After a hugely long and mostly successful production run, the Toyota HiAce has had a thorough reinvention. It’s a new look over the top of a new chassis, with a ‘semi-bonneted’ mechanical layout that offers more space, safety and comfort compared to the old forward-control HiAce.
If you want a pure workhorse that’s destined to never leave the bitumen, there’s a chance that this HiAce might be a much better choice than the omnipresent 4x4 ute. Controversial, I know, but bear with me.
This HiAce we are testing is the SLWB (super-long wheelbase) diesel, and could be the most practical and effective of the new HiAce range.
Firstly, let’s look at price. This variant, which is the biggest and most expensive van in the range (if you exclude the Commuter variants), has an asking price of $52,140 plus on-road costs. On the road, expect to pay $56,500 to $58,500 before options depending on your state of residence.
For that, you’re getting a van that’s 5915mm long sitting on a huge 3860mm (152-inch) wheelbase. The HiAce SLWB is 1950mm wide and 2280mm tall, completing the overly large dimensions. For comparison’s sake, the LWB HiAce is 650mm shorter with 290mm less overall height. Those different dimensions translate into different kerb weights (2340kg v 2205kg), GVMs (3500kg v 3300kg) and payloads (1160kg v 1095kg).
While you can also get a more powerful naturally aspirated petrol V6, we have the more expensive and pragmatic choice: a familiar 2.8-litre turbo diesel, which is also on active duty in plenty of other applications with the same outputs. It’s called the 1GD-FTV, and makes 130kW at 3400rpm and 450Nm at 1600–2400rpm. That runs to the rear wheels via a six-speed automatic gearbox, though you can opt for a six-speed manual in the shorter LWB variant.
It’s a driveline well suited to this application, with a willing torquiness in the lower and middle rev ranges making town and highway driving quite painless. What’s interesting to point out is the quietness of it. While the 1GD is reasonably refined in applications like the HiLux and Fortuner, it’s even quieter again in the HiAce.
Whereas one might assume that vans are typically on the loud and rough side of the equation, this new HiAce is a doddle to drive. Along with a quiet engine, the suspension and steering are well dialled in for comfort and control. The steering wheel feels premium, especially for a van, and transmits meaty feedback to the driver around town. This super-long wheelbase feels almost supple at times, thanks no doubt to the 150-plus inches between front and rear wheels.
My main gripe with the HiAce is the lane-keep assist function, which because of the hydraulic steering tries to steer the HiAce via brakes, rather than the more typical steering intervention of electric power-steering systems. It’s an unsettling feeling, cutting power and snatching the brakes on one side of the vehicle. It can be turned off, but is worthwhile tech that deserves to be better implemented.
That dodgy-feeling lane-keep assistance isn’t the only piece of safety technology to depend on, thankfully. Along with a five-star ANCAP safety rating garnered in May 2019, the new HiAce has autonomous emergency braking (with pedestrian detection and day-only cyclist detection), traffic sign recognition, automatic headlights and high-beam, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-departure alert.
There are folding electric mirrors, as well, but they don’t auto-fold when the HiAce is locked.
Along with safety, the infotainment system is also much improved. The system measures 7.0 inches in size, and has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, along with digital radio, native navigation and a CD player. This pegs the infotainment better than the Fortuner, LandCruiser, Kluger, Prado and HiLux, and provides a few more entertainment options beyond AM and FM for professional drivers.
There’s a nice splash of technology with the optional digital rear-view camera, which is operated through a toggle on the mirror itself. It gives you a clear view of the rear for when the cargo area is loaded to the hilt. It’s similar to what you get on some new Land Rovers, Nissans and Subarus, although the quality isn’t as good. Still, it works.
The new-design dashboard is dominated by three big, square cupholders fitted with small spring-loaded levers. One of them is also home to a 12V socket, which is complemented by another one down around your ankles, along with a solitary USB point and auxiliary sound jack. Overall, the design is hardy and practical.
