Leading The Class
This is the review that many of you have been waiting for. Or at least the one that your parents and/or grandparents have been waiting for.
When Toyota launched the new-generation Hiace, many had asked: where's the Super Grandia? And by many, we mean many. The Super Grandia is very popular in a country that's very much in love with the Hiace. Because of that, Toyota took a bit more time working on the flagship variant of their big van because they needed to level up the experience as Super Grandia customers expect nothing less.
And so does the Elite version of the Super Grandia meet those expectations? We think it does, and very strongly so.
Before Toyota launched the all-new Hiace Super Grandia, we were actually wondering if they would use the standard height Grandia/Commuter Deluxe body or the high roof GL Grandia Tourer configuration. Toyota did have a taller variant of the Super Grandia called the LXV. When they premiered the international version of the Super Grandia, the Granvia, our questions were answered: they used the standard roof body type. To some, that would be a disappointment; for most average height individuals to be able to stand inside a Hiace is a nice touch, but not really necessary.
Once we did see the SG in the metal, we weren't disappointed though. Unlike the previous generation when Super Grandias (with the exception of the taller LXV) looked practically the same as the standard GL Grandia models, the all new model is very much distinct to the latter.
While the body is essentially the same as the GL Grandia, the new HSG Elite (we might as well abbreviate) is much more upscale. The grille is very different and more premium and the lights are much more sophisticated. The bumper is different, as are the foglamps, the wheels, the trim, and even the rear. This new model definitely looks the part for its Elite moniker, and comes in the optional color package that gives it a nice and classic two-tone look with white pearl and beige on the lower portion of the body.
Getting up to the front row isn't difficult, as it's easier to step in because the front wheels are no longer in the way. That's a result of the engine being moved forward instead of being underneath, and that means from the driver's seat the HSG -just like the GL Grandia Tourer we tested months ago - will feel more like an SUV rather than a van.
The appointments are not exactly luxurious like you would expect in a Lexus, but definitely higher up the order for a Toyota. We like the materials that they used and the colors they chose; the predominantly black interior goes well with the beige/cream ceiling, along with some wood-style trim pieces here and there. We also like that Toyota didn't bother putting a center seat in the front row; instead what we get is the big console box with lots of space for storage.
The gauge cluster and multi-info display are clear and crisp. We like the presence of cupholders on the dashboard. The feel of the buttons are nice, as is the leather on the wheel and the position of the shifter. There are two criticisms right away though; one is the panel of blanks for features that aren't fitted on this already top-of-the-line model, and the second is the touchscreen audio unit. Honestly, a model called Elite shouldn't have blank spaces and an rather small and fairly dated head unit.
But of course, the really important bit about the HSG is what's behind the front row. In the past, the HSG had captain's seats, while the larger LXV had four recliners with ottomans. In the all new HSG Elite, you get a proper upgrade: they're the power recliners like you would get in an Alphard. That means you can really relax and put your legs up, La-Z-Boy style.
Yes, it's very business class at the second row, but there are two more rows. Like an airliner, the more you move aft, the more “standard” it gets. The third row has two of the more classic captain's seats, meaning it has dual folding armrests, but no support for your legs like the second row. If you've flown in premium economy, this is what it's like.
The fourth row is more like coach class albeit with a nicely cushioned bench. It's not bad, and it boosts the cabin capacity to 10 passengers with 2 in front, 2 in the second row, 2 in the third row captain's seats, and another four.
If you don't need the passenger space, the fourth row has a 50/50 split, enabling you to fold up the seats for maximum cargo space. Unfortunately we weren't able to bring our Balikbayan Box props, but we reckon we can stack 4 jumbo ones there, with space for some smaller backpacks and luggage.
Driving the new HSG is a very different experience from before, and the restructuring of the layout is perhaps the biggest change. Having the engine forward in its own engine bay does wonders for the refinement of Toyota's hot-selling van, as it allows engineers more leeway to isolate the vibration, the noise, and more importantly the heat of the engine bay. If you've driven the older Hiace you'll know that the driver's legs (and, er, bottom) will have to take a bit of heat and vibration from the engine underneath on longer drives. In models like the Grand Starex with the engine forward of the driver, no such problems.
Making that major change does have its drawbacks, chief of which is the vehicle's size. The old HSG was measuring in at about 4.8 meters in length, just under 1.9 meters wide and 2.1 meters tall. This new model is 5.3 meters long, and just under 2 meters in width and height; that's why it looks like a square box when you're following a new HSG. It also means that the new model is almost half a meter longer than the previous on, which -on paper- means it should be tricky to maneuver in city streets.
We experienced no such difficulty though. The visibility from the driver's seat is superb; again, it feels like you have the commanding view and seating position of an SUV. Yes, you know you're maneuvering a really long vehicle, but you've got some assistance thanks to some tech. Your rear view mirror, for example, has an integrated screen for the camera mounted on the tailgate. That makes parking at malls easier, even though your HSG's nose will stick out a bit. All HSG models also have front and rear proximity sensors; the kind that beeps as you get close to a wall or another vehicle.
Here's where it gets interesting: Toyota equipped the HSG Elite with Toyota Safety Sense. Each car company has their own brand name for their next generation safety features; Honda Sensing, Subaru EyeSight, Nissan Intelligent Mobility, so on and so forth, and Toyota's equivalent is TSS.
