BUYERS GUIDE - 4X4 CAMPERVANS
Bus4x4 – best known for its 2WD to 4WD conversions for mining company transport – has introduced a high-ground clearance version of the HiAce range that’s also fitted 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.
The Bus 4×4 conversion of the post-2019 Toyota 300 Series HiAce, with full time high- and low-range gearing is the latest advancement in the company’s extensive product range.
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.
The specifications indicate that the latest Bus4x4 HiAce models have more than expected on and off-road abilities, and the company’s testing indicates better ride quality and turning circle than existing Bus4x4 converted vehicles.
Bus4x4 expects the converted 2019MY HiAce Commuter mini-bus versions to be as popular with mining companies as previous HiAce 4×4 models it has produced over the past 10 years.
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 conversion process is now at the production line stage, in which Bus4x4 is putting out four modified HiAces every week, in addition to its other 4×4 and ground clearance conversion work.
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.
Top-shelf 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.
Pricing for a brand-new, converted HiAce, five-seat, crew-cab van starts at $95,780.
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.
Getting behind the wheel of a Bus4x4 HiAce has proved difficult: partly because of Covid-19 restrictions and also because the conversions are proving very popular there have been no spare vehicles for press testing.
In May 2021 we finally managed a Queensland visit and spent a couple of hours playing in a converted HiAce GL Commuter. It was due for delivery to Rangelands Outback Camp who offer bespoke tour experiences in Winton, Qld (https://rangelandscamp.com/) The new owners kindly allowed us to spend some time in their new pride and joy.
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: a slight ‘drone’ vibration at around 2000rpm.
The cause is a normal engine vibration that’s well known to the Bus4x4 engineering team. Toyota fits some 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.
Bus4x4 chief, Phil Hargreaves. told OTA that the mild vibration is under investigation and will be eradicated.
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 mimic 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 are better than those of any standard Toyota 4×4 vehicle.
The video below shows one of the prototype 2020 Bus4x4 HiAces in action:
As a commercial vehicle
the Bus4x4 HiAce is a possible substitute for the LandCruiser Troop Carrier as a go-almost-anywhere people transporter, service van or ambulance. There’s also a camper van in the mix, with customised interior packages
The Bus 4×4 4WD Hiace Commuter is based on a Hiace 2WD mini-bus that has seating capacity for 12 or 14. Vehicles with five-speed manual or four-speed auto boxes can be sourced.
The process of converting it to 4WD is similar to that employed for the Bus4x4 Coaster, but the drive train is designed to match 100kW/300Nm, three-litre diesel outputs.
This done by using a Toyota Prado dual range transfer case, giving All-Wheel Drive and electric operation of low range control.
Bus 4×4 increases the suspension an extra 30mm from the previous model (see below), giving the Commuter an overall 110mm lift. Front suspension is 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 is part of this upgraded package. Wheels and tyres are standard 16-inch, with 17-inch options. A number of patterns are available for different applications. Typical tyre size is 235/75R16.
The 4×4 Hiace Commuters are available in both manual or automatic versions, and are very similar in feel to the original 4×2 versions.
Will the 4WD Hiace Commuter replace the LandCruiser Troop Carrier? We think that it’s certainly a lower-cost, more ergonomically acceptable people carrier or ambulance platform than a modified Troopy but replacing the reliable and popular Troopy is not an easy task.
Bus4x4 has converted a combined total of 400 vehicles to four-wheel-drive and supplies major mining companies and mining contractors across Australia.
The company exports and has supplied Coaster 4×4 kits to the Middle East, Latin America and the Dominican Republic.
With its 4WD HiAce Commuters and 4WD Coasters, Bus4x4 is targeting the campervan and motorhome industry as a go-anywhere alternative to the 4×4/Off-Road Caravan combo. Judging from the increasing number of grey nomads who want to go bush, this strategy could work for them as well!
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 and 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.
Will it replace a LandCruiser Troop Carrier campervan conversion? We think that it’s certainly a lower-cost, more ergonomically acceptable camper van platform than a modified Troopy, but when it comes to extreme terrain a double-diff-locked Troopy still has go-anywhere and towing legs that the HLT lacks.