It's a long time between drinks – a full 15 years – but Toyota has finally taken the wraps off the all-new 2019 HiAce van and it's surprisingly really good.
Prior to the last of the previous-generation HiAce finding a new home in Australia, Toyota will have delivered over 335,000 HiAce vans and buses to Australian customers since it originally went on sale.
Despite its age, the HiAce also regularly held the top sales spot in a segment where its competitors had well and truly moved on.
With safety regulations becoming far more stringent, Toyota opted to ditch the flat-nosed design and instead go down the path of a semi-bonnet design to not only improve safety, but also offer better passenger comfort in the main cabin.
Aiming to simplify its offering, Toyota has released HiAce with three variants – the Long Wheelbase (LWB), Super Long Wheelbase (SLWB) and Commuter, along with the option of two engines and two gearboxes.
Pricing kicks off from $38,640 (plus on-road costs) for the HiAce LWB with six-speed manual transmission and a V6 petrol engine, while a move to an automatic transmission steps the price up by $2000 (this step up also adds ventilated rear disc brakes). Moving to a diesel is an additional $3500.
Prices increase all the way through to the top specification Commuter GL, which is exclusively available with an automatic transmission and diesel engine, with pricing finishing at $70,140 (plus on-road costs). You can see our full pricing and specifications break down for the 2019 Toyota HiAce range here.
Leading the efficiency front is the 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine found in the HiLux ute, which produces 130kW of power and 450Nm of torque in automatic van/crew variants (peak torque between 1600-2400rpm), and 420Nm in manual van/crew variants (peak torque between 1400-2600rpm). In the Commuter bus, the same engine produces 120kW of power and 420Nm of torque (with peak torque between 1600-2200rpm).
Diesel fuel economy comes in at 7.5 or 8.2 litres of fuel per 100km (manual versus automatic) for the LWB and 8.4L/100km for the SLWB and LWB Crew Van. Both the automatic and manual variants are available with six forward gears.
A new petrol engine, which shares a similar configuration with the current-generation Kluger, is a 3.5-litre naturally-aspirated V6 that produces 207kW of power and 351Nm of torque (peak torque at 4600rpm). It too is available across the HiAce range with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.
Fuel economy is 12.4L/100km for manual variants and 12.0L/100km for automatic variants on the combined cycle. All models come with a 70-litre fuel tank.
HiAce buyers will most enjoy the big leap forward in terms of safety. The HiAce has earned an impressive five-star ANCAP safety rating, with Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) including pedestrian and cyclist detection standard across the entire HiAce range.
From the outside, the immediate difference you will notice is the new bonnet section that extends the front end of the vehicle, along with a much bigger stance on the road.
LWB variants of the HiAce measure in at 5265mm long (an increase of 570mm) and sit on a wheelbase that measures 3210mm (a 640mm increase). That's on top of a track width increase to 1670mm (a jump of 200mm and 205mm respectively for the front and rear) and an overall width increase to 1950mm (an increase of 255mm) – it's easy to see the visual difference when the old HiAce and new HiAce are sat side-by-side.
SLWB variants also increase with an additional 535mm in length and an additional 750mm in wheelbase length, with the overall wheelbase now measuring 3860mm. Width has increased by a further 70mm as well. Cargo capacity has increased to 6.2m3 for the LWB van and 9.3m3 for the SLWB.
Open the driver's door and you are welcomed with a refreshed cabin that offers all the bells and whistles you would expect in a modern van. The entire range gets a 7.0-inch infotainment system with colour touchscreen and inbuilt satellite navigation with live traffic alerts and DAB+ digital radio, along with USB connectivity (1 port in vans and 6 in Commuter GL).
While it's currently not available with smartphone connectivity, Toyota will allow customers to upgrade their infotainment systems with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto free of charge by the fourth quarter of 2019.
Other feature highlights include a 4.2-inch colour display in front of the driver for trip computer functions (along with an excellent speed recognition camera that displays the last read speed zone on the screen), standard cruise control across the range, automatic up/down on all windows, dual sliding doors, front and rear parking sensors and a rear-view camera.
