It’s fair to say that the 2016 Toyota HiAce LWB has numerous parameters it needs to deliver on and fulfil well. I make this claim, given the fact that most owners (or drivers more specifically) will spend plenty of time behind the wheel running around town on delivery – or work site – duty.
You’d think getting in and out would be paramount then, as would efficiency, reliability, and manoeuvrability. I’d add unladen ride comfort to that list, but commercials so rarely get that right, at CarAdvice we’ve almost given up on that one. Toss in an easy to access load space to round out the judging criteria and you’ve got an idea of where the HiAce needs to score well.
There’s no doubt though that HiAces get used. Perspective? The average Aussie punter clocks around 20,000km per year. Most of us who live in urban areas will sneak fairly easily beneath that number too, probably closer to 15,000km. The average HiAce pilot will cover well over 50,000km per year. Right up to the 75,000km mark (and beyond) in some cases.
The use of the term ‘pilot’ might be a bit rich too, when you take a cursory glance into the HiAce’s command centre. There really isn’t a lot of high tech stuff going on. In fact, there isn’t a lot of anything at all going on, to be honest. It's utilitarian, to say the least. There’s an audio system. Oh, it has Bluetooth too, which works, so that’s a nice bonus. And there’s a rear-view camera – praise the Lord – that displays up in the rear-view mirror. Aside from that it’s very much circa mid-1990s up the pointy end of the HiAce. Our test example even has three pedals and a manual gearshift. Can I suggest now, you buy an auto if you do as much driving as the average HiAce owner?
Pricing for our test model starts from $35,990 plus the usual on-road costs. Ours doesn’t have any options, so there’s nothing extra here beyond what you get standard for that entry price. Read Mike’s test of the 2015 HiAce LWB Crew Van.
Now, back to the parameters we feel the HiAce must nail. Sadly, it fails at the first hurdle in terms of entry and egress. The narrow footwell opening at the bottom of the door aperture, the ride height, and the positioning of the pedal cluster relative to the seat, all combine to make a quick entry or exit nigh on impossible. You get better the more often you do it, but I feel for the delivery driver who has to hop in and out countless times every day. No matter which technique you prefer, you’ll never look graceful, that much is certain.
Once seated, the cavernous load space behind is enhanced by a window in the sliding door, which makes reversing and manoeuvring the HiAce a lot safer than it would be with solid sides like some of its rivals have. Forward visibility is excellent, and the HiAce turns on a dime, so hustling it around the city – once you account for the wheelbase – is a lot easier than you might think. You just need to remember not to cut corners, such is the positioning of the front wheels – under your bum basically – relative to the lengthy distance from to the rear wheels. You’ll make great friends with gutters otherwise!
The aforementioned Bluetooth system works once paired, as does music streaming, but it's not that easy to hear what’s being said (yelled) to you over the roar of the diesel engine under load. We’ll get to that in a minute. You won’t find the word ‘refinement’ anywhere in this review. Unless it’s preceded by the words ‘lack of’. I spent a good few hours behind the wheel in one stretch and the seats, while not threatening the luxury SUV segment for comfort, do the job well enough and don’t create any unwanted aches or pains.
The steering, clutch pedal action and gear shift action are all excellent and worthy of mention in a segment that rarely manages to excel in these areas. While we’d absolutely prefer the automatic (which is still pretty rudimentary, it has to be said) to the manual, the torquey turbo diesel engine and quality five-speed gearbox make the driving experience a lot less tiresome than it might otherwise be.
Our problem with the manual comes courtesy of the clutch pedal positioning. Moreover the way it pendulums when you press the pedal in. See, it doesn’t hinge straight to the firewall like most do, but rather it swings up beneath the dash as you press it forward. It means that – even if you’re six feet tall like me – you have to sit closer to the dash than you’d like to properly use the clutch without reaching for it. In turn, that means you’re closer to the steering wheel than you need to be, and your knees are more likely to bash into the steering column plastics than we’d like as well. In short, you feel like you’re sitting way too close to the dash. Opt for an auto, as we drove straight after the manual, and all this fades away. The driving position is much better with the auto because you don’t need to account for clutch pedal access. We did appreciate the left foot rest in this manual version though, which is perfectly positioned and broad enough for work boots.
Crank the 3.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel into life, and it’s more Massey Ferguson than high-tech masterpiece. Industrial? Agricultural? Either works if you’re looking for a one-word description of the HiAce’s oiler. While its 100kW at 3400rpm power figure isn’t mind blowing, the peak torque figure of 300Nm at 1200rpm is reasonably stout, and it ensures the HiAce can be a rapid enough delivery vehicle when called on.
Roll on acceleration is plentiful and effortless in any gear even from speeds lower than you should be rolling in the cog you’ve selected. Like all great diesel engines, you can lug the HiAce around lazily at all times. It’s efficient too. The ADR claim on the combined cycle is 9.2L/100km and over our week of testing, we used an indicated return of 9.8L/100km. It might sound like it’s 1985, but it doesn’t slurp diesel like commercial vehicles did in the '80s, that’s for sure and that real world figure is impressively close to the manufacturer claim.
The engine roars up to redline, making more and more noise while doing so, to the point where the Bluetooth system is drowned out completely even with the volume set at max. You’re willing to forgive the sound though given the proficiency of the diesel in piling on speed. A solid cargo wall would make a huge difference to the cabin and we wouldn’t own a HiAce without one. The engine’s lack of outright top end performance is more than forgivable, when you take into account its proficiency down low and into the mid range. It’s a surprisingly flexible turbo diesel commercial engine.
First up, we do some urban running with no weight in the load space. The unladen ride is actually a surprise. Really nasty bumps and speed humps will pogo the rear end around a little, and absorption is best described as stiff. You’d expect that though, allowing for the fact that the HiAce has been designed to cope with a 975kg payload. Generally speaking around town, the HiAce is pretty good. We were never offended by its harshness, put it that way.
Load the HiAce up with cargo though, and as you’d expect of any van or ute, the ride settles down quite competently. We stashed around 500kg into the load space and it barely registers from the driver’s seat, save for the more settled and compliant ride. The standard tie-down hooks are sturdy enough to secure a motorcycle (tested) and the sliding side door makes access to goods stowed directly behind the seats nice and easy. As mentioned before, we’d opt for a luggage barrier (solid not plastic) to both better insulate the cabin and ensure nothing went flying into the back of our scones under a hard emergency brake.
Keep in mind too, that the sliding side door doesn’t open wide enough to fit a full-sized pallet through and the top-hinged rear door makes loading difficult as well as you can see from the photos. Definitely opt for the barn door option at the rear if you need to use a forklift to load and unload.
In terms of reliability, there’s little historically to indicate the HiAce isn’t a worthy long-term trooper. Plenty can be found running round with 500,000km on them once they hit the 10-year-old mark, and Toyota diesel engines are, for the most part, trusty servants. There’s a reason so many companies and fleet buyers keep going back to the HiAce even though it isn’t ‘the best’ in the segment.
We think the added tech and safety that’s now standard for the HiAce is worthy of note, and it’s why we’ve bumped our HiAce scores up across the model range over the past 12 months. While it’s not the best option in a commercial van segment that is more competitive than ever, its credentials remain strong. Buy the auto, prepare yourself for a lack of refinement and you won’t be disappointed. And if you’re going to be loading/unloading with a forklift, remember to option the side hinging ‘barn doors’.