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Car reviews - Toyota - Hiace - LWB Crew

Our Opinion

We like
Typical tried-and-tested Toyota toughness, hugely spacious rear passenger area, engine sprightly round town, decent dynamics, good visibility, tight turning circle, cheap to buy, easy to maintain
Room for improvement
Ridiculously noisy at speed, unrefined, uncomfortable seats, poor driving position, dated and basic throughout, runs out of puff at higher speeds

Gallery

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Toyota logo3 Feb 2017

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Price and equipment

THE Toyota HiAce range opens at $33,650 plus on-road costs for a two-seat, long-wheelbase cargo van with 2.7-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and five-speed manual transmission.

We are testing the five-seat, long-wheelbase crew van. Lacking a petrol option, this variant costs $38,750 plus on-roads with a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine and five-speed manual. A four-speed automatic costs $2550 extra.

A super long-wheelbase, high-roof van starts from $44,870 plus on-roads as a petrol automatic and topping out the HiAce line-up is the 12- or 14-seat diesel automatic commuter bus at $62,210 plus on-roads.

Standard equipment on the crew van tested here comprises air-conditioning with cabin filter, a self-dimming interior mirror with integrated reversing camera, cruise control, a two-speaker CD audio system with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input, AM/FM radio and voice recognition, front windows with one-touch control on the driver’s side, remote central locking with engine immobiliser, electric door mirror adjustment, 15-inch steel wheels with full-size spare, halogen headlights with daytime running lights.

Up front are individual cloth seats and a plastic tilt-adjustable steering wheel with audio controls. Dividing the front seats is a central storage box with folder holders, fold down tray and recessed lid and.

There is a full-length headlining and rubber flooring, a total of five grab handles, four cupholders and two bottle holders plus a glovebox and lower storage tray.

A pair of lined sliding side doors with sliding portal windows and built-in drinks bottle holders provide access to the bench-style rear seat that can recline almost flat and has a two-stage fold and tumble system to enlarge the load capacity when rear passengers are not being carried. The rear bench has no split-fold facility, no head restraints and the central position has a basic lap belt while outboard passengers get full three-point seatbelts.

Toyota quotes a six cubic-metre cargo capacity for the HiAce crew variant, but this is identical to the regular long-wheelbase van. It is safe to assume around 2.0m2 floor to ceiling is given away to the presence of the bench seat, and about 0.5m2 with it folded and stowed forward against the front seat-backs.

A 950kg payload, 400kg unbraked towing capacity, 1400kg braked towing capacity and maximum gross combination mass (GCM) of 2800kg are below par for the segment these days. The load area is 2930mm long (with the seats stowed), 1545mm wide and 1335mm high.

Exterior paint colours available comprise French Vanilla, Quicksilver, Manilla Yellow, Cascade Blue, Scarlet and Ink Black. Anything other than plain white costs $550 extra.

Interior

Most of the HiAce’s interior features have been covered by the price and equipment section. Everybody has been in a HiAce, be it a rental they used to move house, a courtesy bus to the RSL club or an airport shuttle.

You know the score. It is as basic as they come in this day and age, including the plain, hard-wearing but not unattractive materials with simple controls and seat adjustment mechanisms that can be fixed with bailing twine and Duck Tape when they eventually start to fail, without upsetting the ambience.

Because the seats are on top of the drivetrain, they require a big step up compared with the more car-like cabs of more modern rivals, which is all of them. While grab handles are helpfully positioned to help entry and egress, there is insufficient seat adjustment, the steering wheel only moves up and down and the steering column separates the clutch pedal and brake pedal like a family divided by the Berlin wall, with the accelerator pedal a little too close to the brake. Big feet and work boots are a poor combination for driving a HiAce.

We would not really want to spend eight hours behind the wheel of this van, for the unsupportive seats offer the bare minimum of comfort and the driving position is not what we would call ergonomic. A slouch (and resigned look on the face) suits this van perfectly.

We experienced very little heat soak from the engine beneath our buttocks and surprisingly, much of the noise intrusion being loud throbbing and knocking sounds coming from beneath the rear floor. At 80km/h and above this becomes deafening to the point it was almost impossible to successfully make a phone call using Bluetooth. We dipped the clutch and let the revs fall to gauge road and wind noise, finding there was a lot of both.

