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Hi-Ace Hankering

We road test the current-model Toyota Hi-Ace Super Custom G - it's an absolute ripper!

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

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At a glance...

  • Incredible interior space
  • Supremely comfortable
  • Well equipped
  • Useable performance
  • Turbo-diesel fuel economy
  • Nobody has any idea what a great vehicle it is!
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Maybe there’s something in the water in Melbourne. It’s the weirdest thing – every time we call into Melbourne’s Sports and Luxury Cars we find ourselves climbing over assorted exotic machinery to get to a Toyota Hi-Ace.

That’s right. A Hi-Ace.

In a previous article (Van Fan) we tested a top-of-the-line 1994 Hi-Ace Super Custom Limited and were completely blown away. The mighty Toyota van offers terrific interior space, comfort and a host of crazy features. Well, we’ve now had the chance to test the current-model Hi-Ace – and it’s such an impressive ride we reckon it’s worth telling you ‘bout it.

The Hi-Ace’s interior accommodation is nothing short of amazing. This machine has genuine seven-seater capacity and the second and third row seats can be slid fore-aft to achieve the desired distribution of legroom. And, yes, there’s still ample legroom when the seat is slid close to the seat in front. The only hassle is access to the second and third row seat is via the passenger side sliding door only.

Rear cargo space is abundant and you can transform the area into a comfy double bed by folding down the second and third row backrests. Access to the cargo area is easy thanks to a low load tip and a high-lift tailgate supported by twin gas struts.

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A light an’ airy ambience in enjoyed in the rear because there are three sunroofs! The front and rear sunroofs pivot open on hinges while the massive centre sunroof slides back into the roof cavity. Rear HVAC issues are addressed with a roof-mounted ventilation panel above the second row seat. There’s also a large fluoro light capable of illuminating almost the entire cabin. In all, it’s sorta like a luxury train carriage.

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Up front, the Super Custom G scores dual airbags, digital climate control, a capable CD sound system (with front tweeters identical to a Soarer), power windows and a conventional gauge cluster (as opposed to the digital dash in the top-line model). The seats are very comfortable and the pattern of trim on board this vehicle is much more tasteful than the velour in the top-line version. Our test vehicle also had a ‘Clean Ace’ switch on the dashboard which activates an air purifier mounted behind the driver’s seat. This is just the thing for getting rid of cigarette/cigar smells.

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Another feature in our test vehicle was the combined television and navigation screen. Unfortunately, neither function will operate in Australia - not without some ingenious tweaking anyway...

Much to our disappointment, the Super Custom G-spec van doesn’t come standard with the kettle, cooler/warmer or ‘Joy Talk’ function found in our last Hi-Ace. If you have no idea what ‘Joy Talk’ is all about, you’ll just have to go back and read our first Hi-Ace test!

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Fire the Hi-Ace Custom Limited into life and you’ll hear the mechanical clatter of its 1KZ-TE turbo-diesel donk. With electronic management but no intercooler, this engine is capable of 96kW and 333Nm at 3600 and 3000 rpm respectively. Redline is 4300 rpm. We’re not talking about a speed machine, but the Hi-Ace can capably keep up with traffic and its available performance is very accessible. Turbo boost - and therefore torque - is always at the ready.

Our test vehicle was equipped with a 4 speed automatic transmission, which is well matched to the engine. The Power/Economy switch also makes a noticeable difference to driving characteristics.

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The Hi-Ace channels its torque to the rear wheels – and that’s where you’ll find a live axle. It seems there’s no escaping the Hi-Ace’s commercial vehicle origins... The live axle is the vehicle’s biggest downfall, as it can be felt hopping over bumps and it doesn’t give the ride quality of an IRS. On the other hand, the springs and dampers are soft and the whole shebang is very refined. Apart from the agricultural live axle rear, the only negatives are engine vibration at idle and aerodynamic noise caused by the (optional) forward-mounted exterior mirrors.

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Handling is completely uneventful and safe. Standard wheels are 15 inch hubcap-equipped steelies with 205/70 tyres. The particular brand of rubbers fitted to our test vehicle were very squeally...

Parking is a breeze thanks to the Hi-Ace’s very tight turning circle. There’s also good feel and weight through the power-assisted rack and pinion arrangement. The braking system employs drums at the rear, but at least there’s standard ABS.

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The current model Hi-Ace Super Custom can be identified from earlier models by its new nose. The new nose combines the headlights and indicators in the same assembly. Carried over from the previous model are an integrated sliding door rail, a full-width rear garnish, two-tone paint, rear spoiler, wind deflectors and rear reversing mirror. Our test car was also equipped with fog lights and an excellent exterior courtesy lighting system. ‘Club Field’ stickers were also fitted – we’re not sure if this indicates a specific trim pack or whether it’s meaningless...

So what’s a rig like this worth, you ask?

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Well, first, we must first point out that there are very few businesses importing Hi-Aces into Australia under the new import scheme. One such outlet for the Toyota ‘dream machine’ is Melbourne’s Sports and Luxury Cars. At the time of writing, Sports and Luxury Cars had a few Hi-Aces in stock and you can expect to pay around AUD$28,000 for an example as tested. Most have relatively low kilometres and are in excellent condition.

Forget what everyone else says – if you want a vehicle with space, comfort and a bit of individuality, the Japanese Hi-Ace could be your solution. We genuinely love the vehicles - and there’s no harm in a test drive!


Sports and Luxury Cars
+61 3 9753 5799

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