Frontline HiAce 2022 Review
User-friendly compact campervan is perfect for first-time vanlifers
First-time RV buyers have flooded the market since the pandemic started, driven to road-going holiday escapes by repeated lockdowns and restrictions on local and overseas travel.
For those new to RV travel, nothing could be easier or safer to drive for long distances than a compact campervan, especially one based on the popular Toyota HiAce medium van, that doesn’t take up much more space on the road than a seven-seat SUV and is just as stress-free to drive and park.
Sydney-based campervan conversion specialist Frontline was one of the first to convert the latest HiAce van, and remains one of few specialists in Australia to offer ‘turn key’ production versions of the top-selling Japanese medium van.
In business for close to 35 years, Frontline currently builds around three vans a week at its Brookvale factory in north Sydney, based on either HiAce or the slightly more upmarket Volkswagen Transporter.
It keeps it simple for entry-level campervan buyers too, with just a handful of layouts and interior decor options available, and a limited number of optional accessories for those who want a bit more comfort or free camping capabilities when touring the countryside.
Ready to roll
Pricing kicks off at $85,500 for Frontline’s HiAce camper, with our ‘try before you buy’ demo vehicle from Frontline’s Melbourne outlet, fitted with the six-speed auto transmission mated to the standard 2.8-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, priced at a still reasonable $87,500.
It’s a ‘bog standard’ vehicle, highlighting all the things you get (and don’t get) with a Frontline camper before feeling the need to tick any of the 30-plus option boxes.
“As a van aimed at people just trying out campervanning, we’ve kept this van very simple and haven’t added any options at all,” explained Frontline’s Melbourne manager Jason Magee.
“But it also serves as a great example of the minimum standard inclusions that go into every Frontline camper, even before people look at the options list.”
The review van is fitted out in four-berth ‘Adventurer’ spec — a popular choice among five layouts available — which includes a compact kitchen, external shower and a forward-facing rear bench seat with two seatbelts, to go with the driver and passenger front seats.
The rear seating is quickly converted into a double bed at night, and there’s the option of adding a rooftop double bed, to turn the van into a somewhat squeezy, four-berth camper.
Our black-bumpered review van is based on the cheapest HiAce LWB variant, but you can pay another $1000 for the sleeker GL version with its colour matched bumpers and doors handles, fog lights and second rear camera.
You can also add options like side stripes, a front nudge bar and roof racks to jazz up the ‘stealth’ look, although Frontline does a nice job of retaining the original ‘factory look’ during the camper conversion which includes new tinted side windows and a flush-mounted pop-top roof.
We weren’t fans of the previous HiAce, cab-over van due to its squishy behind-the-wheel feel, but the latest bonnetted version is a big step up in terms of cabin comfort and space, especially for drivers with longer legs.
There’s a clear view out front from the well-cushioned seats, and the rear-drive HiAce impresses with its relatively zippy, refined performance. The 2450kg (unladen) camper gets up to speed quickly in traffic and cruises comfortably on the freeway at 100km/h, thanks to plenty of low-down torque from the diesel engine and smooth, responsive gear changes.
It’s mostly quiet on the move with the suspension soaking up minor bumps and only the occasional creak or rattle from the living space in the back.
The sharp turning circle makes it easy to squeeze into tight camping spots, with help from the front and rear parking sensors and a reverse camera. Not much larger than the latest LandCruiser, the van’s 2065mm travel height also allows it to slot into the garage at home.
Comfort-wise, the HiAce also boasts a leather steering wheel, air-conditioning, cruise control, and a colour touchscreen with inbuilt sat nav and smartphone mirroring. You also get the reassurance of a five star safety rating, with disc brakes all round, seven airbags and vehicle stability control, along with advancing driving aids like autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and a blind spot monitor.
Fuel economy on the trip computer was showing around 12L/100km during our test-drive, which translates to a theoretical range of around 600km from the 70 litre fuel tank.
The Frontline HiAce Adventurer also boasts flat-floor, walk-through access from the front seats to the living area, which means you don’t have to go outside to set it up if it’s cold or raining, with the pop-top roof raised from inside.
The main outside entry is through the onside sliding door, or if you’re feeling athletic, you can jump up onto the raised lounge/bed after lifting the top-hinged tailgate. The raised tailgate also doubles as another shade cover, to go with the Fiamma wind-out onside awning.
Raising the roof manually from inside couldn’t be easier, after undoing a strap in each corner, and there’s excellent standing room throughout thanks to the large pop-top roof.
There’s also plenty of natural light and ventilation available thanks to three flyscreen windows in the pop-top canvas, and another sliding door and small sliding window on the offside that open up for more cross-breeze ventilation.
However, you’ll pay more for optional, removable zippered flyscreen panels for the rear tailgate and sliding doors ($380 a pop), that will help keep the bugs out on balmy nights.
Externally, there’s a socket to plug into 240V power at a caravan park and an inlet to fill the 50 litre fresh water tank. A 22 litre grey water tank is optional.
There’s also a small external locker to carry spare bottles for the portable butane cooker, that comes standard with the 240V induction cooktop, so you can heat things up when free camping. Buyers can opt for a $1500 two-burner gas cooktop instead of the induction cooktop, with the larger gas bottles stored in the boot.
Accessible from both inside and out, the main storage space in the rear ‘boot’ is large enough to carry the camp chairs, cords, hoses, a few tools and a portable toilet. Another option is a dedicated under-bed compartment for the porta-potti, to make it easier to access and use at night.
The Frontline camper comes standard with a single 100Ah AGM battery and Victron 12V/15 smart charger which are located in the rear boot space, along with a solar regulator and Anderson plug so you can plug in an optional solar panel when off-grid camping.
