This is the review that many of you probably have been waiting for.
We know that for a fact because the Hiace name is consistently one of the best selling models in the Philippines, so much so that they decided to hold the world premiere of this all-new sixth generation van right here. The Philippines, after all, is the biggest market for the Hiace outside of Japan.
Toyota handed us the keys to the range topping model: the big behemoth called the GL Grandia Tourer, and we'll take it on a little roadtrip to see what Toyota got right, and where the Hiace can improve. Let me tell you now that on the latter, there isn't much.
The first thing you'll notice right away is how massive this Tourer really is. At 5.915 meters, the Tourer is really long, dwarfing the 5.38 meter Hiace LXV Super Grandia we drove in 2015 and even the gargantuan 5.5 meter Ford E-150 that proved to be a handful in 2010. That length alone should make you consider where you'll be driving this, particularly if you're going to be maneuvering around very tight city streets with lots of curbs and 90-degree turns.
The Tourer is much wider than before at 1.95 meters; by comparison, the LXV was 1.88 meters wide, while the E-150 is 2 meters wide. The Tourer is also 2.28 meters tall, which is 290mm taller than the non-Tourer GL Grandia. These dimensions are very important because if you're looking at a Tourer, you may want to break out the tape measure and see how big your garage or parking slot actually is.
The second thing you'll notice -apart from the very different design- is the presence of a hood, and that's probably a big reason for the increased size. Yes, the Hiace now has a hood as the engine migrated from its traditional spot under the driver's seat and found a new home in front.
This is perhaps the most significant change over the old model. It's good for several reasons, chief among which is safety: there's now a crumple zone in front, as opposed to its snub-nosed predecessors. Secondly, this should make it better to drive especially at speed, as the hood and the raked windscreen should (theoretically) make for better aerodynamics and stability at speed. Third is that it removes the hump for the engine bay in the cabin, making a continuously flat floor from front to back. And lastly, well, it moves the biggest source of vibration, noise, and heat for the cabin, most especially for the butts of the driver and front passenger.
We won't delve too much the design because, well, people carriers aren't exactly meant to be pretty. Still, Toyota made a fair effort with the 2019 Hiace with those angular headlamps, the big chrome grill and LED lamps below. There's really not much else to note because the list of priorities included things like size, space, passenger capacity, refinement, comfort, and all the other things that make a passenger van, a passenger van. Winning the beauty contest isn't on the list.
Entry for the driver or front passenger is via a pair of massive doors, but they're not overly heavy. Stepping in is perhaps the biggest difference and nowhere near as difficult as the old Hiace where you'd have to pull yourself up via the grab handle. In this new one, the driver just has to step up. Definitely much easier than before, something that's a direct result of moving the engine ahead of the front row.
The dashboard is also a huge leap forward not only in terms of design but in aesthetics and functionality. It looks quite premium; not Lexus-premium, but definitely a massive upgrade over the older model with the cream beige and gray to generate a more upscale feel. The seats are nice and there's no middle passenger to speak of; instead it's a center box that can be used for storage or as a tray for loose items. The driver's seating position and the point-of-view is more reminiscent of an SUV rather than a van; that's going to be important on long drives. One thing I wish they added for this model was an armrest for the driver, but regardless, I'm already liking the Tourer, and that's from a driver's perspective.
To get into the main cabin, you'll have to circle around to the right side of the Tourer because Toyota opted not to make it a dual sliding door vehicle. You also need to know that, unlike the Alphard, the sliding door is not motorized nor can it be operated by remote, so if you're driving your grandmother or grandfather, you'll have to run around and help them up because the sliding door can feel a bit heavy. And the step up to the cabin can seem a bit high.
Once inside, you'll notice that the Tourer does seat 14 people: 2 in the front, 2 in the second row, 3 in the third and fourth, and 4 at the very back. All the seats face forward, and all are wrapped in a combination of leather (vinyl) and fabric. All seats can recline individually except for the last row, which can fold up to create cargo room.
I liked the fact that each aisle seat comes with its own folding armrest and that there are pairs of USB charging port for the second, third, and fourth row passengers. I also liked that there are cupholders on the backrests of each seat, and that there are bottle/cupholders on the sides. Perhaps what was most significant was that each seat in the main cabin comes with 3-point seatbelts; much better and much safer than those 2-point lapbelts. It's a clear indication that Toyota is going for safety, and is echoed by the fact that this Hiace GL Grandia Tourer comes with disc brakes on all four wheels (highly unusual in a van), anti-lock brakes, and even stability control.
There are some things that I think Toyota could have improved on, the first of which is cargo space with a fully loaded cabin. There is some space under each seat for a backpack or a small duffel, but that's about it. The base frame for the seat takes up the rest of the space. The second is despited that this has a high ceiling, an average height Filipino (5'5” to 5'6”) is still unable to stand up straight inside. The third, and perhaps the most important, is the A/C system. In front it's okay, but the rear A/C system doesn't seem to be powerful enough and those ceiling-mounted vents seem a tad small to combat our brutal heat, what more with 14 passengers inside.
But where the Hiace truly improved is in how it drives and rides. For starters, powering the 2019 Hiace range is a new generation 2.8-liter four cylinder turbodiesel intercooler engine with a variable turbo, a big upgrade over the older 2.5-liter turbodiesel which just had a standard turbo and no intercooler (later models came with a 3.0-liter turbo intercooler). It comes as no surprise that the new 2.8-liter produces a power output of 163 PS and 420 Nm of torque, dwarfing the 102 PS and 260 Nm of the older 2.5-liter, and even the 136 PS and 300 Nm engine variant of the Super Grandia. Surprisingly, despite being the biggest in the range, the Tourer is not the most powerful; that distinction goes to the non-Tourer GL Grandia model which has the same engine, but is tuned to 176 PS and up to 450 Nm of torque in the automatic variant.
