Delivery vans. They’re everywhere. Usually white in colour. Multiplying like rabbits. Blame the pesky Millennials. Rather than be tempted to put down their devices and endure the arduous process of engaging with actual people at a retail level, like, buying clothes, like, f’instance, they routinely order stuff online. They let their pinkies do the talking shopping on the web.
Anything and everything. Clothes, shades, shoes, etc… Taking a guess about fit, colour and quality. Then some lost soul in the bowels of a warehouse wraps up the purchase, addresses it and hands it to another chap, whose task it is to deliver said package to the aforementioned petals in the wilds of suburbia.
Chatting to a van driver the other day, I learned he makes about 60 deliveries daily. All over the big city. Of course, hauling even 60 compact lightweight items like a new pair of heels, or a frock, or maybe a printer, is easy meat for most delivery vans.
Australia’s most popular van, the Toyota HiAce, is potentially way more capable and versatile than assuming a modest role as a suburban carrier of blouses, shirts and lingerie.
It really has come a long way from being a rather ungainly box on wheels, with a narrow track and shorter wheelbase. The latest-generation 2020 Toyota HiAce even looks more stable and musclier, but no thing of beauty. Aesthetics are not a priority in the world of white delivery vans.
The old forward-control HiAce, which served the commercial market for 15 years, had the engine and steering wheels under your backside. Many years ago, we had one on the dry skidpan at Eastern Creek Raceway. There, with very little urging from colleagues helping me with a story for Wheels magazine, and being a childish prat, I got the speedo needle cranking all the way to 180km/h, with the rear tyres spinning, squeaking and smoking manically. All at walking pace.
The then PR for Toyota, Mike Breen, was not half as amused as we were. Always a quiet dude, he silently censured us with a withering look. The HiAce was not ever to be an object of ridicule, apparently.
The newie, redesigned with an engine located up front in almost normal fashion, is a massive step forward, with some pretty handy firepower and other features that suggest van drivers and tradies are no longer treated as second-class citizens.
It comes in three variants, and in keeping with our Starbucks world, there is no regular size. Only big and bigger.
There’s the Long Wheelbase (LWB), Super Long Wheelbase (SLWB) and Commuter spread across the choices of diesel and petrol engines, and manual and auto gearboxes.
As ubiquitous as they are, white vans are not jiggers we get to drive that often. Around here, most of us are not in the delivery business.
With the need to lug some heavy building materials and household stuff down to the scorched-then-flooded fire zone on the NSW South Coast, we went for the big-capacity petrol engine, a 3.5-litre non-turbo V6 somewhat related to that of the Kluger (same family, same capacity, but with internal detail differences) that generates 207kW of power at 6000rpm and 351Nm of torque at 4600rpm. The transmission of choice for us was the six-speed auto.
Notably, the HiAce has a larger footprint – it’s wider and longer, and in LWB configuration a little heavier at 1720kg. The token bonnet extending forward of the windscreen is a boost to frontal collision safety. Access to the cabin is now much easier tanks to the lower seating position, grab handles and other ergonomic benefits.
The latest HiAce is (and I hesitate to use this descriptor) way more refined than before. Noise and vibration are more subdued, and it is almost free of wind rustle at speed. Tradies might now be inclined to take the HiAce to the opera. Er, maybe not.
The LWB HiAce model now measures 5265mm long, 1950mm wide and 1990mm tall (compared to 4695mm long, 1695mm wide and 1980mm tall). That increased width of 255mm is a change you’ll be aware of the first time you take to city traffic. Most notably, the wheelbase has been stretched by 640mm to 3210mm.
More important are the cargo dimensions: 1268mm between the wheel arches, 1760mm wide, 2530mm long and 1340mm internal height. Cargo capacity is measured at 6.2m³ for the LWB model. We can vouch it will take a mountain of stuff.
All HiAce vans have standard sliding rear cargo doors on each side, with the passenger side getting a glass window. The absence of barn doors will be seen as a negative by many operators.
Inside, the cabin is more car-like than the previous generation, with a surprising list of features.
Today’s white-van people are not exactly pampered, but they are well catered for. Lots to like: comfortable fabric seats (the driver’s pew is height-adjustable), tilt- and telescopic-adjustable leather-accented steering wheel (with audio, infotainment and cruise controls), manual air-conditioning, remote locking/unlocking and key start, auto up/down on front windows, front door bins with 1.5-litre bottle holders, good cupholders on the dash for driver and passenger, sunglasses holder, six cargo tie-down points, two interior lights, and two front 12V DC accessory sockets. An armrest would have been appreciated.