The battery should run the fridge, lights, water pump and fan for a day or two before having to be recharged. You can pay more for another AGM battery, or an up to 200Ah lithium battery system and 2000W invertor that will run the induction cooktop outside caravan parks, but the bulkier components will eat into valuable storage space in the rear boot.
The compact kitchen with its two-hob induction cooktop and stainless steel sink module is located behind the driver’s seat, with a 75-litre compressor fridge/freezer below. There’s an aluminium protective shield and light above the cooker, but no rangehood so you’ll need to open the doors and windows to allow the cooking odours to escape.
For food prep there’s the option of a narrow strip of benchtop on the right of the sink, an above-cab shelf up front, and the removable dinette table.
The tabletop and leg are stored behind the driver’s seat and slot easily into place for meals, with further adjustment thanks to a swivel-top and an optional base available to use the table outside. The front passenger seat also swivels around 180 degrees to face the living area when camping.
Pulling a couple of levers quickly converts the ‘Rock and Roll’ lounge/bed into a flat mattress for night (or day!) use, although you’ll need to store the linen separately when in ‘seating’ mode. The foam cushion bases are comfy enough, but the 1860mm x 1400mm double bed could be a bit too cosy for two larger adults. If that’s an issue, Frontline offers other layouts with a slightly larger bed.
There’s also the option to slot in a 90kg-rated rooftop bed above the main bed, to accommodate a small child or two.
Other on-the-road comforts
Cold showers are outside, using the retractable shower hose with faucet accessible from under the rear tailgate. If you plan to travel in cooler months, there’s an optional ($2300) 240V heat exchange unit available for warmer showers.
The interior also comes with a good array of 240V, 12V and USB sockets for powering a few gadgets, including a 12V socket in the control switch panel located under the kitchen bench. There are also some LED roof lights and flexible stork reading lights, along with a single 12V swivel fan.
There are block-out curtains on all windows, as well as for the front driving cabin windows so the swivelled passenger seat remains within the camper space once you’ve closed up for the night.
There’s no option to fit an RV air-conditioner but buyers can choose to add a diesel space heater, microwave and TV, along with canvas outside ‘rooms’, although the more stuff you fit the less dedicated storage space you’ll have. However, there’s more than enough payload at 850kg, and you can tow a trailer up to 1500kg with the auto transmission.
There’s a surprising number of (compact) storage options inside, built into the lightweight ply cabinetry on the offside wall, including six small drawers and cupboards around the kitchen, and a good-sized cupboard/wardrobe alongside the bed for clothes and towels.
Frontline offers a limited palette of interior colour options to choose from, with the review van sporting a more traditional look of beech ply cabinets, Baltic blue cloth upholstery, sand curtains and pebble lino.
While it may lack the ‘bling’ of some of its rivals, the Frontline HiAce Adventurer is hard to fault as a well designed, practical and user-friendly campervan. It all looks built to last, with use of lightweight, durable materials including marine-style carpet and moisture-resistant furniture ply.
Depending on your needs and budget you might want to add a few options like hot water and removable fly screens for the entry doors, but otherwise it’s an appealing, affordable entry-level campervan that doubles as a family-friendly daily driver when you’re not on holidays.
How much does the 2002 Frontline HiAce Adventurer cost?
Base vehicle: Toyota HiAce LWB Auto
Tare: 2450kg (approx.)
Towing capacity: 1500kg
Occupants: Four seatbelts, two berth
Travel length: 5265mm
External body width: 1950mm
Travel height: 2065mm
Interior height: 1970mm
Engine: 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel tank: 70 litres
Wheels: 16in steel
Brakes: Discs (fr and rr), ABS and ESP
Cooktop: Thetford 240V two hob induction, plus portable butane cooker
Fridge/freezer: Vitrifigo 75 litre compressor
Lighting: 12V LED
Battery: 100Ah AGM and 240V charger
Solar: Portable or rooftop panel optional
Shower: Rear pull-out hose with 12V cold tap
Toilet: Portable optional
Fresh water: 50L
Hot water: Optional
Credit: Caravan Camping Sales
Explore nation’s Frontline
KINGS OF THE ROAD: With the easing of Covid restrictions across NSW and wider Australia there’s never been a better time to hit the road in a Frontline campervan.
AUSTRALIA is an amazing place and there’s no better way to explore it than touring in a campervan.
Frontline Campers have been manufacturing Volkswagen Transporter and Toyota HiAcc campervans since 1987. With over 30 years Of knowledge, testing, developing and using the product, Frontline is a name you can trust.
It’s all about getting you to where you want to go in reliable comfort, according to Frontline general manager Tim Heritage.
“When it comes to the vehicle, Frontline works with VW and Toyota HiAce for a number of practical reasons,” he said. “Both models are easy to drive, boast great safety features, are extremely comfortable on the road, easily serviced around Australia and offer great fuel consumption and versatility.
“They can be set up as two or four seater, depending on your needs, and because of their size and specs (both the VW and Hi-Ace are approximately 5.25m long and under 2.1m high), they fit in everywhere around town and yet come the weekend, they’ll take you where you want to go with all the creature comforts. It’s that simplicity and versatility that our customers really appreciate.”
When it comes to lifestyle, Frontline offers five different layouts that can be customised do your needs.
“The first thing we do is have a chat about what it is you want to extract from the vehicle in terms of lifestyle,” Tim said. “AII our vans offer great cooking options, great storage and flexible bedding arrangements.
“0ur Volkswagen campervans can be specified as 4-motion all-wheel drive which appeals to those who
want to explore remotely off-road. The HiAce is more popular with travellers who prefer more road-based familiar touring and getaways.
“A great feature of both is that you can move from front to back of the vehicle inside, without having to get out of the car.”
