Frontline’s conversion of the revamped HiAce is an attractive, entry-level motorhome.
FAIR AND SQUARE
Frontline Camper Conversions is a Sydney-based company that has been in the van conversion business for quite a number of years. Using all makes of conversion vehicles – Sprinters, Ductaos, VWs and Toyotas – Frontline has quite a repertoire of conversion designs in its stable.
One of the more popular light commercial vans for the campervan conversions is the Toyota HiAce. Leading up to the advent of a new model, the older HiAce van became scarce, but with the appearance of the new Toyota van, HiAce conversions are back of the recreational vehicle scene again.
The new HiAce looks a little different: the front is rounded but the rear is more square, which makes things easier for campervan converters.
On the mechanical front, the HiAce has a new 2.7 litre petrol motor which delivers 26 percent more power that the old model. A 2.5 litre turbodiesel motor is also available, which delivers more power that the previous three-litre motor.
Our review model came with the petrol motor and even though very new, tandem with a five-speed gearbox, it gave a smooth performance.
In some ways the HiAce is not as sophisticated as some of its European contemporaries and it lacks a walk-through because of the position of the motor but it does come with Toyota’s legendary reliability and cheaper spare parts.
Items such as dual airbags and power mirrors and windows are a standard features. About the only item I found a bit retro was the under-dash handbrake – haven’t seen one of those for quite a while.
Frontline’s HiAce conversion comes in three different layouts: the Pioneer, the Freedom and the Adventurer. The Freedom has two single lounges in the rear that can be converted into a double bed, the Adventurer has a rear seat that converts into a double bed and our review model, the Pioneer, comes with a rear-facing lounge and two forward-facing seats.
From the outside world the Pioneer looks relatively standard. The pop-up top roof has been designed to look like an integrated part of the roof line and apart from the Fiamma awning, the only other real change frontline has made is to remove the standard Toyota windows and add new tinted flush glazed glass. That enhances the appearance of the HiAce a great deal.
Both the sliding door window and the corresponding window on the other side can be opened.
Setting up the Pioneer takes very little time. Undoing a strap in each corner releases the pop-top; it elevates into a position very easily.
There’s a screened window in both the side walls and the front wall of the canvas gusset. Someone must have measured the Fiamma awning mounting points very carefully because the passenger door just clears the awnings arms.
The internal layout of the Pioneer can be divided into two halves: the front half is the dinning/bed area and the rear half hosts the kitchen and general storage. The kitchen area is a little cramped but that’s the nature of this layout design.
Along the offside, the kitchen bench has an Origo 3000 methylated spirits two-burner cooktop alongside a square stainless steel sink. Water supply is 12V pumped and gets to the sink via a flexible hose shower faucet; the shower head can be lifted out of the sink as used an external shower at the rear of the campervan. Although our review camper did not have a hot water heater, one is available as an option (a heat exchanger unit).
Under the kitchen bench are two sliding door cupboards has shelves. At the door end of the kitchen bench are three narrow, lipped shelves.
On the opposite side of the Pioneer is the rest of the kitchen – an Engel 85 litre fridge and an 800W Sharp microwave. The latter sits atop a small wardrobe and a shelved cupboard. At the rear of this cabinet is a small-hinged table with a lipped shelf underneath. If you happen to be a TV watcher, then the only place for it is above the fridge, where there is a flat storage area – it can only be used with the pop-top raised up.
The Pioneer can carry four people – two the driver’s cab and the other two in the forward facing seats in the rear room. Both have lap/sash seatbelts. The rear- facing lounge can be used for just that – lounging around – but it can also be used for to make up the bed by sliding the seat, which has two legs, towards the rear and filling the gag between the front rear seats.
The remaining space, i.e., between the two rear seats, is filled by detaching the rear offside seat back and sliding it in to position. This arrangement means you can stumble out of bed in the morning to make a cuppa without too much trouble.
When used for dinning, the table is mounted on a single pole such that it can be used between the seats in the back. It is strapped to the side of the van for storage. Under all the seats are the usual storage area: part of the lounge are is taken by the house battery.
Electrics are both 240V for the general powerpoints and 12V for the lighting. The 240V circuit breaker was tad awkward to get at – right at the back of the offside cupboard almost of energy-efficient fluorescents with two halogen reading lights behind the rear facing lounge.
THE BOTTOM LINE
It’s so nice to see HiAce conversions back on the road again as they are solid and reliable.
Their only real limitation is the lack of a walk-through and thus an inability to make use of front seats as part of conversions.
The kitchen has all of the basics required for cooking and clearing up after a meal and the bed really doesn’t take up any time to set up. Using a methylated spirits cooktop and 12V fridge is a plus in a campervan of this size. While metho does not quite have the calorific value LPG, it does save the space of a gas compartment.
One of the benefits of this layout is that of passengers in the rear are forward-facing and have full seatbelts. Frontline has done a nice job with this conversion and the price makes it an attractive proposition for anyone wanting to get into the campervan lifestyle for the first time.
Frontline HiAce PIONEER
BASE VEHICLE: Toyota HiAce
ENGINE: 2.7 litre
GEARBOX: five-speed gearbox
MAX TORQUE: 241Nm@ 3800rpm
EXTERNAL WIDTH: 1.695m
INTERNAL HEIGHT: 1.91m
FRIDGE: Engel ST990E 85 litre
HOT WATER: Optional
SECOND STAGE COMPLIANCE: In process
PRICE AS REVEIWED: $54,069