Toyota Hiace 2.5D-4D 300 LWB - Tested March 2007
Monday, March 05, 2007
Partly this lack of success is due to the narrowness of the company's range. While the line-up includes a perfectly acceptable pick-up in the shape of Hilux and a competent medium van in the shape of Hiace, you won't find a heavy van in the catalogue that can take on Mercedes-Benz's Sprinter or Volkswagen's Crafter. Nor does Toyota market a car-derived van in Britain.
Toyota has always been something of an also-ran in the UK light commercial market, trailing way behind manufacturers such as Ford, Vauxhall and Citroën. That's a great pity because the key virtues associated with the Japanese giant's products — utter reliability and exemplary build quality — are exactly the sort of features sought after by British van buyers.
Toyota has sold Dyna tippers and dropsides here, but sales volumes have never been impressive.
Another reason for Toyota's modest light commercial performance has been the, understandable, stress placed on car sales. Goods vehicles have alas taken a back seat at both manufacturer and dealer level.
In many respects it's a great pity Toyota, already a UK manufacturer, didn't buy LDV. By doing so it would have added a heavy van to its range in the shape of Maxus and gained access to a dedicated light commercial network.
LDV would have forged links with a massive global player with the ability to negotiate highly competitive deals with parts suppliers and gained access to a huge worldwide dealer network. And with Toyota expertise on hand, Maxus quality would have been assured.
It was with these thoughts in mind that we took to the highways in the latest version of Hiace. Restyled externally, and with a few internal changes, it comes with a revised common rail diesel engine generating extra power and torque.
On offer in both short- and long-wheelbase guise, and at gross weights of either 2.8 or 3.0 tonne, the rear-wheel drive Hiace is marketed with a 16-valve four-cylinder 2.5-litre D-4D diesel producing either 95 bhp or 117 bhp.
We opted for the long-wheelbase 3.0-tonner with the beefiest version of the 2.5-litre. Maximum power cuts in at 3,600rpm and represents a useful increase on what was on offer previously, while peak torque of 217 lb/ft — a 25 lb/ft hike — makes its presence felt across a wide, 1,600rpm-to-2,400pm, rev band. The engine is married to a five-speed manual gearbox.
Independent suspension is fitted all round, with a double wishbone set-up plus torsion bars and an anti-roll bar at the front and semi-trailing arms with coil springs at the back. Our test van's 15ins steel wheels were shod with Bridgestone RD 613 195/70 R15C tyres.
Power assisted rack-and-pinion steering is fitted along with 285mm-diameter ventilated disc brakes for the front wheels and 270mm-diameter drums for their rear counterparts. ABS is a standard feature.
Top payload is 1,170kg if you specify the twin side-hinged symmetrical rear doors fitted to our model, rising to 1,180kg if you favour a hatch-type door instead; there's no difference in the price. Hiace will haul a braked trailer grossing at 2,000kg.
Hiace's 7.0m3 cargo area can be accessed through a sliding nearside door as well as through the aforementioned, unglazed, rear doors. The latter can be swung through 90° which increases to 180° if you release the stays, which slightly intrude into the door aperture.
Noticeable tumblehome — the angle at which the van's sides join the roof — makes it a little difficult to stack cartons to the load area's maximum height while making full use of the available space.
At least loads can be lashed down thanks to the provision of six floor-mounted rings, plus one next to the side door and one directly opposite. If your cargo isn't secured properly and slithers forwards then the standard (well done Toyota) full-height, glazed, steel bulkhead, which intrudes a little into the load area, should stop it in its tracks. For your money you get a tailored cover to protect the floor.
The sides are partially protected with hardboard panels to half their height, as are the doors, but there's no protection for the wheel boxes. Unusually the roof has a headlining.
It's a pity, however, that the rear bumper, which doubles as a step, doesn't have a non-slip surface.
Maximum load length is 2,780mm. Maximum height is 1,420mm while maximum width is 1,650mm, narrowing to 1,232mm between the wheel boxes. Loading height is 525mm. The rear door aperture is 1,409mm wide and 1,352mm high, while the side aperture's dimensions are 1,003mm and 1,244mm respectively.
