Car reviews - Toyota - Hiace - range
Wholesale improvements over fifth-gen model, powerful and smooth powertrains, more comfortable seating position and driving characteristics, increased cargo space
Room for improvement
Noise intrusion from engines, storage options for occupants could be better, thirsty V6, value proposition not as stark with price increases
Toyota’s best-selling HiAce van sees huge lift in polish with new generation
31 May 2019
Cast your mind back to 2004 – Ian Thorpe won two gold medals at his last Olympic Games in Athens, Shrek 2 was the biggest movie of the year and inaugural Australian Idol star Shannon Noll’s cover of Moving Pictures’ What About Me dominated the airwaves.
It was also the year that Toyota released its fifth-generation HiAce workhorse van, which is finally being retired after 15 years of trusty service and approximately 150,000 Australian sales.
A 15-year life cycle is a long time in the automotive industry, meaning the all-new sixth-generation HiAce is expected to be a markedly different vehicle to the one it replaces.
So just how much better is Toyota’s new HiAce?
Despite its age, the HiAce has long been the best-selling van in Australia, with around a 30 per cent market share of the 2.5-to-3.5-tonne van segment in recent years.
With that in mind, it would be easy for Toyota to phone it in with the all-new version given the HiAce tends to sell itself, however the Japanese brand has built it from the ground up with some serious improvements in mind.
Firstly, the HiAce is built on an all-new, dedicated platform that sees the new version grow in all dimensions over its predecessor, with longer wheelbases and overall lengths, and a significantly wider track that allows for 215mm of extra interior load width.
The new platform is also stiffer and stronger than the old one, with extra reinforcements to minimise rattling in the cabin and cargo area.
Changes have also been applied to the suspension and steering, with revised MacPherson-strut front and solid, leaf-sprung rear axles for a more compliant ride, and new rack-and-pinion steering that is lighter and more responsive than the old version.
With a longer wheelbase and wider track, handling stability has improved greatly, and driving the fifth and sixth-gen models around Toyota’s new Altona test track showed the distinct differences in handling characteristics between the two.
The new version is far more poised around corners and deals with sudden changes in directions more confidently than its predecessor, with a noticeable drop in body roll combined with a far sharper and lighter steering response.
At around one tonne, payload is the same as the outgoing model.
One of the biggest generational differences is the huge lift in potency from the petrol and diesel powerplants, with the old 2.7-litre four-pot petrol and 3.0-litre turbo-diesel mills making way for a more modern 3.5-litre V6 and 2.8-litre turbo-diesel.
Power from the V6 stands at 207kW/351Nm, which is a massive 89kW/109Nm more than the 2.7-litre, while the HiLux-derived diesel is up to 30kW and 150Nm more potent than the engine it replaces.
Outputs for the diesel are 130kW and 450Nm when paired to a six-speed automatic transmission, down to 420Nm when opting for the six-speed manual. The Commuter 12-seat minibus is detuned to 120kW/420Nm with the auto.
With a 200kg load in the rear, both engines make short work of accelerating up to highway speeds, and deliver power in a smooth, approachable manner that lets you apply only a small amount of throttle.
As expected, the V6 has a more linear power delivery, however the torque and fuel efficiency of the diesel makes it the pick of commercial use. Customers tend to agree, with around 80 per cent of HiAce sales expected to be diesel, with an even stronger trend predicted down th eline.
While noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) have undoubtedly improved, noise intrusion from the engine is still a problem, particularly on the V6 which we expected to be quieter.
While the previous HiAce was built primarily with the transportation of goods in mind, designers of the new model put a focus on making the vehicle a more comfortable working space for the delivery drivers who will spend hours each day in the cabin of their vehicle.
The change is immediately apparent upon entering the cabin, with ingress and egress made much easier thanks to engineers moving the powerplant further forward, creating extra space in the cabin.
The seating position is far more comfortable, with more lateral space that thankfully does not leave you right elbow rubbing against the door like in the fifth-gen model, and road vision that does not force you to duck under the rearview mirror to see to the left.
A big step up in cabin quality and class has also occurred, with more premium materials found throughout such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 4.2-inch multi-information display and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Toyota’s latest multimedia system.
It also features DAB+ digital radio, Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary compatibility, sat-nav with live traffic updates, and from the fourth quarter will be made available with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which Toyota can retrofit at no extra cost.
The cabin is an ergonomic and comfortable place to be with all dials and buttons within easy reach, and with the exception of flat seats (an all-too-common problem with LCVs everywhere), drivers should feel comfortable spending long hours in their HiAce.
One thing we noticed compared to its competitors was the lack of cabin storage in the HiAce, particularly in the smaller LWB variant.
While other offerings include storage on top of the dashboard, above the windshield and even as a second glovebox, the LWB only has one glovebox, some door bin storage and a centre console area. The SLWB adds roof-mounted storage, however it would still trail its competitors in this regard.
Arguably the most important feature for the driver is the HiAce’s safety credentials, with a suite of active safety tech, at least seven airbags and improved crumple zones helping it to a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
The inclusion of a reversing camera and front and rear parking sensors is also vital and should ensure less vans get returned after a day of work bearing dents and scratches.
Overall, the sixth-generation HiAce is a huge step up over the previous version, with improvements in just about every facet of the vehicle.
Toyota has said it aims to retain its segment-leading share with the new model, and given the improvements, we do not see that stranglehold loosening any time soon.
Model release date: 1 May 2019
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