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Van Fan

A van - yes a van - to excite even the most ardent performance enthusiast!

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

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A Toyota Hi-Ace on AutoSpeed?! You bet - but rest assured this isn't any ordinary Hi-Ace. Say hello to the top-of-the-line Japanese-market 1994 Hi-Ace Super Custom Limited. It's four wheels of velour, abundant space and comfort and it comes packed with a host of whacky features like a fridge/warmer/ice maker, a kettle, electric curtains and "Joyful Talk" (which we will explain later!). We're not afraid to say that this vehicle gets us excited - and we reckon you'd get excited too (so long as no one could hear you admit it!).

Fight it as much as you like but you can't help having a good time onboard the Super Custom Limited; you step in dreading that someone might be able to recognise you through the dark tinted windows but when it's time to step out, well, you don't want to!

So let's get to it. What is it about the Super Custom Limited that is so great?

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Well, the Hi-Ace might have been originally designed as a trade van but you'd never know it when you sit yourself in the back of the 7-seater Super Custom Limited; it's like you're riding in a first class carriage. Who needs a limo?! The second row seat can accommodate three abreast with minimal 'getting friendly' and the third row seat is designed for two people. But no matter where you sit, the sheer volume of space inside the cabin allows you to stretch your feet out as if you're sitting in your favourite home armchair. You wanna stand up and move around inside the cabin? No problems - there's plenty of height.

And then we move onto the Super Custom Limited's features. Ahhh, the features...

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First of all, there is a total of three moon roofs - one above the front seats, a humungous one above the second row seat and twin pop-up glass panels above the third row seat. These three glass panels let you change the in-cabin ambience completely - close them over when it's gloomy outside and open them up to enjoy the sunshine on the nicer days.

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You'll also find the Super Custom Limited is equipped with none other than a kettle and fridge/warmer/ice maker between the two front seats. You can just imagine it. You're late for work so you whack on a hot brew and pull out a morning snack en-route!

And if you thought that was elaborate, things just keep on getting better!

A feature guaranteed to provide hours of fun for the kids (and most adults) is the fantastic "Joyful Talk" intercom system. And, no, we didn't make that name up! Simply press the Joyful Talk button while you're driving and speak into the roof-mounted microphone and the rear passengers will benefit from your wealth of knowledge. "If you care to look out the left window you can see Mount Fuji", etc...

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Then there's the less exciting features like memory settings for the driving position, electric retractable mirrors, analogue climate control, rear AC outlets (with controls), the Soarer-style 3D digital instrument cluster, a large fluorescent light, a myriad of speakers and fold down armrests for all. Oh, and we mustn't forget the electric curtains! Bzzzz.

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But we keep coming back to how comfortable the Super Custom Limited is. Forget buying a luxury saloon - this thing is w-a-y more comfortable for long trips. What's more, it could also be used as a weekend get-away vehicle. There's heaps of luggage space and second row seat can be easily folded flat to create a double bed; you'll even discover that the kettle is strategically positioned within arm's reach for when you wake up...

God, we love this vehicle - we want to move in!

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The Super Custom Limited is fitted with a 1KZ-TE 3.0-litre turbo diesel engine that has the grunt to make the Hi-Ace a pretty effortless mover. Just lean on the throttle a bit and the turbo spools up and a generous serving of Newton Metres are called into action. Of course, Newton Metres are quite different to kilowatts but the 3.0-litre TD still puts out enough power to give the van adequate top-end scoot. Power and torque are officially listed at 96kW and 333Nm (at 3600 and 2000 rpm respectively). The redline is marked at 4300 rpm.

Our test vehicle also came with the standard 4-speed automatic transmission that helps make the most of the engine's output. A Power/Economy switch has a noticeable effect on driving feel.

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The Hi-Ace's drive is to the rear wheels and under the back-end you'll find a ol' live-axe. Yes, you can feel that axle hoping around over bumps but it is never unstable - not on the bitumen, at least. We also found the rear tyres are easy to squeal when you squeeze on power as the body rolls around during corners. Handling is nothing electrifying but it is predictable and very progressive nonetheless - it's not like there's enough grunt to snap into power oversteer... Suspension travel is ample and the TEMS adjustable ride is very comfortable.

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Visually, the Super Custom Limited has been tarted up by Toyota but there's no denying its humble origins. Two-tone paint, 205/70 tyres on 15-inch alloys, a full-width rear garnish, reversing mirror, dark tint, gold rimmed side window air deflectors and the Japanese-spec nose and tail treatment are what set's this vehicle apart. It all comes together with a sort of '70s panelvan look but you're guaranteed not to attract too much attention - except maybe for a nod from curious courier drivers...

Our test vehicle (which we only reluctantly handed back!) was supplied by Craig Dean of Melbourne's Sports and Luxury Cars. Craig had a few Japanese-market Hi-Aces in stock at the time of writing and our 1994 test vehicle - with just 48,000km and in immaculate condition - was being offered for AUD$26,000. That's pretty good value considering the amount of vehicle you're getting.

If you reckon we're going insane, we really suggest that you take one for a test drive!

1994 Japanese-Market Toyota Hi-Ace Super Custom Limited Fast Facts...
  • Terrific list of features - Joyful Talk intercom, fridge/ice maker, kettle, electric curtains and more!
  • Unbelievably comfortable
  • Rear seats fold into a double bed
  • Effortless torque from 3.0-litre turbo diesel
  • Great ambience with all three moonroofs open
  • Weird but we love it!

Test vehicle supplied by Sports and Luxury Cars in Melbourne.


Sports and Luxury Cars +61 3 9753 5799

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