On test, we have the 2019 Toyota HiAce LWB petrol automatic. Of course, LWB refers to long wheelbase, and is the weapon of choice for workers and delivery drivers when they go shopping for a new van – even where a SWB version is available. There’s also a super-long-wheelbase version available if you need that.
As most things automotive tend to do, the HiAce has grown with this new model – quite a bit, too. Our LWB tester here is 570mm longer, 255mm wider and 10mm taller than the old model. The wheelbase is also 640mm longer.
Pricing starts from $38,640 for the petrol HiAce (as tested here), and from $42,140 for the diesel HiAce, both before on-road costs.
It’s a serious petrol engine under the new front end, too – a 3.5-litre V6 with direct injection mated to a six-speed automatic. There’s 207kW on offer at 6000rpm (Remember when that was the unspoken agreement for Japanese performance cars!) and the V6 pushes out a robust 351Nm at 4600rpm. Comparing apples with apples, the diesel auto HiAce makes 130kW and 450Nm, so the power difference to the V6 is certainly significant.
Braked towing capacity is 1500kg for this petrol/auto combination and unbraked is 750kg across the range. If you need to tow bigger weights, you aren’t really buying a van anyway, so that’s pretty much par for this course. Certainly, the V6 engine wouldn’t struggle with 1500kg on the tow ball judging by the power and torque figures.
If you’re buying a HiAce, the question you have to ask yourself is what value you place on fuel use. Diesel engines are so common now that buyers are pretty well versed in their easy delivery and low-down punch, compared to a petrol engine that usually needs to rev harder to do its best work. Something that is even more valuable in a working vehicle than a runaround.
Again, comparing apples with apples, the diesel auto uses a claimed 8.2L/100km on the combined cycle in contrast to this model on test here, which uses a claimed 12.0L/100km on the same combined cycle. My average after a week with the HiAce was 14.1L/100km, which isn’t thirsty by any means, but it is less efficient than the diesel. And that’s where you’ll need to work out which engine works best for you.
In contrast, comparing this new HiAce directly to the old model is like comparing an apple to an orange – and thank goodness for that. Commercial vehicles have lagged behind passenger cars in terms of safety and ergonomics for far too long, and this new HiAce is light-years better than the old version across that spectrum – both actively and passively.
The new HiAce gets the full five-star ANCAP rating, and its result really lifts the bar for the van segment as a whole. Across the range, HiAce buyers get forward-collision alert, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking with both pedestrian detection (day and night) and cyclist detection (day), rear cross-traffic alert, auto high-beam headlights, road sign recognition, rear-view camera, and sensors front and rear.
As tested here, the HiAce is fitted with seven airbags, and the only electronic aid it doesn’t get is adaptive cruise control, which I do like when I use it on a freeway, but won’t be an issue around town.
The styling is different, but so are other key features that make the new HiAce much more pleasant to live with. The seating position is probably the first thing you’ll notice, and the seats themselves are no longer akin to sitting on a park bench either. The whole act of getting comfortable behind the wheel is different now, and you can actually get comfortable. Getting into and out of the HiAce is likewise easier than ever before, too – a point to note for anyone jumping in and out of their vehicle as often as van drivers do every day.
There are many benefits that come from not sitting on top of the engine, with one of them being better overall cabin refinement and noise/vibration isolation. The cabin feels wider from the driver’s seat, too – it is – but the whole front section feels less claustrophobic, less boxed in, and roomier than any HiAce before.
The power steering feels less ponderous and weighty now, too, and it means your time behind the wheel will require less exertion, making for a more practical vehicle to use day-in and day-out as so many van owners do. The old one felt a lot more like driving a bus, put it that way.
I found that the way you drive changes thanks to the new seating position, too. It was like driving a bus before when you sat on top of the engine, whereas now it’s a lot more car-like in your relationship to the front edges of the HiAce, and thus the way you position it in lanes, when turning and when parking. Crucially, visibility hasn’t suffered now that you’re sitting down into the cabin more either, with an expansive view forward out through the broad windscreen.
Storage is sensibly catered for as well, with cupholders, bottle holders, and hidey-holes for wallets and phones et cetera. The doors also have useful pockets for larger items like paperwork or folders.
The 7.0-inch touchscreen features DAB radio, a USB input, Bluetooth phone connectivity and voice control. It will also play CDs. Remember them? As you’re reading this review, the retro-fit for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will have come online, too, which is the way to go for sure.
You also get a multi-info driver display, and leather-trimmed steering wheel that, thankfully, is adjustable for both tilt and reach. There’s a sunglasses holder, the usual 12-volt power outlets, and an auxiliary input, too.
Back to that refinement point, while the petrol engine is generally smoother than the diesel anyway, it’s also punchier with sharper throttle response and better off-the-mark acceleration. That it will out-box the diesel off the mark is no surprise, but the fact that it feels as rapid as it does in a big van is worthy of note.
Ride comfort and bump insulation are interesting parts of the drive assessment to work out. With no weight in the back, the HiAce is better than the previous model, but still a little skittish. Add a few hundred kilos, though, and it settles right down – like most commercial vehicles do. So while it’s better, it’s not perfect, but then again most commercial vehicles suffer the same malaise. The LWB petrol auto has a 1065kg payload, and we’ll do some further testing in the future where we’ll load the HiAce up a bit more.
The HiAce is covered by Toyota’s five-year/160,000km warranty, which works across all models bought for business purposes. Private buyers get a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. The service costs, which we’ll quote in a minute, are competitive, but the intervals are shorter than we’d like. You need to visit a service centre every six months or 10,000km, which might be a thorn in your side if your van works five or six days a week like many of them do. Time off the road is money for anyone running a business. The petrol variant we’re testing here costs just $180 per service over the first three years or 60,000km.
I’ve always loved the useful nature of a van, and in just about every way except towing, they make more sense as a workhorse than a dual-cab ute. A ute with an alloy tray is different, of course, but even then everything you load onto that tray is out in the weather. The fact that this new HiAce is so much better than the old model is a bonus.
Whether you prefer a petrol or diesel engine is up to you, but for mine, the petrol is a properly punchy powertrain that works well with the auto and is efficient enough to justify its existence within the range. It’s been a long time coming, but the new HiAce really is a good thing.