Depending on the variant chosen, buyers also get a digital rear vision mirror, which turns the standard rear view mirror into a live camera feed looking out the rear of the vehicle. The advantage of this system is the ability to see out the back when the van is full of gear.
Toyota Australia has also been instrumental in engineering genuine accessories for HiAce, along with extensive local ride and handling testing over the past five years. We had the chance to play with a few of them, including a rigid rear step with inbuilt parking sensors and our favourite – a ceiling-mounted ladder storage system.
The concept behind the ceiling mounted ladder holder was to prevent the need for drivers to climb on the back of the vehicle to load or unload a ladder from the roof. It won't suit all customers because it will only fit a smaller ladder, but the theory is that it allows for ladder storage without the inconvenience of clambering on to the roof and being concerned with secure strapping.
There's also a front-mounted nudge bar with inbuilt parking sensors and 6mm thick steel to prevent vehicle damage with small nudges or impacts.
How does the HiAce drive? Well this is the part that surprised us the most. The previous-generation HiAce required drivers to awkwardly scoot into position and then sit above the engine with a steering tunnel running between their legs.
The latest HiAce does away with this by using the frontal space to store the engine, which results in the seating position feeling lower and easier to get in and out of. And, while the steering is still hydraulically assisted, it's much easier to steer with more precision through the wheel.
An achievable wheel angle of 45 degrees also means a turning circle of 11m for LWB vans and 12.8m for SLWB and Commuter.
Hit the road and immediately noticeable is the reduced amount of noise intrusion from the engine – even more so with the petrol V6.
We tested both the six-speed automatic and manual and found both gearboxes to make excellent use of the engine's torque. The manual is easy to drive with carefree shifts, a light clutch pedal and a great function that allows rev matching on upshifts and downshifts.
The automatic gearbox features a manual shifting function and when teamed with the petrol V6 it has a heap of get up and go. Peak torque comes on fairly late at 4600rpm, but it makes a great sound and is surprisingly fun to drive.
Unfortunately the tow rating hasn't really improved, with diesel LWB van models limited to 1900kg/1400kg braked (diesel/petrol manual respectively) and LWB van and Crew to 1500kg braked (diesel/petrol automatic), while SLWB vans and Commuter will only tow 1500kg braked regardless of engine combination.
Another point to add to the negative list is a lack of barn doors. While a pallet can be loaded in through the side doors of the SLWB van, loading a pallet through the rear of the LWB with an upward opening door could make life difficult for some buyers and will ultimately rule this vehicle out for some customers.
Our road loop included some urban and suburban driving to get a better feel for the HiAce in and around town. It drives incredibly well and the extra width helps it feel better planted on the road.
Steering feel is great, brake pedal feel is good and the stop/start system integrated into diesel models works well with little lag between releasing the brake and moving away – there is, of course, a switch to manually disable this feature.
Visibility out the front and sides is excellent and digital rear view mirror works a charm in LWB Crew and Commuter models. This technology can be added as part of an option pack to LWB models for $1000, which includes an auto-dimming rear-view mirror capable of displaying a live camera feed from behind the van and body-coloured mirrors and bumpers, halogen fog lights, and chrome trim.
Servicing comes in at $180 for each service on six-cylinder petrol models and $240 per service for four-cylinder diesel models. Servicing is required every six months or 10,000km, which is incredibly short for what is likely to be a tool of trade.
Toyota now offers a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty (or five years and 160,000km for businesses and fleet buyers), but can extend the warranty to seven years if the vehicle is serviced alongside its recommended schedule.
The all-new Toyota HiAce really kicks a six for Toyota. It's an example of Toyota working hard to develop class-leading products with passenger safety at the very top of mind.
It drives beautifully, it's loaded with standard safety tech and best of all it can be optioned with innovative accessories that have been engineered by the team in Australia with longevity in mind.
If you're a manufacturer with a van that lacks the advanced safety tech on HiAce, you're on notice. Business customers shouldn't settle for anything less than the best when it comes to safety.
Toyota says barn doors are on the cards, so if it's a feature that is a must for you, we'd hold off purchasing for the moment, but for everybody else, it's worth test driving the HiAce, it's a completely different beast to the outgoing model.