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.

THE BASICS
FRONTLINE HIACE 6TH GEN

CHASSIS

Vehicle — Toyota HiAce
Engine — 2.8-litre, turbo diesel
Transmission — 6-speed automated
Power — 130kW
Torque— 450Nm
Fuel Economy — Around 11L/100km

DIMENSIONS AND WEIGHTS

Length — 5265mm
Width — 1950mm
Height — 2065mm
Headroom — 1970mm
GVM — 3300kg
Towing — 1900kg

CAPACITIES

Water — 50L
Grey Water — Optional
Fridge — Dometic, 80 litre, compressor
Battery — 1 x 100Ah AGM
Fuel — 70L

WARRANTY

Toyota —5 years, 160,000km
Frontline conversion — 2 years

PRICE

From $72,000 drive-away. As tested
(diesel, auto) from $78,000 drive away.

Credit: Time to Roam



New Showroom New Factory

New Frontline 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.

 

 

The Caravan and RV Magazine – June/July 2012 Issue

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THE VAN

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.

 

LIVING SPACE

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.

OUTDOOR LIVING

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.

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The Caravan and RV Magazine – Dec/Jan 2014 Issue

caravan rv1The first resort

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.

caravan rv3As 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. caravan rv2

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.

caravan rv4We 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.

VERDICT

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’

caravan rv5

The Wanderer Magazine – Feb 2014 Frontline VW T5

article_cover_wanderer_feb14_1ON 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.

GOOD THINKING

• 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 BETTERarticle_cover_wanderer_feb14_7

• 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.article_cover_wanderer_feb14_6

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.

article_cover_wanderer_feb14_2SETTING UP

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.

CATERING

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.

article_cover_wanderer_feb14_3.1SLEEPING 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.

VERDICT

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.

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Manufacturer Frontline Campers

Model Bed Seat camper

Base Vehicle VW T5 4Motion

Tare weight 2100kg

GVM 3000kg

Licence Car

Passengers Four

Engine 2.0-litre turbo-diesel

Power 132kW@4000rpm

Torque 400Nm@1500-

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,