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.