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BUYERS GUIDE - 4X4 CAMPERVANS

BUS4X4 HIACE
This company turns the 2WD HiAce into a capable 4WD campervan base

Bus4x4 – best known for its 2WD to 4WD conversions for mining company transport – introduced a high-ground clearance version of the HiAce range  with a two-speed transfer case and full-time 4WD.

 

 

Off-road bus and van conversion specialist, Brisbane-based Bus4x4, was quick out of the blocks with conversion kits for the post-2019MY Toyota HiAce van, Commuter and Granvia people mover variants.

However, the company used to work with campervan fit-out people, but now you’d need to do a DIY converison.

Developed in-house by Bus4x4’s R&D division, using Toyota components, the Toyota 300 Series HiAce conversion comes with a 180mm body lift, modified independent front suspension, raised rear leaf springs and an optional rear axle differential lock.

 

Nuts ’n’ bolts

 

 

Toyota has standardised the HiAce across global markets, with four-cylinder 2.8-litre turbo diesel or 3.5-litre V6 petrol power. In Australia, all models are diesel versions.

The Bus4x4 conversion kit covers the entire HiAce range from the two-seat LWB Van to the 12-seat SLWB Commuter, plus the 6/8 seat luxury Granvia.

All HiAce Bus4x4 models have a 1500kg braked-trailer tow rating.

 

 

The HiAce conversion uses as many Toyota parts as possible. The transfer case is from the 200 Series, bolted to the back of the HiAce transmission via a custom-built adaptor housing. The front differential is also 200 Series, as are the wheel bearings in the specially fabricated front hub carriers.

The entire front end sub-assembly mounts into a tubular sub-frame that bolts to the chassis.

Longer front suspension struts and coil springs are fitted and the rear axle scores parabolic leaf springs with more camber than standard. Additional rear end lift is provided by spacers between springs and axle.

 

 

OME dampers are fitted front and rear and the rear also has elastogran progressive-rate bump stops.

Anyone inspecting the underbody of the Bus4x4 conversion could be forgiven for thinking it was a Toyota factory build, such is the obvious quality and design.

Options are extensive, covering front protection bars; rock sliders to protect sills and rocker panels; powered access step; upgraded wheels and tyres; wheel arch mouldings; UHF/VHF radio; roof-mounted lights; safety decals and signage; ROPS roll cage; mine spec’ bars, snorkel; reverse warning ; safety equipment locker; handbrake alarm with door warning mechanism; wheel chocks and safety triangles; lockable battery isolator with Anderson jumpstart system and 2.5kg or 4.5kg fire extinguishers.

In March 2022 Bus4x4 added swivel front seats and a winch-compatible ‘roo bar to the options list. For the swivel-seat option the central handbrake lever is relocated.

 

 

 

First drive

 

 

In May 2021 we spent a couple of hours playing in a converted HiAce GL Commuter.

We didn’t get a chance to give it a thorough workout, but we did drive on: main and secondary roads, a short dirt section, a rocky trail and a paddock where we could check out wheel travel.

The converted vehicle sat much higher than standard, but entry and exit was easy enough. Once comfortable in the front seats we manoeuvred out of Bus4x4’s Rocklea factory and mixed with Ipswich Road traffic, before turning onto back roads.

 

 

The converted vehicle drove like a standard machine, with no ride or handling compromises. It felt just like a factory vehicle, with one minor exception: an engine ‘drone’ vibration at around 2000rpm. Toyota fits vibration-negating dampers to its 2.8-litre, four-cylinder engine, but these have to be removed as part of the 4×4 conversion job.

Our rough track drive showed that ride quality was better than that of a standard HiLux 4×4 ute and almost on a par with the plush ride of the LandCruiser 200 Series.

 

 

Off-road controls mimicked the Toyota factory design for its 200 Series vehicles, with dashboard push buttons controlling centre diff clock and low range selection. A third button can be added for rear diff lock actuation.

Wheel travel, belly clearance and front and rear departure angles were better than those of any standard Toyota 4×4 vehicle.

The video below shows one of the prototype 2020 Bus4x4 HiAces in action:

 

 

Previous models

 

As a commercial vehicle
the Bus4x4 HiAce was a possible substitute for the LandCruiser Troop Carrier as a go-almost-anywhere people transporter, service van or ambulance.

 

The Bus 4×4 4WD Hiace Commuter was based on a Hiace 2WD mini-bus that had seating capacity for 12 or 14. Vehicles with five-speed manual or four-speed auto boxes were sourced.

The process of converting it to 4WD was similar to that employed for the Bus4x4 Coaster, but the drive train was designed to match 100kW/300Nm, three-litre diesel outputs.

This was done by using a Toyota Prado dual-range transfer case, giving All-Wheel Drive and electric operation of low-range control.

Bus 4×4 increased the suspension an extra 30mm from the previous model (see below), giving the Commuter an overall 110mm lift. Front suspension was independent, with torsion bars, not with the coils previously used and with the rear axle under-slung to give increased belly clearance.

A long range 110 litre fuel tank was part of this upgraded package. Wheels and tyres were standard 16-inch, with 17-inch options. Typical tyre size was 235/75R16.

The 4×4 Hiace Commuters were available in both manual or automatic versions, and were very similar in feel to the original 4×2 versions.

 

2014 models 

 

Our 2014 test Bus4x4 HiAce HLT was the company’s prototype, in eight-seat, mine-bus configuration.

Getting in and out of the HLT was something of a challenge, because there was no additional step provided. However, a drop-down step and additional grab handles are in the design phase.

The prototype was built on a HiAce Commuter, powered by the ubiquitous Toyota three-litre turbo-intercooled diesel that drops into HiLuxes and Prados.

The transmission was a manual five-speed, but the Bus4x4 conversion should work just as well with an optional four-speed automatic transmission.

On road it drove just like a 2WD, but with a superior view! Ride and handling were as original, but the steering had a distinct ‘dead’ spot either side of centre: that was due for correction by a change of steering geometry.

Corrugated dirt roads didn’t worry the HLT, other than for road noise drumming inside what was a big tin box.

On road fuel consumption worked out around 13L/100km.

Switching from 2WD to 4WD could be done at any speed, provided the front hubs were locked. Low range selection required a stop. Engagement and disengagement of 2WD, 4WD and 4WD Low Range worked quickly, with no sing of driveline-torque ‘hang-up’.

Off road the New Process transfer case’s low-range gearing allowed the HLT to crawl up anything on which it could get traction and where its considerable front overhang let it climb without digging in. The approach angle was only 25 degrees and that’s one of the compromises of a cab-over-engine configuration.

The plus side of the COE layout was a short wheelbase of 3110mm, for an overall length of 5380mm.

The prototype’s diffs lacked the tractive ability of a full locking setup that would be our preferred arrangement.

However, as tested, the Bus4x4 HiAce HLT was easily the most capable vehicle in its class – well ahead of the 4Motion VW Transporter and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4.

 

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