The Toyota LiteAce is a cab-over motor vehicle that was manufactured and sold in Japan and other international markets from 1970 to 2007. When it debuted, the LiteAce was a small van that soon began to be exported here as well as Asia and Africa. In Japan, the van was sold by Toyota Auto Stores and offered as an alternative to the popular Toyota Sprinter available at the time. The van was sold alongside its bigger twin, the TownAce, at Toyota Corolla Stores.
The ‘Ace’ tag was actually used in a number of vans offered by Toyota over the years, including the TownAce, LiteAce, and HiAce. It is a reference to the ToyoAce, a popular medium-duty truck that was sold from 1956. The first of the Ace line to be introduced was the HiAce in 1967, but it was smaller than its later siblings in compliance with the Japanese regulations at the time and to keep the taxes on the vehicle at a minimum.
The Toyota LiteAce and other Ace models soon became popular in the grey market, especially in the UK where the models were sold for decades. The LiteAce was a very attractive and reliable option for an MPV with luxury features like automatic transmission and air-conditioning. The low capacity and price of these cars made them very popular around the world. However, there were two main issues with the van. The first was that the engine tended to overheat quite often because of an old cooling system. The system needed to be maintained very well, but there was lack of support and manuals or other documentations for guidance in the issue.
Online support has been tremendous, however, and Toyota GB has also extended support for these issues from time to time, especially for UK models. However, owners have also had to resort to deriving information from other Toyota vans within similar specifications, like the Toyota Tarago.
Before 1997, the Toyota LiteAce was more of a van, but post-1997 models looked more like MPVs and re-emerged as a whole new vehicle. Production of the Ace models ended in 2007 when Toyota launched a new model of MPVs based on the Daihatsu Gran Max.
The first generation of the Toyota LiteAce, with the internal designation KM10, used a 1166cc, 4-cylinder, 3K engine that delivered 50kW of power at 6000rpm and 93Nm of torque at 3800rpm. The same engine was also used by Toyota subcompact cars like the Publica. The van was available in five-door and four-door van body styles, along with a two-door body style. There were a number of bed options available, along with a higher roof model.
From 1999 to 2003, the Toyota LiteAce, designated as the KM36, got two engine options. The first was a petrol 1486cc, 4-cylinder, 5K engine, and the second was a diesel 1974cc 2C engine. Most models had five doors and accommodated 6 to 8 passengers. These MPVs offered a mileage of around 8km/L and a top speed of around 150km/h. The standard transmission was a 5-speed manual, although a 4-speed automatic transmission was also available.
The small dimensions of the Toyota LiteAce betray its spacious cabin. There is a lot of space to go around, enough to accommodate 6 to 7 passengers with ease, keeping them comfortable. The whole cabin has been designed with a greater focus on function and form than style. The dashboard – while easy to read, access, and use – looks a bit bland. The seats are comfortable but they are not much to look at. Despite its van-like, and later MPV, design, the LiteAce has a 60-degree steering wheel position that may be difficult to get used to if you have driven a lot of sedans.
The Toyota LiteAce was available in two models. The first was DX, which is mainly for cargo loading, and the GL for passenger carrying and dual purpose. Standard features included air-conditioning and, later, power accessories and airbags. Options available for the GL model include central locking, automatic shutters, radio/FM/AM/cassette stereo system, front door speakers, and a cigarette lighter.
One of the main competitors for the Toyota LiteAce was the Nissan Vanette. This model also competed with the TownAce. When compared to the LiteAce, the Vanette had a larger and more powerful 2.4L engine that delivered 77kW of power. Its 2.0L diesel engine, however, was similar to the LiteAce, delivering 49kW of power. Later models got improved engines, but not by a large margin.
The Vanette is great for cruising on open roads thanks to its powerful petrol engine, but it tends to struggle when going uphill due to a lack of torque. The LiteAce, despite its smaller engine, does a marginally better job because it is lighter. In terms of looks, the Vanette had a quirkier appearance to the more conventionally designed LiteAce. Moreover, the Vanette lacked space inside while the LiteAce had no issues with this.