Granted, a sound-deadening load of cargo and colleagues helps reduce these problems, but we were quickly exhausted by the commotion and general lack of refinement. The two-speaker audio system is just about powerful enough to be heard and works pretty well using the various connectivity options.

On the upside, sitting so far forward and the lack of bonnet provides excellent visibility for negotiating tight spaces, as does the tiny 10-metre turning circle. But the mirror-integrated reversing camera display is so dim that we only realised it was there the first time we drove the HiAce at night.

Toyota always fits gale-force, Arctic-strength air-conditioning and the HiAce is no exception, but moving to the second-row seating on a hot day revealed the lack of insulation, solid bulkhead or any kind of ventilation which made us feel like second-class citizens despite the limo-like legroom, because there was simply too much empty space to fill with chilled air. Opening the sliding portal-like windows just resulted in a hairdryer-like hot blast from outside.

Folding the rear row either flat or fully stowed is a simple operation, as is fully reclining the bench when it all gets too much, or it provides a handy surface to prop long items on. But the bench cannot be easily removed from the vehicle. But come on Toyota, a lap belt for the central passenger? This is 2017 not 1987.

Engine and transmission

Toyota has tweaked the HiAce diesel engine to comply with Euro 5 emissions standards, which includes the addition of a diesel particulate filter. These systems typically require regular high-speed trips to undergo the regeneration process that burns off the deposits, but the HiAce has a manual option that can be performed while stationary and there is a warning label on the driver’s door to avoid parking near combustible materials due to the heat generated while the filter is sorting itself out.

Power and torque outputs are still 100kW and 300Nm from the 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged unit, which provide peppy propulsion at urban and suburban speeds but sustained acceleration up a motorway on-ramp or high-speed hill reveal the performance drops off significantly at higher speeds and revs.

But once up to speed the engine is fairly relaxed, and willing to cope with hills or accelerate gently to keep up with traffic.

Although the gear lever is well-positioned and its action feel is pleasantly positive and slick, similarly to a manual HiLux, the HiAce is not happy in fifth gear until at least 80km/h, so round-town trips are done at an annoyingly buzzy level of revs, especially given the level of noise that reaches the interior. A sixth ratio and shorter fifth gear would be welcome.

That said, none of this seems to affect fuel consumption adversely, as our test vehicle returned a reasonable 9.1L/100km during our week of mixed driving (the official combined figure is 8.0L/100km) and it seemed to be unaffected by unsympathetic thrashing. In fact, the Euro 5 recalibration has improved the official urban-cycle figure (10.5 litres per 100 kilometres) but slightly reduced highway-cycle efficiency (6.5L/100km).

Ride and handling

The HiAce’s ride and handling are better than you would expect, even with no load in the back. It is rarely crashy or intolerably bouncy although cross-winds can cause a bit of weaving and lateral ridges can cause the rear-end can lurch and skip.

Surprisingly controlled bodyroll and admirable front-end grip were pleasant surprises while punting the HiAce along a twisty road too, just the lack of weight over the back axle during our unladen test run causing the traction control to regularly call time on power delivery to the rear wheels. It would have been a bit wayward before this feature became standard in 2015.

It’s not fun and this is not how anyone designed the HiAce to be driven but it is nice to know there is an admirable level of stability. The brakes are not the most powerful things in the world but provide a positive, progressive and predictable pedal feel.

Overall, we have zero issues with the way this van behaves dynamically under reasonable everyday usage scenarios.

Safety and servicing

ANCAP gave Australian-delivered HiAce vant a four-star crash-test safety rating for models built from September 2011 onwards.

Dual frontal airbags are standard, along with anti-lock brakes with emergency brake assist, electronic stability control, and front seat belt pre-tensioners.

The HiAce scored 25.5 out of a maximum 37 points under testing, with 9.5 out of 16 in the frontal offset test and a full 16 points in the side impact test.

In a frontal impact, driver’s head and lower leg protection was deemed ‘marginal’ but foot protection was ‘poor’. Upper leg protection was ‘good’.

