Unveiled at the Auto Expo 2014, and later at the 4th Bus and Special Vehicle Show in 2015, the HiAce is aiming at those who seek to travel in luxury. 

Story by:

Anirudh Raheja

 

Delhi-based Mann Tours and Travel Services Pvt. Ltd. (MTTSL) has nine Toyota HiAces in their fleet. These have been a part of MTTSL’s luxury van and coach fleet from 2012, and are aimed at those who are seeking luxury travel. Reflective of the changing market preference, the HiAces that MTTSL has in its fleet are a far cry from the original HiAce that debuted in 1967. These are fifth generation models. Available as a cab over pick-up, delivery van, as a stretched commuter vehicle, and as a camper van, the first generation HiAce was designed as a commuter vehicle capable of transporting up to eight people. The exterior dimensions and engine displacement were in compliance with Japanese Government regulations. The engine was installed underneath and between the front passengers.

Even in the current generation HiAce, the engine is installed underneath and between the front occupants. Debuting in 2005 as a wider and longer wheelbase wagon, and also in a high-roof ‘Grand Cabin’ form, the big change over the earlier generation model was the placement of the gearshift lever on the dashboard. This was done to enable easier movement. Assembled in Portugal, Phillipines, South Africa, Thailand, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Vietnam apart from Japan, the HiAce in many parts of the world is available as a mini-van, van, mini-bus, pick-up, cab and an ambulance. More than six million HiAces have been sold since its introduction in over 140 countries. In India, Toyota Kirloskar Motor (TKM) showcased a HiAce at the Auto Expo 2014. The vehicle was also displayed at the 4th Bus and Special Vehicle Show in 2015.

 

Conservative looking yet elegant

From the front, the HiAce comes across as a conservatively styled yet elegant looking van. It even looks a shade bulky with that high roof. The clear lens wrap around lamps complement the grille, and present the front a touch of elegance. If the creases break the monotony of the large front panel, the deep bumper with a wide air dam does a good job of masking the bulk. Walk over, and it is aptly clear that this is not a small van by any measure. The HiAce measures between 4,695 mm and 5,380 mm depending on the version chosen. It measures between 1695 mm and 1880mm in width, between 2245 mm and 2285 mm in height. It measures between 2570 mm and 3110 mm in wheelbase. The normal body, high roof version in question measures 4695 mm in length, 1695 mm in width and 2245 mm in height. The wheelbase is 2570 mm and the ground clearance is 195 mm. Riding on 15-inch dia. wheels and 215/75 R15 tyres, the HiAce, from the side, looks more elegant than it does from the front. The cab forward stance does add a touch of aggression. The sheer size, refusing to fade out of the memory. The rear-view mirrors mounted on the A-pillars continue to grab attention. They accentuate the looks of the van. Adding to the elegant look of the van, and keeping the sides from looking bland, a shoulder-line runs from the front door to the rear lamp, and under the door handles. The rear door (only on the left) is of the sliding variety, and allows access to the passenger compartment. It extends all the way up to touch the ‘rain gutter’. Below, it goes down to the level of the ‘running board’. Powered by an ‘easy closer’ door function, it does not take as much effort to close the large door. If the door is left partially open, the ‘easy closer’ function automatically shuts it.

The rear is made up of a large tail gate. The flat-back is not as inspiring. It instead hints at the utility status of the van, albeit in an elegant manner. Vertical tail lamps are built into the respective pillars. A ladder to the right side of the tail gate provides access to the roof.

Luxurious interior

Step inside, and the leather upholstered captain chairs attract. The cabin (passenger compartment) is spacious and roomy. Capable of seating seven people (HiAces with MTTSL that can seat 10 and 12 people), the light grey coloured trim accentuates the beige leather upholstered seats and the roof section. Large grab handles draw attention. Also does the soft lighting. It adds to the ambiance.

