BUYERS GUIDE - HEAVY DUTY
Bus4x4 is a Brisbane-based secondary manufacturer of 4WD and 6WD mine transport vehicles. The company’s principal product lines are Toyota HiAce and Coaster 2WD buses that are professionally converted to 4WD. OTA checked out the current range and tested the Coaster and HLT projects.
Bus4x4 has cut its teeth – literally – in the Australian mining environment and we can’t think of a tougher place to learn what works and what doesn’t. Drivers of mining company equipment
aren’t exactly noted for their loving care of machinery!
Bus4x4 converts new or used Toyota Coasters from two-wheel drive (2WD) to all-wheel drive (AWD), using in-house designed technology with genuine Toyota parts.
The 4×4 conversion work is currently done in Brisbane, but there are a number of approved service centres in other parts of Australia. The conversions suit both manual and automatic versions of these vehicles.
The transition from a 2WD Coaster to an AWD bus starts by adding a lift-kit to the front and rear suspension. Next, another Toyota differential is added up front, which gets its drive from an AWD transfer case. With this system there is no need to engage free-wheeling hubs for off road driving.
The standard ventilated disc brakes from the Coaster are changed for an updated type, to accommodate the front drive axles. Calipers and disc pads remain as standard.
The front prop-shaft connects to a LandCruiser 200 Series AWD, two-speed transfer case that’s stirred by an electronic rocker switch.
At the back the drive axle is slung under the leaf-spring pack and with optional super-single tyres the ground clearance is increased to a whopping 230mm. Also on offer is a High Lift 2WD Coaster that can be converted to a high ground clearance bus and the 4WD kits can be added later.
We inspected a Bus4x4 Coaster in build at the company’s Brisbane factory and were most impressed with the design and quality of the kit.
The dimensions have been worked out so that the new front hub carrier picks up the existing upper wishbone mounts and the front diff bolts to the standard lower suspension mounts. The front diff cradle carries the lower control arm and leading arm mounts, so the standard suspension parts are retained, but with a taller hub carrier, to increase ground clearance and allow room for a custom-built half shaft to connect to the front hub.
Also impressive is the use of standard propshafts and jack shaft. The remotely-mounted LandCruiser 200 Series transfer case is positioned so that the standard rear shaft and jack shaft become the front drive link and a standard rear propshaft – minus the jack shaft – becomes the rear drive shaft.
The whole concept is aimed at using as many standard Toyota parts as possible.
Price for a bus-configured Standard 4WD Coaster is $159,990 + GST; price for Deluxe 4WD Coaster is $162,990 + GST and the price for a 4WD Conversion Kit for an existing Coaster is $49,990 + GST.
We took a 2017 Bus4x4 Coaster for a brief on-road drive and were most impressed with its ‘factory feel’. Steering, ride and handling felt no different from standard 2WD Coaster behaviour, despite the higher stance of the modified vehicle.
The Bus4x4 Coaster is fitted with full-time 4WD and the dial control for 4WD with centre diff locked and for low range engagement is straight from the LandCruiser 200 Series.
In early 2021 Bus4×4 was tasked by a regional council in Far North Queensland with fitting a wheelchair lift to one of its latest 4×4 Coaster conversions. This regional council uses 4×4 vehicles for community transport and already had a factory-fitted, wheelchair-equipped Coaster with a Bus4×4 Conversion.
However, the factory-fitted wheelchair lift took up a large amount of space and the wheelchair location at the side of the bus wasn’t passenger friendly. The Council tasked Bus4×4 to incorporate a rear-positioned wheelchair lift during the 4×4 Conversion work.
It was also important to the council that the finished vehicle could be used as a normal passenger vehicle and as a wheelchair bus when required.
A Bus4×4 Conversion on the Toyota Coaster increases the height of the bus by 210mm, providing deal ground clearance for challenging terrain, but the majority of wheelchair lifts are fitted to 2WD vehicles with low ground clearance and are quite easy to install.
Bus4x4 modified the wheelchair lift, so that the arms could be accommodated, without the need to modify the rear doors. The wheelchair lift also had to be given more stroke than those fitted to normal-height buses, to ensure it could reach the ground.
The finished wheelchair lift retained as many standard parts as possible, with no external body modifications, while given the council the result it needed.
Bus4×4’s philosophy has always been to create better solutions than existing products can provide, by using hands-on-experience, gained by 90 combined years in the transport industry.
Previous Coasters were converted to 4WD using a live front axle on leaf springs Bus4x4 had import rights over the higher-output Coaster models that Toyota didn’t import.
The standard issue engine was a Hino four-litre with 110kW, but Bus4x4 could give you up to 135kW. A manual five-speed and a five-speed auto were available.
Out came the standard front end and in went a purpose-designed live axle with Dana 70 or 80 centre, manual free-wheeling hubs and ventilated disc brakes. The chassis was modified to accept long-travel coil spring front suspension.
A front propshaft connected to a New Process, two-speed transfer case that was stirred by a shift lever, but was replaced by an electronic rocker switch in later models.
At the back the drive axle was slung under the leaf-spring pack, increasing ground clearance by a whopping 250mm. An optional Eaton TrueTrac diff centre could be fitted, as could final drive ratios from 4.9:1 to 6.1:1.
Off-road bus and van conversion specialist, Brisbane-based Bus4x4, was quick out of the blocks with conversion kits for the 2019MY Toyota HiAce van, Commuter and Granvia people mover variants.
The Bus 4×4 conversion of the 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 a rear axle differential lock. The coil-sprung Granvia’s revised rear suspension layout wasn’t finalised in late-2019.
The specifications and pre-release photos indicate that the latest Bus4x4 HiAce models will 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, petrol and diesel versions are available only in the two-seat vans, and all models with five seats and above 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.
Pricing for a 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); 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.
Our testing of previous Bus4x4 HiAce vehicles promises some impressive on and off road results when we get into one of the latest machines.
The Bus4x4 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 procress of converting it to 4WD was similar to that employed for the Coaster, but the drivetrain was designed to match 100kW/300Nm, three-litre diesel outputs.
This was done with a Toyota Prado dual-range transfer case, giving All-Wheel Drive and electric operation of low range control.
Bus4x4 increased the suspension an additional 30mm from the previous model, giving the Commuter an overall 110mm lift. Front suspension was independent, with torsion bars and the rear end having the axle under-slung to give increased belly clearance.
A long range 110 litre fuel tank was part of the package. Wheels and tyres were standard 16-inch or optional 17-inch. A number of patterns were available for different applications. 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.
Could it replace the LandCruiser Troop Carrier? It was certainly a lower-cost, more ergonomically acceptable people carrier or ambulance platform than a modified Troopy, but replacing the reliable and popular Troopy was not an easy task.
Bus4x4 has converted a combined more than 400 vehicles to four-wheel drive and supplies to major mining companies and mining contractors across Australia.
The company exports as well and has supplied Coaster 4×4 kits to the Middle East, Latin America and the Dominican Republic.