Big changes in commercial vehicles arrive bit by bit across the segment, but usually in bold shifts for individual models, given how long each generation lasts.
Such is the case with the 2019 Toyota HiAce. The new-generation HiAce represents a massive leap forward in technology, safety and refinement compared to the old HiAce that ran from 2006 until 2019 in Australia while other, newer vans moved the game on.
No real surprise, then, that the new HiAce is much better than the old. What’s new and what’s different about it then?
Most obviously, the HiAce moves away from its former ‘forward control’ layout, which put occupants ahead of the engine and front subframe, to a more typical bonneted design that pushes the engine forward and adds more crash space for occupants.
It’s a design change that mirrors the well-worn paths of rival vans. It’s also one that means the new model has grown in length compared to the old model to maintain cargo capacity.
Unlike most Euro vans, the HiAce also sticks with a rear-wheel-drive layout instead of adopting what is often considered a more space-efficient front-wheel -drive platform. A variety of shared HiLux componentry is part of the reason why.
Under the bonnet resides the same 2.8-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder engine as the HiLux, too, along with a six-speed manual transmission. Outputs are rated at 130kW/430Nm or opt for the optional six-speed auto and torque bumps to 450Nm.
Toyota offers the HiAce in two sizes: a short wheelbase with a low roof (confusingly called a long wheelbase) or a long wheelbase with a high roof (dubbed the super-long wheelbase).
The shorter of the two kicks off from $38,640 before on-road costs when equipped with a V6 petrol engine and manual transmission. Opt for the more popular diesel tested here and the price pushes to $42,140 (+ORCs) with a manual.
If your preference is an automatic, add an extra $2000. In most situations, though, the manual is smooth and easy to use. The clutch is light, so there’s no problems trawling through traffic.
You can easily slide through the shift gate, though in this particular car the first-second change was a little reluctant at times. Given the HiAce here was almost box-fresh, it’s forgivable. With a bit of run-in time, this will no doubt become more cooperative.
The newer-generation engine and the sound-deadening around it make for a more peaceful office on the go. Yes, it’s still got a signature diesel soundtrack, but it’s far more hushed than the generation before it.
You’ll still encounter some vibrations from the engine, too, and Euro vans tend to have a slight edge on overall refinement, but the HiAce is nonetheless competitive.
Since we’re discussing engines, the HiAce ports the 1GD-FTV engine over from vehicles including the HiLux, Prado and Fortuner, which have become known for their DPF issues. There is a manual DPF burn button for operators who don’t trigger an automatic burn cycle, but the likelihood of ongoing issues remains an unknown for now, given the newness of the HiAce.
To help drivers with a near telepathic connection to their old HiAces adapt to the new, longer version, front-corner park sensors serve as a helpful reminder that the nose of the HiAce is no longer in line with your toes.
At 5265mm long, the new model is a substantial 570mm longer than before. The wheelbase, at 3210mm, is also longer to the tune of 640mm. Despite the growth, its turning circle is a sharp 11.0m, making tight laneway access a cinch.
When travelling unladen, there’s not much in the way of sound deadening in the floor, but an upholstered roof liner (which is a little odd given its likelihood for damage) does absorb some of the noise generated in the interior and prevents too much boom or echo. Add in shelving, racks, side panelling or cargo and – depending on what you have onboard – things will either get better or worse. Up to you, really.
Even in base trim, the HiAce includes dual side sliding doors; however, at the rear there’s no option to swap out the lift-up tailgate for a set of barn doors.
In the load area, overall cargo length has been reduced compared to its predecessor, from a neat 3000mm to 2530mm between the back of the front seats and the tailgate. Toyota has kept a walk-through from front to rear with a wide gap between the seats.
There’s no bulkhead; however, one is available as an accessory, along with an air-conditioning curtain and a solid mesh cargo barrier, allowing owners to select the most suitable solution for their needs.
Width has grown significantly, with a maximum of 1760mm inside the rear, down to 1268mm between the rear wheels. Height measures 1340mm, and the total cargo capacity is rated at 6.2m³. If you're looking to add even more, the HiAce diesel manual is rated to a maximum 1900kg braked towing capacity.
On the road, the HiAce is genuinely pleasant. There’s enough punch from the engine to skip along with traffic. It’ll also happily trickle along in grinding traffic if need be with no stuttering or jerkiness in stop-start driving. There’s a quick-to-wake idle-stop system, too, keeping noise and fuel use down when stopped at traffic lights.
On test, the goal was to simulate a day of delivery runs: part freeway running, part regular stopping. Fuel consumption sat at a decent 9.6 litres per 100km, which although further north of Toyota’s 7.5L/100km claim still seems decent.
There is a fly in the ointment when it comes to day-to-day operations, with windscreen pillars that are incredibly thick at their base. Approaching roundabouts, or operating in areas with pedestrians, comes with a degree of difficulty thanks to massive areas obscured from view at a crucial point on the horizon.
Aside from that, the rest of the cabin is well thought out, easy to access, and much more spacious inside than before. The seating position feels more natural and less upright than before, and the new dash design, while still only basic, is logically and clearly laid out.
Storage in the door bins and glovebox is generous, but there’s not a wealth of other storage solutions. Most vans feature a mix of overhead shelving, laptop and notepad storage, and other open or secured areas – Toyota is light-on by comparison.
In terms of entertainment, a 7.0-inch touchscreen display plays host to inbuilt satellite navigation with live traffic, CD player, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, USB and AUX inputs, ToyotaLink smartphone connectivity, and a two-speaker sound system. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto weren’t offered at the time of review, though Toyota is expected to announce their introduction soon.
Toyota sticks with a shorter than usual six-month or 10,000km service schedule, which means working vehicles are in for a minimum of two days a year off the road compared to other vans that might run longer intervals. There’s also the potential for picking up any issues early, too, which is some consolation.
Capped-price servicing sees the first six dealer visits capped at $240 per service. Warranty coverage spans five years/unlimited kilometres for private use, or as is likely to be the case for most HiAce owners, vehicles used as taxis, hire vehicles or engaged in transporting people or goods for payment carry a five-year/160,000km warranty.
The new HiAce also picks up a full suite of standard safety tech, including autonomous emergency braking with cyclist detection, speed sign recognition, lane-departure warning, auto high-beam, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, seven airbags, reversing camera and parking sensors. ANCAP has awarded a five-star rating under current 2019 assessment criteria.
Toyota’s use of hydraulic power steering precludes the fitment of full lane-keep assist, but the car will attempt to nudge you back into your lane by braking one side of the vehicle to keep things on track. Additionally, cruise control and a speed limiter are included for an added layer of licence-preserving convenience.
All up, the HiAce drastically improves in key areas like comfort, ergonomics, technology and safety. That’s no quantum leap when you consider the age of the outgoing model, but for operators it will come as a welcome update.
For dyed-in-the-wool HiAce operators, the changes in size and driving position may take some getting used to, but rest assured this generation is sure to become a fleet favourite, just like the model it replaces.