It’s not glamorous, but the Toyota HiAce remains Australia’s top-selling van by a country mile.
Not a car we often ponder, the trusty Toyota has nevertheless outsold high-profile passenger cars such as the Honda Jazz and Ford Focus so far this year — 2381 cargo vans and 928 commuter bus versions in total. Now, just to extend its market dominance over the likes of the Hyundai iLoad (1425 units over the same period), Toyota has a new five-seater version.
In the launch announcement from March, Toyota said that this version would “enable drivers to transport fellow workers during the week and family members at other times”. But would you?
The recipe for the HiAce Crew Van is simple: Take a long-wheelbase HiAce cargo van and fit a bench seat in the rear that seats three-across, while keeping significant cargo space behind it for your gear. It’s not a new concept, given rivals such as the iLoad and Volkswagen Transporter are also available in similar iterations.
At $37,990 plus on-road costs, the HiAce LWB Crew Van commands a $2000 premium over the regular LWB HiAce diesel. Our model as tested came with the optional (four-speed) automatic at $2500 extra, taking the total to $40,490.
This undercuts the equivalent iLoad Crew ($40,990), though the Hyundai has six seats rather than the HiAce’s five, while the Transporter SWB Crew van is $45,690 with a DSG or a further $2000 for the LWB.
Those new rear seats should really be called ‘apprentice seats’, because that’s who you suspect they’ll be carrying.
The rear row is a single-piece bench configuration that flips forward somewhat flush against the front of the cargo hold. To do this you remove the two outer headrests, flip the backrest down, flip the folded unit up, fold in the leg piece and push to click it into place. It’s a 10 second process.
You can’t remove the bench though. Toyota’s line about carrying families might be a stretch too, given the lap-only centre belt and lack of side airbags. The regular cargo version of the HiAce gets a four-star ANCAP safety rating against 2011 criteria, though.
The MY15 update also brings with it the fitment of ESC stability control which, as we found out when driving a MY14 version last year, was desperately needed. We lit the dash light up numerous times under some less-than-strenuous driving, and it worked as it should have.
The rear seat row is much more spacious than any (invariably safer) dual-cab ute, with frankly generous levels of legroom and acres of headroom. There are also sliding manual rear porthole windows, and the twin sliding side doors have large glass inserts that make outward visibility better than average for all occupants.
The regular cargo HiAce has a class-topping load length of 2900mm, while the crew version with the seats in use is about 2000mm — still 500mm longer than a dual-cab HiLux. Cargo space is a claimed 6000 litres, and the payload is 865kg (most utes are one-tonne).
So, what we have here is a five-seater commercial with a covered loading space both significantly longer and taller than a dual-cab ute with a canopy, and three rear seats that likewise have miles more space. You start to see the conceptual logic.
Out test van came with a rubberised load protector which we’d recommend, plus some all-weather mats. There’s no cargo barrier, but you’d be remiss not to fit one. Standard is a roof-hinged door that acts as a nice rain shelter, rather than forklift-friendlier split barn doors.
Toyota offers a vast range of factory accessories, including sat-nav, nudge bars, spot lights, roof racks, a first-aid kit and an air-conditioning curtain.
The cabin is very ‘old school’ van. Its cab-over design means you sit on the engine, and you have to clamber inside in a way that is rare on most modern vans. The packaging of the steering column also means the pedal placement is a little off. There’s also no steering wheel reach adjustment.
However, this design also has the reciprocal effect of maximising load length within overall size constraints. The lack of any bonnet also makes it easier to park and place. You also sit up higher even than you do in most SUVs.
The fascia is basic and simple, and made of tough-wearing plastics. The multimedia system features an effective Bluetooth phone and audio system as standard. To Toyota’s credit, it now fits a reversing camera as standard into the rear-view mirror — something any 5.0-metre long vehicle surely needs.
Unlike the iLoad, you only get two front seats, and they’re pretty flat and hard at that. Between them is a large centre console with handy storage compartments on either side, and two cupholders behind (that’ll likely be the most useful to rear-seat occupants). There are two pop-out cupholders in the dash and slim door pockets too.
Where it falls shy of the average dual cab — or the iLoad — is in the engine department. It’s trusty 3.0-litre four-cylinder diesel might be capable of racking up a million clicks, but it’s no speed demon.
You get 100kW of power at 3400rpm and 300Nm of torque at 1200rpm, meaning like all commercial diesel engines it’s at its strongest right down in the bottom end. Climb up the rev band and you’ll find the odd flat spot — something one might clock up to the automatic transmission only having four ratios to use.
Power is sent to the rear wheels, to improve handling under heavy load.
The crucial 0-80km/h sprint took us a shade over 9.0 seconds. Combined-cycle fuel consumption is 9.2 litres per 100km. The maximum braked-trailer towing capacity is 1400kg — enough for a covered box trailer of tools, but less than half that of the average dual-cab.
Behind the wheel, the HiAce feels significantly less refined than its rivals. It’s loud, for starters, about 3dB louder than the iLoad. That doesn’t sound like much, but it is.
The wishbone front and beam rear suspension gives the van a skittish ride without a load, and the van bobs about on the straight-ahead (especially in a crosswind) more than it should. Unladen, it handles speed humps as well as a cat handles a bath. The front end is becalmed by a decent load over the rear axle.
As with all Toyotas, the ownership experience promises to be decent. The company has 290 Australian dealers, more than any other company.
The three-year/100,000km warranty falls short of the iLoad's five-year term, though you do get up to six standard scheduled services capped (at current prices) at $180 each for the first three years or 60,000km.
Service intervals are every six-months or 10,000km, the latter of which is pretty low for a work van that will rack up some serious clicks. The iLoad has 12-month/15,000km intervals, each visit capped at prices between $349 and $499.
The conclusion? At the end of the day, the HiAce sells in vast numbers because fleets and tradies alike have found them to be largely trouble-free workhorses over decades of use. Not because it’s the most refined in its class - it isn’t remotely.
Who will buy the Crew Van? It stands to reason it'll be those already in the market for a HiAce, or those who opted for something similar such as the Hyundai or VW versions but really wanted the trusty Toyota.
No doubt it'll prove a tough companion, but those wanting a modicum of comfort might also consider one of the above.