The other big upgrade is the gearbox. Whereas older models had to make do with either a 4-speed automatic or a 5-speed manual that resulted in high RPMs at 100 km/h, the new models are much improved. The new generation Hiace Grandia variants can have either a 6-speed manual or, in this case, the 6-speed automatic. The engine mounted in front is oriented lengthwise to the vehicle, and that means this is still rear-wheel drive.
If you've driven a Hiace, an Urvan, an L300 or any other vehicle where the driver sits on top of the engine, then you'll have to recalibrate your orientation. The relocation of the engine means the front wheels moved forward too, changing the dynamic of how this Hiace is driven because the pivot point has changed. Whereas before the driver was on top of the wheels or even slightly ahead of it, in the new Hiace, that all changes. If you're more familiar with the Grand Starex, then you'll know what we mean.
I was actually expecting the Tourer to be like a bull in a china shop to drive in the city, but it really isn't. The Hiace Tourer doesn't really feel like a bus or a van to drive; oddly enough, it feels more like an SUV. You sit high, but not too high. Yes, it's a long vehicle, but it doesn't feel like it, and you can maneuver fairly easily around tight 90-degree corners without too much fear of scraping the wheels. You do have to be wary about the height; don't enter mall parking lots that have under 2.3 meters of clearance, unless you want to hear what the sound of concrete scraping the paint off your metal roof is like. To give you an idea, it's like fingernails on a chalkboard.
The one thing I would have improved upon are the mirrors... all of them, actually. The position of the rear view mirror is basically useless because with a full cabin, all I can see are the faces of the people in the back. Even without passengers, the view is obstructed by headrests. A rear view camera permanently displayed on the mirror would have been much more useful. The wing mirrors, while decent, could be much better. The primary side mirrors don'y offer a wide enough view for such a big vehicle, and the smaller auxiliary convex mirrors below are really only useful when parking. It makes it difficult to gauge maneuvers or lane changes with a relatively narrow field of view for a van. You can get used to them, but Toyota should have checked the types of mirrors that Ford used on their larger vehicles like the E-150. That's a far less intrusive, less expensive, and less complex than something like a blind spot warning system which this does not have.
Where the Hiace Tourer excels is in the department of overall refinement. Compared to its very popular predecessors, the new generation Tourer is a huge upgrade when it comes to comfort. The engine is the biggest source of vibration and noise, and it's nicely muffled by the firewall. Also, by having the engine in front, the heat can be more effectively blocked from affecting the cabin; no, the driver's and front passenger's butts won't be kept uncomfortably warm and toasty. It also rides a lot better, but let's be realistic: it's still a big vehicle with a robust frame underneath, so there are still some nuances like how it goes over potholes with the leaf sprung rear axle, but it's much better than before. It won't be as good as something like the Alphard, but it's no longer night versus day... more like day and dusk.
Fuel economy is the surprising thing about the Tourer. Despite its weight and the fact that we had it loaded up with stuff and a few passengers, it was returning a superb 9.1 km/l in the city (23 km/h average). With more passengers, that will go down, but it's a good indicative number. On the expressway with the same load and cruising at an average speed of 90 km/h, the Tourer was returning 13.5 km/l. Pretty good too.
Now while many will undoubtedly get the Tourer to be chauffeured around in, I actually liked how the Tourer felt from behind the wheel. Many would think that a snub-nosed van is stable at speed given its weight and long wheelbase, but generally they can be a handful because crosswinds can easily affect a slab sided van, and so can the turbulence generated by passing another big vehicle like a truck. The Hiace felt very composed and smooth at highway cruising speeds, much of which is something I suspect could be a result of having a nose with a sloped profile. Toyota didn't talk much about aerodynamics (nor would any other manufacturer when it comes to a van), but it could be because of the shape of the nose that somehow generates some downforce for stability; like a big spoiler. I could be wrong but that's how it felt to drive: a comfortable long distance cruiser, even for the driver. The only thing missing is really an armrest.
The Tourer handles fairly well, but that's something we have to qualify because driving the old model felt like driving a box, but this one is different. The Tourer can take turns well for a van. Braking is surprisingly good, thanks to the disc brakes at every corner. The steering is smooth and predictable. The tires from Toyo are likewise good too; quiet and has decent grip. Yeah, it feels more like an SUV than a van, something I wouldn't mind volunteering to drive for hours on end. And I did.
We only have so much space to really review a vehicle, and there are more things we can point out. But all things considered, Toyota did an impressive job with the Hiace. There are some nuances that I think should be improved upon, but they're not too bad at all, especially considering the price: at PhP 2,220,000 the sixth generation 2019 Hiace GL Grandia Tourer is great value as a minibus.
That's last phrase is what you have to keep in mind with the Tourer: it's a minibus, more than anything else. This is not an uber-family friendly minivan like the American-market Honda Odyssey. Toyota isn't offering a Super Grandia variant yet using the Tourer body, if you really want to, there are some shops that can customize that for you to bring it up to spec (read: captain's seats) similar to a “Super” Grandia. For a fee, of course.
Maybe airline analogies would work. Riding the Tourer is not like flying in business class; that's reserved for the Toyota Alphard. The Tourer would be what we consider as Premium Economy, while the the GL Grandia (standard size) would be Fiesta Class.
The Commuter Deluxe, well, that's Cebu Pacific.