The steering wheel is not your garden-variety, poverty-pack urethane unit. Instead, it’s ‘leather’ wrapped and feels nice in the hand. Control buttons for your infotainment, cruise control and driving aids are all easy to use, as well.
You’ll notice a plethora of blank, unused buttons on this model flanking each side of the instrument binnacle. That’s handy for those who want to gear up their HiAce with plenty of electrical accessories, and hints to the packages that Toyota has for fitment.
There’s no centre console storage in the middle, instead it’s a walk-through design. It’s handy, but a seat-mounted armrest would be nice for those spending bulk hours behind the wheel. Storage is serviced by a glovebox, which is narrow but deep (and also lockable). There’s a big parcel shelf up above your head, and door bins by your feet are big enough: fit a big bottle there or (in my case) a 15-inch MacBook Pro slots in nicely.
Two sliding doors have steps for easy access, and come to think of it, the front doors are low and wide as well – easy to get into. You don’t feel like you’re climbing up and in so much.
Rearward of the two seats, there’s precious little to report on other than the 9.3 cubic metres of raw space at the ready. The roof is lined and fitted with three interior lights, but the walls and floor are nude and ready for a fit-out. There’s a handful of grommeted holes for mounting and wiring, but the HiAce can be put to work immediately with six stout tie-down points.
And that’s what we did. To push the HiAce’s big payload to the limit, we loaded one tonne of bricklayer's sand into the back. The sand was in a bulk bag and on a pallet loaded by a forklift through the side door.
Many thanks to Peter and the team at Nepean Landscape and Building Supplies for taking on my strange request, and loading up some ballast into the HiAce.
Before I get to loaded driving impressions, there are some important points to cover. Because the HiAce has a one-piece rear door with a top hinge (instead of barn doors), getting a forklifted pallet in via the back is difficult. Both side doors are tight, but can accommodate fork-loading of an Aussie pallet (as long as the forklift operator is confident).
While rear barn doors would be more versatile, loading heavy pallets in via the sliding doors is of great benefit to how the HiAce handles. With all of that weight onboard, the suspension still had plenty of suspension travel available, with only a small amount of negative rake added.
And after driving the HiAce loaded up with one tonne through town, on the highway and through semi-rural roads, the ride was completely unflustered, with plenty of damping control. The driveline took that extra weight in its stride as well, working only a little harder to keep pace going against the additional inertia. Overall, it was very impressive.
The HiAce's suspension wouldn’t perform so well with the tonne directly over or behind the rear axle, but that’s perhaps a method to Toyota’s no-barn-door madness. If you’re going to put one big pallet load in, it’s much better to load it further forward. My thoughts shot towards comparing the lugging performance to a 4x4 ute, which wouldn’t be as good, simply because the load cannot be placed in a similar location.
When our review wrapped up, fuel usage averaged out to an even 10.0 litres per hundred kilometres. That figure shot up from 9.6L/100km before we loaded the vehicle up. On unloaded highway runs, it did creep down towards the low nines at times. That compares to Toyota’s claimed combined cycle usage of 8.4L/100km.
Toyota’s warranty fine print indicates that the warranty for vehicles used in commercial capacities have a five-year and 160,000km warranty, which differs from the unlimited kilometres that private buyers and non-commercial-use Toyotas get.
Servicing comes in through Toyota’s capped-price program, which runs six-month/10,000km service intervals. Along with being an extra day off the road, the additional annual visit does increase running costs. The first six visits, which take you up to three years and 60,000km, cost $245 per visit (totalling $1470). From there, prices rise haphazardly: each next visit is listed at $336, $761.02, $521.36 and $441.29. That takes you up to five years and 100,000km with a grand total of $3529.67.
Toyota’s new HiAce is mighty impressive in many respects, especially when compared to the model it replaces. It’s safe, comfortable and easy to drive. The most impressive element for me is the load-hauling ability, with a driveline and chassis that were more than up to a tonne of hard yakka (literally). Loaded driving, in particular, is a real strength of the 2020 HiAce, and good enough reason to consider one over a 4x4 ute.