Frontline’s vans appeal to a very broad demographic. “0ur customer base spans from 30-year-olds up to 90 plus – it’s amazing how many younger people are switching onto our campervans. A lot of our customers are in that 50-plus bracket looking for the work-life balance.
“They might be stepping back a bit from work with the idea of transitioning to retirement over the next 10 years.”
All Frontline campervans come with a three-year warranty, while both vehicles types boast five-year unlimited kilometre factory warranties.
Frontline’s headquarters is in Brook-vale where all the campervans are manufactured, with sales locations in Melbourne servicing the southern section of Australia and in Ballina looking after Northern NSW and beyond.
Frontline Campers was founded by adventure seeker Peter Farrugia over thirty years ago when he was 21.
“Peter developed campervans that satisfied his outdoors-oriented touring lifestyle based on his experience back then and Frontline Campers has been sharing his secrets with Australia ever since,” Tim said.
“It’s a point of difference I can’t stress enough in terms of credibility – the level of testing, compliance and experience we offer is unparalleled in the industry.”
With the easing of Covid restrictions across NSW and wider Australia there’s never been a better time to hit the road.
“It has really opened up our options and I know there are many people keen to get out and support those places that have been doing it tough through bushfires, floods and pandemics,” Tim said.
Credit: Newcastle Herald, Editorial.Challenge.2017
Toyota Hiace Campervan Review by Time to Roam
We’ve been waiting a while, but the new HiAce camper from Frontline was worth it.
Toyota knows how to keep a crowd waiting. When the latest HiLux was launched in 2015, it had been 11 years since the last new one. The LandCruiser 200 Series has been on sale since 2008. But the previous HiAce takes the cake — it was on sale for 15 years before being updated late in 2019. In fact, it had been around so long, only a few campervan manufacturers were still working with the platform. The rest had moved to more modern vehicles like the Hyundai iLoad or tried-and-tested VW Transporter.
But not Frontline. Right until the very end, its HiAce camper conversions had found a dedicated market of travellers who didn’t need flash. They just wanted comfortable, dependable and unassuming recreational vehicles that didn’t cost the earth. Now that there is a new HiAce, Frontline has spent the last eight months developing a whole new range of campers to suit. Over two days exploring the south coast, I checked out the first version, a two-seater with a semi-permanent bed.
Given Toyota had 15-years of technology and consumer sentiment on safety to take into consideration, the new HiAce is a significantly better vehicle than the outgoing model. No more do you sit over the engine and rely on the slimmest of vehicle crumple zones for safety. With the engine out the front and a slew of other upgrades, the new van actually attained a five-star ANCAP safety rating (the current VW Transporter — the T6 — hasn’t been tested, but the T5 was rated four stars). But it’s more than just a bit of extra cushioning. Each Hiace comes with seven airbags for the two front passengers, a pre-collision safety system capable of hitting the brakes if you fail to, blind-spot monitoring and even a road sign recognition function that’ll warn you if you’ve gone past a sign faster than it indicates. A friendly voice reminds you to obey local road regulations. Above that, the model I tested has an active lane-keeping function that turned the vehicle back into its lane if I let it drift out. It feels like getting hit by a gust of wind, but it works.
There are two engine options available; a 3.5-litre V6 with 207kW and 360Nm, or the same 2.8-litre found in the HiLux, which produces 130kW and 450Nm.
The latter is expected to be the more popular option, and paired with a six-speed auto, is what I’m testing. It used just less than 11L/100km while I had it.
To drive, it’s really quite good, especially compared to the very commercial older model. In the cabin, it’s quiet and smooth, and a modern dash and steering wheel puts everything in easy-to-use reach. As for comfort, VW still has a slight edge, especially in the seats, but the gap has significantly narrowed.
But we’re here for the camping, so what’s the conversion like? Frontline has made a lot of changes with the new vehicle, largely because the van is a little shorter but broader in the load area. It also now has a walk-through cabin and a slightly narrower entry through the sliding door.
Popping the top is as simple as it’s ever been. All the catches are inside, so you don’t have to go outside to make it happen. Once they’re undone from the shelter of the interior, a simple push opens it all up. It might not seem like much, but Frontline spent months developing just this part of the van.
Because you can walk from the driver’s cabin into the living area of the van, and the front passenger seat swivels, the new camper is much more spacious than previous Frontline Hiace campers I’ve tested. That front seat is easily the best place to relax, but it also means there’s more room to shuffle around as you cook in the kitchen or hop in and out of the van.
The kitchen is a significant change for Frontline.
For a very long time, its vans used a methylated spirit stove in a drawer, which could be quickly taken out for cooking outside. When Dometic stopped making them last year, Frontline moved to a high-quality, two-burner butane stove for that level of portability, but has fitted a Truma two-burner gas hob in the HiAce, set into the benchtop. We can vouch for the stove — we’ve got the same fitted in our old Viscount, and it’s certainly a more elegant, easier to use solution than metho or expensive butane canisters ever were. The fridge is also new. Frontline’s traditionally fitted Engel upright fridge-freezers to its vans, but the move to Dometic’s 80-litre upright is good. I’ve always found them reliable, high-quality units, which don’t make as much noise when they cycle at night as the Engels do.
Typically for Frontline, the storage around the kitchen is excellent, with just about every bit of available space used for drawers, cabinets or hidey-holes.
It’s here you get to appreciate Frontline’s cabinetry work as it’s just behind the driver’s seat, but there was no squeak, rattle or annoying noise from it when I drove. In fact, the only noise from the back was the occasional slap of a curtain on the driver’s side sliding door, which I could have fixed if it was really an issue. I did like that there’s a sliding door each side, as opening it up behind the kitchen helped get a breeze through, not to mention the view.
