The Toyota HiAce, stalwart van of choice when it comes to tradies, couriers and the self employed for decades. That's not to say that there are not better offerings out there right now, but for the year model we're reviewing (2000 so to say), the Toyota HiAce would be the top pick.
While many folk regards vans as nothing more than a utility vehicle, those who drive them for a living have no choice but to at least try to love what they drive. Each to their own, I guess.
What did I drive before? Some of you may be shocked, so if you're standing on a bus, you'd better find a seat. If you're driving a car while reading this, you'd better pull over and stop, stat.
Of course it was another van, due to work reasons as a delivery driver. What van exactly? A brand spanking new Toyota HiAce TRH201R LWB petrol automatic, purchased new in 2014 for $35990.
Queue the gasps, I'll explain shortly why I "downgraded". But from my perspective as a van driver of many years, it was rather an upgrade.
We've owned this RZH103R SWB 2.4-litre petrol automatic for two years now and there's nothing to write home about, although it does the job well without complaints. It may lack the creature comforts of today's vans, however compared to the current iteration HiAce, it's definitely a godsend.
You see, it wasn't about the money. This RZH103R belonged to a distant family member who wanted to sell it to get the newer version. I couldn't say no to a test drive, and one test drive later, I was hooked. We didn't end up doing a swap as he was after a diesel.
Your first impression is just how much space there is up in the front compared to the current HiAce. It is so prevalent that you'd be crazy not to notice. It seems that to maximise cargo space on the current model, they've shifted the driver and passenger seat closer to the front of the van and they've raised the dashboard. Anyone who's 6-foot tall and has rented or driven a current generation HiAce will know the struggle to fold themselves into the van.
The wheelarch seems to be higher as well, meaning the seat is even higher. With the awkward entry and egress daily, it starts to take a toll on your body. With my RZH103R, I can just hop up and sit comfortable, and slide off to get out, extremely similar to most SUVs in ride height.
As a result of a lower dashboard on the RZH103R, the visibility is greater and feels almost like a bus. There is also greater headroom and legroom thanks to the smarter design which makes the older HiAce a good choice if it's driver comfort and cabin space you're after.
On the handling front, this is extremely noticeable. The current generation HiAce was extremely scary to drive around corners. It seemed to be top heavy and body roll was much more pronounced in the current version. The RZH103R seems to take corners a little more elegantly than its younger sister and is extremely noticeable, to a van fanatic like me anyway.
In regards to the engine though, the current model takes the crown without a doubt. The 2.7-litre 2TR-FE is no rocket box, however it does a fantastic job even when the van is laden. It has plenty of low down torque and gets the van up to speed with minimal fuss.
It's also scared a few people in car parks due to the quietness of the engine when at idle. The 2.4-litre 2ZR-FE found on the RZH103R really is a huge chunk slower than the current petrol engine, however it was adequate at its time. Note the FE designation; electronic fuel injection came on board around the end of 1998 so it pays to check if you're in the market for one of these HiAces.
Another front where the current model beats the old is in cargo capacity. While the current generation is rated at 6.0-cubic metres of cargo capacity, my guess is that you could only fit 5.0-cubic metres in this short wheelbase RZH103R.
On top of that, you get driver and passenger airbags, a rear-view camera and a better sound system with CD, USB and AUX capability.
That's where the party stops though.
All in all both versions are great cargo carrying vans that lack refinement, say, compared to a VW Transporter or Mercedes Vito or even a Hyundai iLoad. However from this review, take it that a newer car doesn't always mean a better product overall.
Hopefully with the new generation HiAce due to be released, they improve the cabin space and comfort. It might sound crazy to most of you that I sold a brand new van for one that's edging on 17 years in age, but comfort and handling matters if you're doing a few hundred kms on the road each day. And if you're a little on the large size in terms of build, newer doesn't mean better. You might get cargo space but there's always a sacrifice, which is cabin space and your comfort.
Maybe this is why courier drivers in those cube-shape HiAces are always angry and upset...