Of the seven luxurious seats across three rows, four are ‘powered’ captain seats. The three third row seats are ‘fixed’. The two captain chairs in the front row can swivel up to 180 degrees. Those occupying this set of chairs can thus face the rest of the occupants and not feel left out. The second row seats also swivel. Considering the plush environment and the level of comfort the HiAce’s cabin offers, it does not take long to understand why this van is a hit among corporate companies and luxury travel seeking families and friends. If the two rows of swivelling seats can turn the van’s cabin into a small meeting room, the manner in which the first row seats swivel, they make it easier for aged people to get in and get out. Head room, legroom and shoulder room is in ample supply. The seats themselves are highly supportive and comfortable. The reclining features on the four captain seats makes them supremely comfortable.

A partition between the driver’s cabin and the passenger compartment ensures that meetings can be conducted without disturbance, and in silence. The cabin is well insulated. The driver’s cabin is also well insulated. It is comfortable, and equipped with fabric seats for the driver and co-passenger. An amount of space in the driver’s cabin is taken up by the engine cover; it is mounted such that the box built on the top of it is placed between the driver and co-passenger seats. The driver can store nick-nacks in this box. The dashboard is simple and straightforward in its construction. The quality of plastics is good. The four-spoke steering wheel resembles that of the Corolla. The 2-DIN music system too. The parking brake is located besides the dash mounted gearshifter. The steering is collapsible. There are two SRS airbags and a reverse camera. It aids to reverse the ‘big’ van into the parking slot.

 

The drive

Powering the HiAce is a 145PS, 2982cc, 1KD-FTV in-line four-cylinder common-rail diesel engine with variable geometry turbocharger and an intercooler. Exerting a good pull, the engine generates a maximum torque of 300 Nm at 1200-2400 rpm. The van, weighing close to two-tonnes, feels agile. It picks up speed well. The four-speed automatic transmission does a fair job of routing power to the rear wheels. Interestingly, the van does not feel as heavy or as big to drive. Equipped with Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Hill-start Assist Control (HAC), the commanding seating position with a good view ahead makes it easy to manoeuvre the HiAce. The controls are well placed and the rear view mirrors add to the visibility.

Speeds in excess of 100 kmph are easily achieved, and with a sense that there’s more power in reserve. On an open road the HiAce cruises at good speeds, the engine turning at a fair pace. In the city, the size of the HiAce makes it a bit of a chore. However account for the large dimensions, and the fact that the driver is sitting on the front axle, and it is easy to pilot. A quiet and vibration free cabin makes the drive comfortable. It presents a feeling of driving a car rather than a van. The power assisted steering is light. At speeds it feels a bit light, but offers a good feedback none the less. The ride over a variety of surfaces is pliant. The suspension, consisting of double wishbone and stabiliser bar at front, and leaf spring at the rear, does a good job of soaking the irregularities.

When it is time to shed the speed, the brakes exert a strong bite. Equipped with ventilated disc brakes at front and drums at the rear, the braking under a variety of situations inspires confidence. The HiAce features ABS, Emergency Stop Signal and Brake Assist (BA) and a Brake Override System (BOS). The 70-litre fuel tank presents the big van with a good travel range.

 

In India

The HiAces Mann has in their fleet are Completely Built Units (CBUs). If the industry sources are to be believed, Toyota Kirloskar Motor (TKM) is looking at CBU imports to address the growing need for niche transport applications in the form of 10-seater and 12-seater HiAce. On the radar are five star hotels, premium schools and corporate travel companies, claim sources. For the HiAces that are already running on Indian roads, TKM is known to provide the needed support. With the need for quicker turnaround and an ability to derive more gains in the wake of the considerable investment, it is Toyota’s pursuit for quality that makes the HiAce appealing. “We turned to the HiAce as it is a competent vehicle. Also, Mercedes-Benz has stopped importing the Viano van”, said Parmjeet Mann, Director, MTTSL. She did not reveal what it cost to buy a HiAce. What she mentioned instead is that the typical hire charge for the HiAce is Rs.60 per km.

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