Front passengers fare better, with protection for all areas but the chest (‘acceptable’) deemed ‘good’. All areas were deemed ‘good’ in the side impact test but pedestrian protection was considered ‘poor’.

Maintenance intervals are six months or 10,000km, with the Toyota Service Advantage capped-price servicing offer quoting $240 per visit until 36 months and 60,000km at the time of writing.

However fleet, government, not-for-profit and rental buyers are not be eligible for capped-price servicing, so Toyota supplies a maximum logbook service price quote, which ranges from $283.59 to $902.43 during the same three-year period, averaging at $447.90 over the six pit-stops (prices correct at time of writing).

Toyota provides a three-year, 100,000km warranty.

Verdict

Questions to the self-employed or business owners considering this van: Would you really want to spend long working days behind the wheel of this noisy, uncomfortable old thing?While the cheap to buy, cheap to own HiAce is the competitor likely to do least damage to your bottom line, its awful driving position and poor seating are not great for your bottom.

Consider your employees when more comfortable mobile working environments are available for about 10 per cent more up-front cost. You might even get 10 per cent more productivity out of them because driving the HiAce can be an exhausting sensory overload. It’s not the best for fuel-efficiency, either.

Surprisingly considering the HiAce driver is hanging comparatively out-front in the breeze due to the forward-control layout, competitors such as the Hyundai iLoad and VW Transporter are also four-star ANCAP rated and not great for occupant protection while the as-yet ANCAP unrated Trafic is a three-star van in Europe and the only other contender with a crew-cab option is the far more expensive Mercedes Vito.

Unless being limited to a manual transmission is a deal-breaker, we’d seriously consider paying $4240 extra for the recently released Renault Trafic Crew in a heartbeat, while the extra $1900 cost over the Trafic to an equivalent VW Transporter is justified by its standard seven-speed auto.

We understand that $4000-$6000 multiplied across an entire fleet quickly adds up, but as we suspected when picking up the keys, the HiAce really is showing its age.

That is why Australia is one of only a handful of developed nations where this van is still sold. Elsewhere, it just wouldn’t cut it.

Rivals

Renault Trafic L2 H1 Crew LWB 103kW from $42,990 plus on-road costs
Bench front seat makes gives the Renault capacity for six and protects them better with three-point belts all round, double-glazed rear passenger windows and a metal bulkhead behind the second seating row. The cargo area matches the HiAce, with extra points scored for its superior payload and towing capacities plus a wider load area. The little 1.6-litre engine is super-efficient and surprisingly powerful, the van drives beautifully and is packed with well thought-out features. But those manual-loving Europeans omitted to make available an automatic option (Renault says it is working on an auto, hopefully not as awful as the one in the previous-generation Trafic).

Hyundai iLoad Liftback Crew Van CRDi from $40,790 plus on-road costs
Like the Renault, the Hyundai seats six, features a metal bulkhead behind the rear bench and has a punchy but efficient engine. Unlike the Renault there is an automatic option, too. The iLoad’s small 2.5 square metre capacity lets it down against the HiAce’s and Trafic, but the Hyundai at least offers competitive payload and towing capacities plus a quite car-like driving experience and plenty of creature comforts.

Volkswagen Transporter Crewvan TDI 340 SWB from $44,890 plus on-road costs
Almost as much cargo capacity as the HiAce, great 2.5-tonne towing potential and Toyota-trouncing payload. An extra $2000 for the long-wheelbase option provides even more space behind the rear seats, which uniquely include Isofix child seat anchorages and top-tether mounts to create a dual-purpose family chariot. Apart from the standard seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that aids the more-than-adequate diesel engine’s efficiency, creature comforts are sparse, but the options list long. You have been warned!Mercedes-Benz Vito 114 BlueTEC Crew Cab from $52,720 plus on-road costs
So expensive that it does not really compete against the HiAce. Equals the Toyota for cargo volume and the VW for towing but has a piddly 905kg payload allowance. The only van here with a five-stat ANCAP safety rating but many practical features fitted standard to the Renault and Hyundai are cost options here.

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