THERE is no doubt the van market is heating up. Sales of light and heavy vans continues to grow in numbers thanks to online sales and the necessary delivery burden that brings vastly improved vans from a range of manufacturers, with the Toyota HiAce among them.
It’s that market pressure, and expectation of a new model that brought about Toyota’s recent complete overhaul of its popular HiAce van, and not before time. It’s been a long time between updates, 15 years to be precise, and it was really showing its age.
So not before time then, the HiAce has seen an all new model line up, featuring a semi-bonnet design. It’s a change that will make the van safer in frontal impacts for its occupants, as well as delivering a quieter ride and better overall dynamics.
It feels less nose heavy as a result, and has much better balance. There’s also a choice between petrol and diesel power plants and manual or automatic transmissions, with three variants now on offer.
In simple terms, you can choose a Long Wheelbase (LWB), Super Long Wheelbase (SLWB) or Commuter van. Pricing starts at a pretty hefty $38,640 plus on-roads for the LWB V6 petrol, with a 6-speed manual.
Switch to the auto gearbox and that jumps to $40,640. Choose the diesel and that will add a further $3500. You can let your imagination wander all the way to the top priced Commuter GL model, with a diesel and auto shifter, which commands $70,140.
We had the chance to sample both an auto diesel SLWB van and the petrol auto LWB version and came away impressed with the refinement, quietness, handling and performance, in particular the zip and flexibility offered by the new V6 version.
The petrol engine, which has been sourced from its SUV sibling the Kluger, is a 3.5-litre naturally aspirated unit that revs like a banshee and spins freely up through the range, delivering performance from a van that was once the stuff of dreams.
The V6 produces 207kW of power and 351Nm of torque, and is coupled with a 6-speed auto, delivering smooth seamless power that constantly had us believing we were in a passenger car, not a delivery van.
This was aided by a very stable and confidence inspiring handling package. But the feisty V6 does have a downside, and that’s fuel economy. Drive it hard and you could record an average of 14.2-litres/100km like we did.
Toyota quotes 12.0-litres/100km for automatic variants and interestingly, slightly more for manual versions on the combined cycle. The diesel option is the same 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine used in the HiLux ute.
It boasts 130kW of power and maximum torque of 450Nm. As you would expect, the diesel is the economical choice, delivering a best on our test of 9.2-litres/100km, including some loaded running in the SLWB.
Our time in the two HiAces included plenty of suburban running, as well as some highway driving, which is where the vans proved just what a massive leap forward they’ve undergone in terms of ride and handling, as well as lower noise vibration and harshness.
Both variants we tested performed incredibly well thanks to added width in the track and better balance, with the fact the engine’s now largely in front of the steer axle combining to deliver excellent dynamics.
We were particularly impressed with feedback from the steering, the brake pedal feel and the stability under hard braking. For someone who drove a van extensively in the 1980s when stability was sadly lacking, the new HiAce is a revelation.
Not only is it dynamically better to drive, the HiAce benefits from some big leaps in safety, with a 5-star ANCAP rating sure to impress big fleet buyers who are now demanding and expecting this as they comply with duty of care and chain of responsibility.
Add in standard features across the range like autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, stability control and airbags, and the improved crash protection delivered by having a bonnet, and the HiAce is a real safety winner.
The LWB HiAce is now 5265mm long, which is 570mm longer than the old model it replaced, and now has a track that’s 200mm at 1670mm, while also having a 640mm longer wheelbase at 3210mm.
All that means a better footprint on the road and a chassis that doesn’t tippy toe around like some older vans did. It’s more planted and stable and it results in better driver confidence and handling.
The even longer SLWB model has seen an increase in its overall length of 535mm, while its wheelbase has been extended a whopping 750mm, and there’s an extra 70mm in width compared with the LWB.
The SWLB model boasts a very impressive nine cubic metres of cargo space, while the smaller LWB still has six cubic metres of usable load area.
While the HiAce has stepped up in many areas of safety, it still has an open entrance to the cargo area, and while a cargo barrier can be fitted, it now comes standard on some of its Euro opponents, which given the pricing, may be seen as a negative.
That said, the cab area has been refreshed and redesigned extensively and comes with all the accouterments you would expect in an SUV let alone a van. And lets face it, a van’s cabin is often the driver’s office and place of work in one.
Centre stage is a new 7.0-inch colour infotainment touch screen with SatNav, live traffic alerts and the terrific sound delivered by the new DAB+ digital radio. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will not be available on the HiAce until later this year though.
The instrument binnacle in the Toyota HiAce houses a very well designed and easy to read 4.2-inch colour display in front of the driver too, for all instrument and trip information functions.
Cruise control is standard on all models as are automatic power windows, dual sliding doors, front and rear parking sensors, and a rear-view camera. Some models also get a digital rear vision mirror.
We haven’t tried this yet but we’re keen to given it a go. It will be particularly valuable when the back of the van is chockers with cargo and rear view is obscured.
Maneuverability is very good, particularly with a very practical 11 metre turning circle for the LWB and 12.8 metres in the SLWB. One item sadly lacking though is the option of barn rear doors, rather than the lift-up tailgate style the HiAce comes with.
It could be an issue for many customers wanting to load pallets through the rear doors. That said, a pallet can be loaded through the side door, but it will prove a deal breaker for some buyers.
After 15 years of dishing up a pretty ordinary van, Toyota has seriously upped the ante with the new HiAce, and has really kicked a goal with this one. It drives like a car, and has the pulling power of a truck, with added load versatility and space.
More importantly, it offers the latest safety and crash protection, and comes with a 5-year unlimited kilometre warranty for private buyers, and five years and 160,000km for businesses and fleet buyers.
Our 2019 Toyota HiAce LWB and SLWB vans were supplied by Toyota Australia. To find out more about the Toyota HiAce range, contact your local Toyota dealer.