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LIGHT COMMERCIAL TEST - Hiace joins five-star walk of fame

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Five-star impact safety result is just one advantage to longawaited update for NZ’s topselling van.

It’d be safe to call Toyota’s Hiace a fixture on New Zealand’s roads. Toyotas make up a quarter of the cars here, and the three top-selling models in our history are Toyotas too – the Corolla, Hilux and Hiace. The Corolla and Hilux are no doubt already on your radar. With model facelifts and overhauls every two or three years, and marketing drives to match, it’s hard to forget they exist. But the Hiace has been a quiet, if steady, achiever since it first launched back in 1967, and like most vans it rarely hits the headlines – after all, a van’s model life lasts four or five times that of a passenger vehicle, and this is the first new Hiace for 14 years.


Photo: Modern tech includes modern audio-visuals and the ability to work with your new smartphone.

At least, most of today’s line-up is new. Hiace has topped the van sales tables here for 25 years, and though Toyota is confident the new one is much better than the old, it’ll still sell three variations of the previous model to cover as many bases as possible. So, price-wise the entry model is the old 3.0-litre ZL five-door two-seat van, with manual transmission, at $41,990 followed by its auto sibling. Then come the new variants, all powered by 2.8-litre diesel engines, with four ZR models, including two five-door twoseat versions, the manual at $44,990 and the auto at $46,990. Topping that is a five-seat five-door half panel van at $47,990 and a 10-seat Minibus at $52,990, then comes the fourdoor two-seat ZX at $50,990, with the entire Hiace range completed by the old-model 12-seat auto Minibus at $56,990. The most visible change is the new face, with its more obvious bonnet, pushing the driver further back – behind the front axle, instead of sitting over both engine and axle. That’s not only comfier for the driver, but also places occupants further from any frontal impact – no doubt part of this van’s five-star ANCAP crash test rating. And it allows a much more useful step to access the cabin. This Hiace is considerably wider too; the ZR by 255mm and the ZX by 70mm, both now at 1950mm. The new proportions are most obvious from behind or when loading, as the ZR will now take a pallet or a sheet of GIB between the wheel arches. Depending on model, various other dimensions have altered too.

Otherwise the formats – glass vans, panel vans – are broadly the same, albeit with a lower beltline delivering more glass and a better view out, and better-positioned mirrors. The new 10-seat minibus caters to the likes of schools, which are willing to give up two seats to get a bit more luggage space, and the five-seat van with cargo space will be popular with those businesses needing to carry both staff and goods. Toyota NZ also cites improved focus on lifespan. Apparently the factory researchers found a Central American Hiace driver doing four 250km trips per day, on a return trip that climbed or descended 2200m. To keep that sort of client happy, they tested by driving until a part failed, then re-engineered that part. As a result, Toyota NZ bigwigs say their service guys were blown away by the heavy-duty parts used, like brake callipers big enough to be noticeable when you need to change a wheel…


Photos: Engine, familiar from the Hilux, now under a bonnet – not the front seats – for improved comfort and frontal impact safety.

The list of changes is extensive. Those spending the whole day in their van, and normally finding it hard to get comfy, will be happy to discover a new seat with height adjust and more supportive back bolsters, which pushes further back for tall folk, and is matched to a steering wheel with height adjust. There’s a new instrument cluster, with a digital speedo, the latest audio system and satnav as standard – which includes the sort of features that mean you can send voice messages on the fly, check traffic, and do many of the other functions of the latest smartphones, without having to use your hands for any of it. Which leads us to safety. All the new models get a significant tech boost, with standard features including road sign assist, lane departure alert with yaw assist and vehicle sway warning, auto high-beam headlights, and auto emergency braking which will recognise vehicles and pedestrians day or night, and cyclists in daytime.

Then there’s a blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert to help van drivers stay safe, an adjustable speed limiter, trailer sway control, and a reversing camera with front and rear park sensors. The number of airbags varies, with up to nine – for the ZR half panel five-seat van. What’s it like to drive? We weren’t able to give it a full test in the time available, or to try out the auto Limited Slip Diff that engages when traction control is off. But we did spar with busy Auckland traffic through a variety of suburban situations, including U-turns and backing, and traffic logjams, which put the auto stop-start into play to save fuel. This engine is essentially the same as that fitted to the Hilux, but with a 30kW boost in power and up to 150Nm more torque, so it won’t come as news that it never put a foot wrong in these unladen vans. Toyota says fuel economy is much improved – the amount depending on variant – but there’s not yet much feedback from real-world users. We did speak to one Freightways courier in his first week with a new Hiace, who hadn’t yet driven far enough to be sure about economy, but already liked how much easier loading was with the increased width.

With 14 years between model changes, it should come as no surprise that the latest Hiace is light years ahead of its predecessor, especially when it comes to tech. Add that to the number of variants, and it’s obvious why we can’t cover everything here. Suffice to say that Toyota has made clear that it’s serious about maintaining Hiace’s title as New Zealand’s favourite van.


Photo: New Hiace already in service – easy access to cargo bay. Difficult to convey the cavernous space in a photo.