The goal, much like the others, is to find innovative ways to prevent collisions. That's why TSS has a pre-collision system, lane departure alert, automatic high beam, and an adaptive cruise control system. These features comprise a certain degree of driving autonomy but not too much, and they serve to enhance the safety of the Elite on top of the standard HSG safety features like ABS, stability control, brake assist, and seven airbags.
Driving the HSG Elite around town isn't tricky, and we like the power and torque from the turbodiesel under the hood. Older HSG models had the 2.5-liter SOHC turbodiesel that didn't come with the intercooler, which is basically the same engine as the Innova at the time that had 102 PS and 160 Nm of torque. Later models later models did get the larger 3.0-liter turbo intercooler, but it only made 136 PS and 300 Nm of torque. This new model has a 2.8-liter twin cam turbo intercooler diesel that has 176 PS and 450 Nm. That's more than the engine in the Nissan Urvan Premium which has 129 PS and 356 Nm, and more than the top spec Hyundai Grand Starex which has 170 PS and 441 Nm. And the HSG also gets the 6-speed automatic. There are no paddleshifters (this is a van after all), but there is a manual gate for the shifter so the driver can pick the gears.
Acceleration is quite decent, which is surprising given its weight. Toyota didn't declare the weight in their Philippine brochure, but the Aussie version (the Granvia which has 8 seats, meaning 2-2-2-2 seating) does weigh in at about 2,600 kilograms. We don't expect it to be more or less around that mark, but given the power features, maybe it's closer to 2,700 kg.
The torque does well to manage the body, and the driver won't be left wanting for speed with the 6-speed auto and its nice ratios as compared to the older HSG which had a 4-speed. That's the big improvement with the new HSG, and results in fairly good fuel economy: expect around 7.5 km/l if you've got a full cabin in the city (20 km/h average, 9 passengers), and about 8 to 9 km/l if you're not really fully loaded. On the highway we were getting 12.8 km/l (6 passengers, 85 km/h average).
But the big difference is really in ride. Previous HSG models had basically the same truck-like suspension as the standard Hiace models: coil springs in front and leaf springs in the back. That means the ride isn't anywhere near as good as the Alphard. While the new generation standard Hiace models have leaf springs in the back, the HSG is a cut above because Toyota reworked the rear suspension to have coil springs. The ride is indeed a big improvement; we'd say it's much better than the all-coil spring suspension on the Grand Starex.
Another factor that improved overall comfort was tire choice. Some previous generation HSG models we drove even had all-terrain tires fitted as standard; great for looser surfaces like dirt roads, but the slightly blockier design means those weren't as good as proper highway tires for comfort and noise. The new HSG has proper highway tires. The extra 640mm of wheelbase also helps; it improves comfort at speed and on bumpy roads as the front suspension has more time to absorb and settle after a bump before the rear suspension has to go to work.
On winding roads, the HSG Elite does work very well, all things considered. We never really look for great handling in a van, but this one isn't bad. Again, very SUV-ish. The suspension manages the weight of the body fairly well; no unusual yawing at speed. Braking too is very surprising: all HSG models (like the Tourer) have disc brakes front and rear.
While we're impressed with the Super Grandia Elite, there are a few criticisms we really need to address. We mentioned the blank spaces and the audio unit that isn't befitting the class. While we like the dual power sliding doors, we found it odd that Toyota didn't include a power tailgate. And when it's open, it's fairly high up, making it difficult for the vertically challenged to close it. Toyota's solution was a low-tech grab strap.
One of the major unusual issues is with regards to the the power reclining seats. Here, you can't really fully recline it if you're loaded with passengers because deprive the third row captain's seats of legroom. Yes, it's like fully reclining your seat if you were on an airplane; you'll probably annoy the person behind you. If there's an equitable distribution of legroom for all rows, you won't be able to fully enjoy the power ottoman either as there's a good chance your feet will hit the back of the front row seats.
The third issue is oddly minor, but worth mentioning: the clips for the sunshades. The side windows for the rows on the back have pull up sunshades, the kind you would find on executive cars. The problem is that some of the clips have fallen out and can no longer be found. In vehicles of lower stature, it could be forgiven, we think it's worth mentioning in this model. Even though it's a minor detail, the expectations of quality and durability are exceptionally high in a Toyota, much more in something called the Super Grandia Elite.
Here's the thing though: those issues don't really ruin the experience. There are always going to be compromises with any vehicle, and the Elite is no different. What's important with the new generation HSG is how Toyota responded to the inputs and expectations of their customers.
Customers wanted a more refined HSG, and so they moved the hot, noisy, and shaky engine forward.
That also had the effect of improving the safety by having a larger crumple zone, which combined with the other primary safety features, makes for a very reassuring vehicle for customers. HSG clients also wanted a more premium option that's more comparable to the Alphard, but with the torque and efficiency of diesel. They wanted a better ride, so they changed the rear suspension to be more comfortable. They wanted a more upscale look, and they got it.
There are many more aspects about the HSG Elite, but all in all it's a model that was really crafted to suit the needs and desires of their customers. And this version is selling like hotcakes, even if the price has now gone up to just under 3 million Pesos.