Access to the three-man cab is easy enough and the driving position is comfortable thanks to a height-adjustable seat with an armrest and a new, tilt-adjustable, four-spoke steering wheel; but it seems a pity that Toyota's stylists didn't spend a bit more time on the dashboard. Frankly it's dull and unimaginative compared with what's on offer from quite a few other manufacturers we could mention.
Storage facilities include a large bin in the middle of the facia, a small lidded bin on the passenger side and a bin with a moulding to clasp a bottle of water on the driver's door. There's no bin on the passenger door, presumably to provide a bit more space to accommodate three abreast.
The dashboard also plays host to a pullout cup-holder with space for two cups.
Look up and you'll find a full-width shelf above the windscreen. Pull down the centre section of the middle passenger's seat and you'll find it turns into a handy desk complete with a clipboard to keep paperwork in place.
The centre passenger is, alas, held in place solely by a lap strap rather than a lap-and-diagonal belt.
While some manufacturers have shifted the gearstick to the dashboard, Hiace's is still floor-mounted. Happily it does not provide a serious impediment to cross-cab movement, unlike those gearsticks that have been relocated from the floor to massive bulges in the middle of the facia, thereby defeating the object of the exercise.
Hiace is now up for grabs with just one level of equipment and it's quite a high one. Standard items include electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, electric windows, an MP3-compatible CD player and a driver's airbag.
The cloth upholstery has been redesigned and minor changes have been made to the interior trim.
Our demonstrator was fitted with a satellite navigation system with Electronic Traffic Avoidance — it automatically re-routes you away from traffic hold-ups — and a superb power-operated tiltable touch screen for an extra £1,200. It also boasted a Professional Pack which included air conditioning and rear parking sensors — every panel van should feature both — for another £1,200. Both packs are useful, but the price tags are likely to deter quite a few prospective buyers.
On the Road
We have no quarrels with Hiace's performance either in terms of acceleration from rest or as a brisk motorway cruiser. Unfortunately it's accompanied by too much noise in our opinion, and not just from the engine; we feel that wind noise and road roar are a tad excessive too.
While the assistance provided by the power steering is to be welcomed when you're wriggling into a tight parking space, it fails to tighten up sufficiently at speed. That does the handling no favours at all.
Push Hiace hard through a bend and you soon feel as though you're about to lose it. At least that has the safety benefit of encouraging you to back off a little before you enter a curve, but it's a benefit that at times comes at the expense of driving enjoyment.
On the plus side both the gearchange and clutch action are smooth and user-friendly, and at an average 36mpg, fuel economy is respectable. The ride is competent too, coping with most of the imperfections of British road surfaces.
Despite its new bonnet, headlamp units and grille, in our view the latest Hiace looks more old-fashioned than its predecessor did. If anything it has a vaguely American appearance to it; and in light commercial styling terms, that's not a commendation.
Sad to see that Hiace isn't protected by side rubbing strips given the minor scratches and scrapes vans can collect during their working lives. Our demonstrator was finished in metallic paint as part of a package that includes body-coloured bumpers and door handles and full-size wheel covers for an extra £325.
Remote central locking is a standard feature as is security window etching.
Flip open the bonnet and you'll find Hiace boasts not one, but two batteries. That's something to be applauded given the drain on battery power imposed by some of the equipment fitted to vans these days and the need for light commercials to start first time, every time, whatever the weather.
Service intervals are set at 20,000 miles but an oil and filter change is needed every 10,000 miles.
A three-year/60,000-mile mechanical warranty with emergency roadside assistance for the first year plus a three-year paintwork warranty — seems a bit short to us — and a 12-year corrosion perforation warranty protect the vehicle.
Offering a decent level of performance, a good gearchange and a competent ride, the well-equipped long-wheelbase Toyota Hiace 300 comes with a roomy cargo area and a respectable payload capacity. Nor do we have any complaints about fuel economy. Unfortunately it's let down by indifferent handling, too much noise for our liking, a dull cab interior and mediocre exterior styling. It's all a great pity because we're convinced that Toyota has the capability to design and build a medium-weight van that will blow away the likes of VW's Transporter and Mercedes-Benz's Vito. We're certainly not saying that Hiace is a bad van. What we are saying is that Toyota is capable of doing a whole lot better.