Toyota has been producing vehicles under the Hiace name since 1967, with its body shape seeing various minivan and MPV formats. It was initially conceived as a commercial pickup, delivery or camper van style, very much reminiscent of the VW campers in design.
By 1995, the fifth-generation Toyota had created a more modern-looking vehicle, having less commercial, utilitarian lines and a more family-friendly bus feel to the Hiace SBV. Giving the SBV a steeply raked bonnet and windscreen took it away from the boxy front-ended earlier versions, and moving the wheels ahead of the front seats gave extra stability.
The current Hiace design has been on the market since 2004 and reverted back to a more vintage-style, flat front with a gently sloping windscreen, giving the cabin extra height and space. These three- or four-door vehicles were given extra length and width to make for a much larger vehicle overall. The Hiace is available in the short (SWB), long (LWB), or super long (SLWB) wheelbase, offering increased space, depending on the dictates of the customer's pocket or intended usage.
The driver's position offers good vision outside the vehicle, a comfortable seat, and excellent ride. The pedals respond well, although there is a little play on the steering wheel, which has much to do with the flat-front design as anything else. It is, however, quite a long drop down to the pavement from the cab and may be a strain if made frequently.
The interior space has been maximised with a semi SB, giving easy access for engine maintenance while leaving the rear free for ample storage, additional seating, or racking for a family touring fit-out. The cockpit, as you would expect from a commercially based vehicle, is simple but well laid out and accessible. It includes air-con, music systems, and facilities for Bluetooth and UBS port devices as well.
The latest model Hiace is powered by 2.5L or 3.0L turbo diesel engine and kicks out 80kW and a maximum torque of 260Nm, while the 2.7L petrol engine output is 111kW and 241Nm of torque.
The older Hiace SBC came fitted with a 2.4L 2RZ-E engine. These were capable of producing 88kW of power and a torque of 200Nm when hitched up to the 5-speed manual or the 4-speed automatic gearbox. There is also the option to have the van fitted to run on LPG, and the valves on the petrol engine allow for this conversion.
The newer engines are a little on the loud side but produce a good drive and work their way through the gears with ease. The fuel performance measures out at 8.0L/100km, giving off CO2 emissions of 210g/km.
The Hiace, being a commercial van platform, comes with the option of either panel van or window van, the later giving the possibility of leisure conversions into a campervan format for touring or surfing fun. The Hiace Commuter Bus can be equipped with seating to comfortably take 14 passengers in relative luxury and ease, each with lap belts and bucket seating with optional headlining to cut down on ambient noise.
The standard features on the Hiace include keyless starting, air-con, powered windows, tilt adjusting steering wheel, automatic dimming rear view mirror, and CD/MP3 player. There are also plenty of safety elements as standard, ABS, dual airbags, pre-tensioner seatbelts, and central door locking. There is the optional extra of the auto slide-door closing feature.
The Toyota design team worked around the principle of "BEST": beneficial, efficient and economical, safety, and tough transport - an approach that harks back to the earlier designs the company started producing in the 1960s. The Toyota Hiace is one of Australia's best-selling commercial vehicles, and despite competition from the likes of the VW Transporter 5, Mercedes-Benz Vito, Vauxhall Vivaro, and Renault Trafic, it still maintains a high degree of customer loyalty.
Despite the stiff competition in this particular sector, the Toyota Hiace is renowned for its price, versatility, and reliability. These are all important considerations in the commercial world, and customers buying the Hiace avow to it meeting these necessities. The older Hiace vehicles still have good residuals, and the new vehicles are thoroughly modern in design and construction. The vehicle offers an excellent platform around which a modern, large van, bus, or camper can be conveniently constructed. The Hiace range's reliability is in its history, and vehicles with a 50-year pedigree are always worth great consideration.