The camper’s bed is an evolution of Frontline’s ‘Avalon’ layout, where the bed converts to a club-style lounge with a table that can sit in the middle. Given the van is so much wider, it’s actually allowed fitment of an extra cabinet down the side, that was seen in former Vacationer and Adventurer models. Keeping it all very simple, the table and an extra square of timber are all that’s needed to fill in the gap to make a bed. And the large, flat space is much longer than I’ve managed to make it seem in the pictures (it’s at least 6’4″, because that’s how long my surfboard cover is.
There’s plenty of storage under the rear bed. Two drawers slide out neatly into the main entryway, while various cushions lift up to reveal more cabinets underneath. The back half of the bed sits over a boot, which is the largest dedicated storage area in the van. It’s big enough for camp chairs, extra awning walls or other bulky gear.
Although simplicity is evident throughout the camper, it’s still fitted with all of the modern needs.
A 100Ah battery sits under the bed, charged automatically when driving. It can be expanded to a second battery, or with solar panels on the roof. Frontline specifies a 50-litre water tank, but hot water is only an option. That’s because hot water tanks are bulky and take 20-minutes to heat up, whereas you have to bring a kettle anyway. All the lights through the camper are LED, and there are USB charging points at the kitchen, along with 240-volt outlets for when you have power, At the back, there’s a cold-water shower, perfect for rinsing things off.
Overall, this is a great new camper. Too good, almost. For a few thousand dollars less, you can get a Frontline converted Volkswagen Transporter with the little, 103kW engine. Unless you wanted a specific layout that’s not yet available in the HiAce, there’s no way you’d bother. Even the more expensive 132kW VW doesn’t look quite the value this new model does. The safety, comfort, drive and layout of the new Toyota is just so good now that it’s a close game. For me, unless I needed AWD, I think the van from Japan is the best value camper in the range.
Frontline Toyota Hiace 6th Gen
Vehicle — Toyota HiAce
Engine — 2.8-litre, turbo diesel
Transmission — 6-speed automated
Power — 130kW
Fuel Economy — Around 11L/100km
DIMENSIONS AND WEIGHTS
Length — 5265mm
Width — 1950mm
Height — 2065mm
Headroom — 1970mm
GVM — 3300kg
Towing — 1900kg
Water — 50L
Grey Water — Optional
Fridge — Dometic, 80 litre, compressor
Battery — 1 x 100Ah AGM
Fuel — 70L
Toyota —5 years, 160,000km
Frontline conversion — 2 years
From $72,000 drive-away. As tested
(diesel, auto) from $78,000 drive away.
Credit: Time to Roam
New Showroom New Factory
2016 was an extremely busy year for Frontline with the launch of a larger factory at Brookvale in July.
This new area allows us to have a greater number of vans on the production floor at any one time. This investment has improved efficiency due to larger work space, more parts storage and general modernisation of space and equipment. This area also offers a bright fresh factory for our great team of builders.
New Frontline Showroom
September 2016 was the opening of a larger showroom in Brookvale. This area was previously used for manufacturing all frontlines. This has now been converted to a great display area 3 times larger than the previous showroom. This gives customers an all-weather under cover area to view our great Frontline products. With additional space we are able to display up to 14 new campers inside ready for purchase, additionally we are able to display awnings, attachable rooms and a range of colours and accessories to make your knowledge of our products greater. Both our sales staff are trade qualified and have previous experience building the frontline product. This means the passion and product knowledge is second to none. During your visit we will show you through the product range carefully explaining the benefits and features of the frontline campers. While here, we will take notes and present a detailed quote for you to take away and consider your next step. We respect the fact that you may be considering other types of products or companies, so this process is handled without pressure hoping you will make a return visit and purchase.
So if a new Toyota Hiace or VW T6 campervan is on your mind, why not make a visit, we have the best display in the country.
Showroom trading hours 8 – 4.30pm Monday to Thurs, Friday 8 – 3.30pm
For your convenience we are open most Saturdays from 9am-2pm.
Closed some Saturdays during trade shows and long weekends.
Time to Roam Australia April-May 2015 Issue
When Leonardo da Vinci penned, ‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’ 500 years ago, could he have had the foresight to be referring to Frontline’s 2015 Toyota Hiace campervan?
Probably not. But Frontline has well and truly weaved its customised magic to make the latest Hiace conversion shine. The Sydney company that has been specialising in Hiace conversions since 1987 has turned the 2015 Hiace into something beautiful in its simplicity, but well beyond a standard camper.
The fuel injected 2.7 litre petrol engine never misses a beat. On the open freeway, the Toyota sat comfortably on the 110 km/h speed limit urging me to put the foot down even further. When I took the back road to the hinterland, the Hiace came into its own. The light yet powerful vehicle loved the challenging winding roads.
The responsive motor is tucked into such a simple yet comfortable driving setup so I thought I was throwing a standard vehicle
around those bends, rather than a four and a half metre long van. It left me pondering what was capable of the optional three litre diesel model or the 2015 six-speed auto petrol model.
When it was time for a rest, setting up for camping mode couldn’t have been easier. In no time at all I chose a pleasant riverside spot and got to work. The simplicity of the side awning and the rear tail gate offers plenty of shade and weather protection. The optional canvas/flyscreen room to suit the standard Fiamma awning instantly doubled the size of my lodgings; mozzie-proof, sun proof and waterproof.
The kitchen setup is also straight forward. The two-burner stove is removable for alfresco cooking or cleaning and the sink and ample cupboard and storage spaces that are well thought out. The 80 litre fridge/freezer and the optional microwave oven are perfectly slotted into the kitchen, offering ample cooking space.
My only regret at this point was not having a few friends with me to enjoy the generous seating arrangements of the versatile four seater. The compact dining table offers convenience and ease of setup allowing for the comfortable option of a fully prepared meal.