The entire range gets the latest multimedia system with 7.0-inch touchscreen display hooked up to AM/FM/DAB radio, CD player, full Bluetooth connectivity for audio and phone, USB and AUX inputs, satellite navigation with live traffic alerts, voice recognition, and Siri eyes-free for compatible iPhones and Toyota Link apps. Recently, Toyota added Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, too.
You will pay more for the latest, much improved HiAce, but buyers will note evidence of sensible extra value underscored by the five-star ANCAP safety rating. Autonomous emergency braking (AEB), which includes pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection, is now standard across the entire range.
Other safety systems in the driver-friendly cabin include the so-worthy blind-spot monitor, rear-cross traffic alert, seven airbags, lane-departure alert with steering assist function (via braking), road sign assist (certain speed signs only), adjustable speed limiter, auto high beam, cruise control, reversing camera with guide lines, and front and rear parking sensors.
The good news continues with daytime running lights, retractable heated electric exterior mirrors, intermittent rear window wiper, 215/70R16 tyres on 16-inch steel wheels with full-size spare, and dual rear-side sliding doors.
The entry HiAce with V6 petrol engine and six-speed manual transmission retails for $38,640 plus on-road costs. The test HiAce, with six-speed auto, jumps the price by another $2000, this outlay also including ventilated rear disc brakes. A diesel is an additional $3500.
The petrol V6/auto package isn’t as fuel-efficient as the diesel, but there is lots to like about its immediate urge and easy drivability. It jumps away from rest so readily, and impresses with the way it responds to pulling half a house up the hills on the coastal Princes Highway.
The suspension is typical of vans – independent MacPherson strut front and solid-axle leaf-sprung rear. A heavy load proves a breeze for the willing V6, and also has the effect of settling the rudimentary rear end that rides the imperfections in the asphalt with aplomb. At 100km/h, it happily cruises in top gear at an effortless 1850rpm.
When empty, another surprise is the absence of cabin/load space area echo and general commotion. But even without much more than two people aboard, the latest HiAce quite a settled traveller – at least until it rides over a solid hollow or lump in the road, when it momentarily assumes the fluttery demeanour of Joel Creasey.
Broadly, though, road manners and safety are much improved.
Tracking through a series of corners, the HiAce LWB workhorse feels predictable and stable, with that larger footprint (over the previous model) clearly beneficial. The power steering is the old, solid hydraulic type, but it works pleasantly, requiring less effort than the previous HiAce. The 11.0m turning circle is pretty helpful, too.
Brake pedal feel is also commendably communicative.
From the six-way-adjustable driver’s seat, visibility to the front and sides is excellent – a design appreciated at pedestrian crossings and when parking. Over-the-left-shoulder vis is also good thanks to that clear glazing in the sliding side door.
Real-world fuel use to the South Coast (laden) and back (light load) was 12.8L/100km overall. This compares with the official 12.0L/100km for automatic variants on the combined cycle. All models come with a 70-litre fuel tank. So, a way better range than an EV.
Braked towing capacity is rated at 1500kg for the petrol-auto models, while unbraked capacity is 750kg on all models. Hey, it’s not bought to be a tow vehicle…
Toyota offers the now common five-year/160,000km warranty on all HiAce models used commercially, while private buyers get unlimited-kilometre cover over the same period.
Service intervals for all HiAce models are a shortish six months/10,000km, but the cost is capped at just $185 for petrol variants for the first six services, before rising to $285, $723, $390 and $1145 to get to the five-year/100,000km mark.
The serious van-segment competition from Ford, Renault, Peugeot, Hyundai and VW meant the new-gen HiAce had to step up in order to stay on top.
It has done that. It’s way more comfortable to operate, has most of today’s mod cons, is bigger inside (and out), and way improved dynamically. It’s easy to climb into and out of. The petrol V6 is ideal for the delivery cargo hauling role for which it is cast. Importantly, the HiAce is now a safer vehicle.
Toss in a couple of other givens – Toyota reliability and traditional high HiAce resale – and the picture looks even rosier.
Driving a HiAce doesn’t bring back fond memories of steering a Porsche. Nor should it. The van should nail the criterion of being fit for its intended purpose. The HiAce manages this with room to spare.
And unless your other vehicle is a Rolls-Royce, in an overall sense the latest HiAce isn’t a bad thing to drive. No, really…
It probably works okay on a skidpan, too!