s precious little storage space for keys, wallet or phone, all of which have to end up in the door pockets.
The extended wheelbase model gets additional overhead storage, which may offset some of the problem, but a centre console and/or armrests on the inboard side of the seat backs would both be welcome additions.
The door pockets are fine for the keys and phone, as well as the drink bottle or a snack, but access to the USB point’s location low down on the centre stack means a cord dangling across the screen and manual air conditioning controls to whatever suction cup mount can be attached to the windscreen is problematic.
The phone has Bluetooth connection and there are also two 12-volt outlets and there’s integrated nav, but when Toyota finally put full smartphone integration in with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto at the end of the year (at no additional charge apparently) the need to keep the devices plugged in for power supply becomes even more apparent.
Both front power windows are auto up and down, and the driver also gets power-folding heated exterior mirrors that offer a good view aft, but the wipers are not yet rain-sensing.
There’s much to like about the new Hiace – comfort, space, vision and muscle – but the petrol V6 is a thirsty beast and the cabin falls short of a perfect mobile office. The diesel is likely to be the preferred power plant, if the DPF problems can be resolved.