In all Frontline offers six clever options for the internal layout of the new Hiace, so there’s certain to be one to suit most buyer’s needs.
The electrics of the 2015 Hiace are fool proof. The auxiliary battery is kept charged by the vehicle’s engine or plugged into 240-volt mains. The battery can run the vehicle’s numerous appliances for up to two days without charge. There is also a solar powered backup option for more remote trips.
The Hiace stereo was up to speed with modern connections available for my iPod. Nothing too fancy, but safe. The sweet tunes led to me effortlessly setting up the comfy double bed for a quick energy recharging afternoon siesta. Plenty of room and plenty of ventilation for a good night’s sleep. The internal height with the top-popped offered 1910mm head height – reasonable for even a lanky traveller. The option of a roof bed in this space is perfect for an extra bed for a teenager or two kids.
Talking to a Frontline Hiace camper owner who turned up at the campsite later in the day and was only too willing to sing its praises really convinced me of their value and versatility.
“Mate, I can fit my surfboards in easily, load up my wife and her artwork and we can disappear down the coast for a few days trouble free. All the modern cons,” he said with a smile. “And on the way home, we can park easily around town and stop in to do some errands. Cleaning the van after a road trip is a breeze.”
Over the years Frontline has converted thousands of campervans and the 2015 Toyota Hiace conversion comes with a good list of standard inclusions. Better still, the optional extras are also reasonably priced, making it affordable to put together a package that meets your needs but won’t cost you and arm and a leg.
In summary, the Frontline 2015 Hiace Campervan is an excellent RV. Smart, simple and when you look at the base price for a Hiace van alone, it’s exceptional value for money.
The sophistication this vehicle embraces through simplicity, reliability and comfort is everything the weekender or extended tourer expects in a campervan, plus a lot more.
Body length: 4695mm
Body width: 1695mm
Body height: 2040mm Internal height: 1910mm
Tare weight: 2000 approx
• Power steering
• Air conditioning
• Dual air bags
• Central door locking
• Power windows and mirrors
• AM/FM/CD/MP/USB Bluetooth
• Fuel tank 70L
• Adjustable steering
• Rear wheel drive
• Engine immobiliser
• 3 year 100kms warranty
• Cruise control
• Steering wheel controls
• Reverse camera
• Pull out cup holders
• Centre console box
• 2.7L petrol VVT-i inline DOHC
• 6 speed auto also available
• 111Kw 241Nm @ 3800rpm
• Anti-locking brakes
• 3L diesel turbo intercooler
• 16 valve DOHC
• 100kW 300Nm @ 1200 – 1600rpm
• Automatic transmission
• Coloured paint
The Caravan and RV Magazine – June/July 2012 Issue
The Toyota HiAce in its current guise has been around since 2005, and there’s good reason it stands alongside the VW T5 Transporter as the most popular small van for camper conversions. The petrol version, a 2.7-litre four cylinder, produces 111kW, which quite surprised me on our short test drive. It feels typically Toyota – incredibly reliable if a little bit boring – but the seating position and dash layout are not what you’d expect from a van; it doesn’t feel like you’re driving a bus. There is only forward, backward and backrest adjustment on the seats, but they are comfortable, although a little flat. With the seats over the engine and wheels, the HiAce does miss out on a walkthrough, but this is more than supplemented by the large rear living space. It’s considerably cheaper than the VW, too. On the safety side, driver and passenger front airbags are standard.
As a $1500 option, the Pioneer layout offers great value and would be my pick, even if I didn’t have two kids to consider. Having the extra two seats with seatbelts (child restraint anchors can be fitted) turns the HiAce into a daily driver, as well as your holiday escape vehicle. The dinette easily turns into a queen-width bed, and the two passenger front seats fold flat, which helps accommodate taller folk. Sure, this isn’t A-class motorhome comfort, but it’s not bad either. There is storage under every seat too, so no space is wasted. Behind the seats is the compact kitchenette. Frontline includes a two-burner spirit stove, a stainless steel sink and running water from the 48l water tank. Cleverly, the sink tap pulls out and doubles as a shower, although 48 litres won’t last long if you make too regular use of that. Bench space is limited, but with the dinette table up, the small rear shelf folded out and the stove’s cover down, it is more than adequate. The cupboards under the kitchen are large, although if we have to be picky, the sliding doors were a little stiff. For warmer nights, the stove can be moved outside which, with no gas hoses or bottles needed, is a great touch. The 80-litre Engel fridge-freezer fitment is bigger than the industry standard, especially considering Frontline has also made room for a microwave. There is hanging space for clothes and a large cupboard, too. Electrically, there are two fluoro lights on the pop-top roof and a pair of LED reading lights above the rear-facing lounge. The auxiliary battery is stored under the same lounge, and charges while driving or plugged into 240V. This conversion has also been made TV-ready.
With the tailgate up and the Fiamma F45s awning out, there is plenty of shade around the HiAce. Although there is a more basic (read: cheaper) canvas awning option, the self supporting Fiamma is definitely the pick, especially with the camping freedom offered by a campervan. Our tester was optioned with a canvas room to suit the awning and tailgate, offering a more enclosed living space.
The Caravan and RV Magazine – Dec/Jan 2014 Issue
In a blazing landscape of passenger van conversions, Frontline’s T5 camper is a climate-controlled oasis
It’s flat on the Hay Plain and we’d be able to see for miles if it wasn’t for the heat blurring the distance into a watery haze, an ever-distant mirage that cloaks perspective and hides the horizon. It’s like an oasis in the climate-controlled comfort of Frontline’s VW conversion, as we cruise up the Cobb Highway looking for a good place to camp.
The Volkswagen T5 Transporter is arguably the best passenger van on the market, and easily the most suitable for campervan conversions. This one is fitted with VW’s 2.0L, 132kW turbo diesel, a seven-speed DSG auto-transmission and drives all-four wheels. On road, it is a quiet and comfortable car. The suspension is well balanced, so there’s a good spread between handling and ride. Volkswagen’s optional 4Motion all-wheeldrive system is a great addition to this camper. Rather than featuring a locking centre diff, the vehicle’s computer chooses how to distribute the power, and although we didn’t get to fully test it on this trip, we’ve used the same system crossing the Simpson Desert in Volkswagen Amaroks (check out page 91) and found the system surprisingly good. The T5 does have an electronic front diff-lock, though, which is great for off-road traction. The 300mm wading depth was the van performed excellently. Frontline has fitted some very good-looking alloy wheels and all-terrain tyres to this camper, which make it even more suitable for some rougher driving. Cabin and driver ergonomics are good for a van. Despite the upright front end and short nose, it feels like you are driving a car, rather than a converted commercial vehicle. The steering wheel is full of buttons and the cruise control is easy to use. It’s got a great stereo and that climate-controlled air conditioning.
As a credit to Frontline, the second row of seats, which it fits as part of the Adventure Pack conversion, are comfortable and good-looking. The seat belts have even been pull-tested to ensure occupant safety is maintained. We did notice a little bit of wind noise through one of the Kingsley Van Conversion windows while driving, but we’re very impressed that there was very little of the cabinet rattling and squeaking we’ve come to expect in all campervans and motorhomes. The camper itself is easy to set up. Notably, the full-popping roof isn’t fitted with external latches; rather, internal cam-buckles lock down straps and hold the roof shut. This is great in bad weather, as you can set up the whole camper without leaving its cozy comfort. The roof is nice and light, with a durable canvas skirt that self-gathers when it’s time to pull it down. Three fly-screened windows are sewn into the fabric. Fitted with Frontline’s optional Adventure Pack, the VW’s front passenger seat swivels around into the living area in daytime mode, while the second row of seats stay put and becomes a lounge (as soon as you take your seatbelts off). A small table fits into the floor, although with it in and the stove out, it’s very hard to move around inside. That stove is a great little feature, though. Not just because it’s a stove, but because it slides out from under the bench. Many campers use a lifting lid to maximise bench space, although here it’s only maximised when you don’t need the stove.
Many will like the two-burner metho-stove for its ease of use and clean burning. Plenty will be able to reminisce about old, similar camping stoves that have cooked some great meals. Others might need to read the instruction manual the first time they use it. The kitchen is otherwise well equipped. The 80-litre, upright, compressor-driven fridge is the perfect fit and 55-litres of water is plenty for such a small camper. A small microwave is cleverly tucked away. A slide-out pantry is a great feature and we never needed to use the smoke detector or fire extinguisher. When day becomes night, thecamper is easy to convert. It’s a two-handed operation to unlatch the lounge and transform it into a bed, although it’s a very light process – there’s no heavy lifting. The same is true in the opposite direction. The cushions are soft to sit on but firm to lie on, and they lie very flat, so it makes a good bed. A second bed can be fitted up the top, made from three unfolding slats and a mattress. We found that if it wasn’t packed away in the right spot, it prevented the roof from closing properly (it fouled on the smoke detector). There is adequate lighting throughout the van. Alongside the T5’s inbuilt cabin lights, there are two LED reading lights and another two fluoro roof lights. We’d love to see these replaced with LEDs as a standard feature. There’s an auxiliary battery to keep everything running, and our tester was fitted with the optional 60W slimline solar panel on the roof.
We spent a week in this camper, predominantly using it as a camera-car and scout vehicle. What it proved is that the T5 is an excellent base for camper conversions because it is so easy to drive, manoeuvre and live with. When we needed someone to head down a tight track to find the campsite, we sent the Frontline. When we needed someone to head into town, they took the camper. It did everything, was always the first set up and first packed up, and always with ease. Frontline makes a very professional product. Its Brookvale, New South Wales, factory is fitted with all manner of computer-aided cutting machines and high-tech wizardry to make sure everything is manufactured to the highest standard. It isn’t the most luxurious camper conversion around – others have higher-specced fitment, nicer fabrics, more windows and so on – but it is excellent value. If you like the freedom of a small campervan, or can’t afford two cars, this is a very versatile package.
Volkswagen Transporter base; great floorplan; off-road ready
A very versatile, very well-priced campervan conversion.
‘It did everything, was always the first set up and packed up, and always with ease’
‘The full-popping roof is great in bad weather, as you can set it up without leaving cozy comfort’
The Wanderer Magazine – Feb 2014 Frontline VW T5
ON THE LINE Frontline’s VW T5 Adventurer camper is born of experience. When those humble visionaries, Don and Erica Whitworth, started the Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia, the campervan component of the club’s membership was much Greater than it is today. Not coincidentally there were considerably more specialist manufacturers around. Since that time, the percentage of campervan manufacturers has decreased markedly in favour of motorhomes. Still, for those who love lightweight travel and/or work and therefore need around town transport as well and are on a budget, then there are still manufacturers that do a good job. One is Sydney-based Frontline Campers that builds a number of camper conversions, based on a Volkswagen T5 or a Toyota Hiace. There are several layouts available; our review van was the Adventurer model with a folding seat/bed in the rear. BASE VEHICLE A flexible design, the Adventurer conversion is available for a Toyota Hiace or a VW T5 van. While the Hiace is certainly cheaper there are several reasons, principally the flat-floor design, that make the VW a better conversion prospect. There’s one additional feature in the case of the T5, it’s available as an all-wheel drive – VW calls it the 4Motion. This was the Adventurer that Frontline’s Peter Farrugia made available to us.
• Road characteristics of the VW T5 • Large screened windows in the canvas roof • Kitchen layout • Rear storage which can be used in various ways • Slide-out Origo cooktop
COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER
• VW radio/CD player • Insect screens for the doors • LED ceiling lights instead of fluorescents There are a number of turbo-diesel engine variants available in the VW T5 range and Frontline usually opts for the 103Kw/340Nm version with a six-speed manual gearbox. However, the more powerful 132kW/400Nm motor is an option, as is the seven-speed DSG automatic for either engine. 4Motion buyers, however, only get the 132kW engine and, in this case, the seven-speed DSG gearbox
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
One of the little things that distinguish a campervan from a motorhome is the latter is usually coachbuilt and constructed on the back of a cab-chassis. In the case of a van conversion, while most of the body is retained, it has a number of holes cut in it. The largest is for the rising roof but there are also fridge vents and water fillers. Because this camper has a methylated spirits fired cooktop, there’s no need for a gas cylinder bin. Of course there are a few bolt-on items like the Fiamma awning. The pop-top roof is very well integrated into the van profile and has been colour matched to the body along with the awning.
ON THE ROAD
With base vehicles, there’s no doubt that on the road the VW T5 is the winner when compared to the Hiace. Whereas the former is pitched towards the passenger car market, the Hiace is definitely more delivery van. For long distances the VW bucket seats are more comfortable and the ride is better. Having said that, it’s not all bad for the Hiace – it is $8000 cheaper and is backed with legendary Toyota reliability; we also suspect that servicing costs are cheaper and basic items like the radio/CD player are just so much better. Driving the VW is simply fun. Press the right foot and the 132kW turbo diesel delivers in spades and the seven speed auto gearbox is smooth and sure. The vehicle handles the contours and curves of undulating roads without a problem. Although we didn’t really test the AWD for this review, we recently tackled a 4WD training course in a T5. Its certainly not a hardcore 4WD vehicle, but its capabilities are assured and once a few off-road driving tricks are learned – something we’d recommend – its interesting where the T5 4Motion will go and what it will do.
Motorhomers might look down on their smaller neighbours but setting up the Adventurer for day use doesn’t take long at all. Open the sliding door, release the four pop-top roof straps and push up the roof – something made quite easy by the gas struts. An advantage of the rising full roof is that air circulation is most effective in warmer weather. Unless the weather is really cold, the optional Fiamma awning does a good job of protecting the side of van from sun and rain. Many people only think of it in terms of just the sun but a partially open awning is great for these vans and very effective in keeping the rain away from the opened sliding door. One of the options we’d definitely select would be velcroed insect screens for sliding and rear doors. In hot weather, having both doors open is an asset. It’s also possible to get a tent for the rear doors and screens/walls for the awning but that takes up valuable storage space.
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR
As we mentioned the VW has a flat floor. This makes access to and from the driver’s cab quite easy and allows the swivelling passenger seat to be incorporated into the design. The layout is simple with a kitchen/storage area cabinet along the offside and a day/night lounge taking up the mid section. The lounge can be used for passengers (with two optional seatbelts fitted) or just for sitting on when camped by day or folded down into a bed by night. The rear area has a platform and large cushion for that purpose. A single, pole-mounted table, normally stored behind the driver’s seat can be used in conjunction with the rear seat.
Fitting out the offside kitchen in a van conversion is something of a challenge but the Adventurer shows Frontline’s experience. Along the benchtop there’s a stainless-steel washing-up bowl fed by a flick mixer tap. That still leaves room for a
bit of bench space under which is a slideout two-burner Origo spirit cooktop – a simple but effective set-up. An alternative to this arrangement, which removes a drawer and makes the fridge more difficult to reach when being used, is to have a swing-out cabinet behind the passenger seat. This cabinet contains the Origo cooktop above and a cupboard below. The upside to this arrangement is that more storage space is available, but the downside is that the cabinet has to be swung out of the way of the passenger’s swivel seat. An 80-litre Engel fridge is fitted under the cooktop. Alongside the fridge is a small wire basket pantry with a shelf above. That leaves room in the adjacent space for the optional microwave oven with drawer above and cupboard space below. The 12V fuse and switch panel is also located here but that’s about to be superseded by a new panel with 5V USB chargers. All of the above might sound like a cramped design but old hands will recognise that it’s quite a workable arrangement.
SLEEPING HOURS Setting up the bed is a simple operation – release the catches on either side of the rear seat and then lay it flat. The bed measures 1.88m x 1.29m (6ft 2in x 4ft 3in) which narrows to 1.17m (3ft 10in). Bed width can be expanded by not having the offside rear cabinet but that does mean a substantial reduction in storage area. Making up the bed can be easily done by two people, one at the rear door and one inside. LED reading lights are fitted on both sides at the rear. On the subject of lights, the main roof lights are mini fluorescents which look a bit old hat but Peter Farrugia reckons they give a better light in the confined space. Still, LED lights are an option.
FROM THE REAR
Filling the rest of the offside rear there is a sliding-door cabinet, the front half having shelves, the rear having a small hanging space. Right in the rear corner is a small shelf area that on this van held the optional external shower hose. Under the bed cushion base at the rear is a good storage area accessible from the rear and a hatch on the inside – it’s ideal for large plastic boxes on rollers. Part of this area is taken by the house battery and the charger but the rest can be used for assorted bits and pieces required for travel.
Mention the word campervan and it produces a variety of images, depending on the listener’s perspective. Some see it as really too small but to others it is as a very affordable budget motorhome and a great little weekend escape machine. They also see it as a rig that is easy to park and a convenience around the city, not to mention being able to transport four people quite easily. It’s not hard to see the attraction that still exists especially when looking over something like this Frontline conversion. The 4Motion VW is more expensive than the 2WD and the base price of this conversion starts at around $64,800 with plenty of options available. In the case of this VW-powered Adventurer, there’s another aspect to it all too, as Frontline proprietor Peter Farrugia points out with a smile. There are those who owned a VW Kombi in the 70s and want to re-live their youth … or something like that.
Manufacturer Frontline Campers
Model Bed Seat camper
Base Vehicle VW T5 4Motion
Tare weight 2100kg
Engine 2.0-litre turbo-diesel
Gearbox Seven-speed DSG
Brakes ABS disc
External length 5.29m (17ft 4in)
External width 1.9m (6ft 3in)
External height 2.48m (8ft 1in)
Internal height (roof raised) 2.04m
Rear bed size 1.88m x 1.29m
Fridge Engel ST90F, 80L,
Time to Roam Australia – Frontline Adventurer Review
The great escape vehicle
Since the advent of the original VW Kombi, having a camper van as a second vehicle has been the dream of many Aussie families. And why not? You get the luxury of a reserve set of wheels in the garage and a great escape vehicle for holidays and weekends away.
Tried and Tested Frontline Adventurer Review and photos by Paddy McCann
Of course, the downside in the past has been the bulk of the van. Fine for leisure trips, but not very zippy or much fun for a quick dash across town.
But times have changed. The Powerful 132kw diesel engine in the latest VW T5 drives so well, you have to pinch yourself to remember you’re actually getting around town in holiday garb. Frontline Camper Conversion’s Peter Farrugia and and Jeffery Verhagen have been designing and building camper conversions in Sydney since 1987. Today they focus on three base vehicles the Toyota Hiace, Landcruiser and VW. The VW T5 is more “car like” due to the out front engine and this translates to a vehicle that is just a little bit nicer on the road. It also has a walk through cab which is brilliant and the front passenger seat also swivels to face the rear, adding to the usable space in the vehicle when camping. Frontline offer four different layouts in the VW T5, the Freedom, the Adventurer, the Vacationer and the Avalon.
The Adventurer is one of their best sellers due to the addition of a rear bench seat and the fact that the vehicle is fitted with four seat belts, making it popular with families. Frontline Camper Conversions point of difference begins in the back of the vehicle and their approach to fitting the vans pop-top roof. From their very first pop-top campers back in the 1980s through to the current 2014 iteration, not a lot has changed in Frontline’s approach which is to create a robust, highly usable, value packed camper that is as affordable as possible without sacrificing quality. For example, Frontline still opt for the full pop-top rather than the tilt style of many European vans and in the T5, the top is completely seamless with the look of the van underpinnings right down to an exact match on the paint. (not sure what underpinnings are?) Frontline even takes the trouble to disassemble and colour match paint the Fiama awning that they optionally offer with all Frontline campers. This attention to detail is typical of Peter and his teams commitment to quality and there is no denying that the final finish reflects the extra effort. Our test vehicle took the custom camper look a step further with a black and orange colour scheme, extending to the custom wheels and chunky all terrain tyres. Around the vehicle, the air ventilation grills, 240v power plug and even the water inlet have been painted a gloss black. The overall look is very striking and it makes you realise how sophisticated Frontline production technology has become in recent years. This vehicle looks like it came in one piece straight from the VW factory. In the back, the general layout to around the van’s midway point is consistent throughout the Frontline T5 range. There is a sink plus bench space directly behind the driving seat with a compressor driven two-way (12v / 240v) fridge below.
Out the back
Behind the passenger seat, there is a swing out cupboard which houses an ever-reliable mentholated spirits cooker. Peter says they moved away from LPG cookers and gas lit refrigerators several years ago with the gain of more space, reliability and safety. “The fridge, lighting and pump will run for around two days with the included camping battery but it can be extended to 7-8 days with an optional solar booster or four days running simply by adding an extra battery”. From the midpoint back, the Frontline VW T5 design varies slightly depending on your chosen layout. In the T5 Adventurer, it has row of perfectly fitted cupboards extending down the drivers side ending with a cabinet containing a retractable shower that can be accessed by opening the rear door of the camper. The shower is pump fed and the flow is excellent. The 55 litre water storage is more than enough for a few quick showers and it’s also perfect for washing off sandy feet or hosing down a mucky dog. When the shower is fully retracted, there is no sink or catch tray to protect the cabinetry from drips, although the internal construction of all cupboards is a lightweight plywood covered in a high pressure laminate similar to a kitchen worktop. This makes for a very tough interior and a couple of drips of water will not hurt it. Next to the row of cupboards and rear shower is one half of the double bed with the bench seat in front. During the day, the bench seat is comfortable seating for two. At night, the rear bench seat is folded flat to join up with the cushioned area directly behind it forming a large double bed. There are even convenient cubby drawers under the bench seat, one of which provides storage for the optional Porta- Potti which was fitted to our test vehicle. On our road test, the cab was remarkably quite with very few rattles and creaks. Invariably, campervans and motorhomes do get noisier as they start to cover more kilometres but it’s hard to imagine the quality of the Frontline fit out giving much slack over time. Every cabinet is precision milled using Frontline’s computerised routing machine and then screwed together by talented craftsmen. Peter himself is a cabinet builder by trade so quality cabinetry is part of the company culture.
The Frontline Adventurer is a practical and well put together vehicle which also offers good value for money. When you consider the price of a base model VW Transporter van is around $50,000 and the price of a baseline Frontline T5 Campervan is around $64,800 (or $76,740 as tested which included 120w solar amongst other premium goodies), tried + tested | camper review there is not really that much in it. For travellers who like to travel a little fast or people who want to take weekend getaways at every opportunity, this camper van has great appeal. Not only can you get an adventure vehicle that will take you almost anywhere under your own steam (Frontline even offer an all wheel drive model), you also get incredibly low depreciation – enough even to keen an accountant happy.