Troopcarrier Vs 4×4 HiAce van – is Troopy life better than van life?

By Mark Allen 20 Min Read

You could be forgiven thinking that I’ve flipped my 4×4 lid, trying to compare the iconic LandCruiser Troopcarrier with a lowly HiAce. 

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Other than both being made by Toyota, they are worlds apart in their market appeal and usage.

There’s little need to introduce the mighty Troopy to our readers (albeit, mine has an extra door on the passenger side), but let’s give an insight into the HiAce; I purchased a Super Long Wheelbase (SLWB) version, which incorporates a higher roof than the other models. The same 4-cylinder 2.8-litre intercooled turbo diesel that punches the HiLux along has been slotted into the semi-bonneted design of the HiAce. The six-speed automatic transmission, with selectable manual-sequential shifting, was the only option with this SLWB body design. 

The HiAce incorporates left- and right-hand side sliding doors directly behind the passenger and driver’s doors to allow easy access to the rear section of the van body. The rear lift-up tailgate also provides quick and easy access to the cavernous van. 

There are many safety features and electronic gizmos to understand and set while driving, which puts it up with most modern vehicles and their safety standards. The Troopy has very little!

Given that we had planned an extended outback trip, I wanted to search for the best vehicle to make it as comfortable as possible while still offering good off-road ability. Given I already owned the Troopy, it was our first choice until I started researching the HiAce and its aftermarket 4×4 conversion potential.

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4×4 converted HiAce

Obviously, it’s not a 4×4! That should rule it out immediately for a potential outback touring vehicle. But no, not by me. Who can’t settle on standard anything when it comes to vehicles and 4×4’s. 

Having the HiAce converted to 4×4 is no mean feat. Although I’d converted other vehicles to 4×4 (I own a Holden 1 Tonner perched atop a Nissan Patrol chassis, complete with 6.2 litres of V8 go-power), this conversion is one most people couldn’t do at home in their shed, given it has multiple airbags and the most recent ADR’s to comply with.

So, after laying my money on the line, I trucked my new, unregistered standard 2wd HiAce to EnduroCo 4×4. A mob in Melbourne that specialises in converting HiAce and Coaster buses to 4×4. Predominantly for the mining sector but is open to the RV industry too.

How hard was the 4×4 conversion?

The engineering, manufacturing of bespoke parts and registration behind the 4×4 conversion of the Toyota HiAce has been approved by all authorities. To be legally registered and insured in all states of Australia. Along with the pre-rego GVM upgrade to 4200kg, it provides federal approval, making on-selling an easy and straightforward affair if ever needed. This is no backyard job. Plus much higher standards than even the best one-off jobs like my 1 Tonner. Making it an almost Original Equipment job. Yes, after crawling around under my HiAce, it could easily be passed off as a factory 4×4 vehicle. It’s that good.

Without going into every nut and bolt; the essence of this conversion utilises many components from a 200 Series Landcruiser. The front end, consisting of steering and suspension, is grafted into the HiAce. Pedder’s aftermarket, custom-made for EnduroCo, upgraded brakes and shock absorbers are incorporated into the front. 

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The rear sees leaf springs retained, albeit custom from Pedders. Who also introduce custom disc brakes all round. Which return excellent stopping power and back up the GVM upgrade. 

To turn this into a true 4×4, unlike most other vans on the market that rely on using the “4×4” terminology by relying on electronic wizardry to help drive all four wheels and lack low range. A 200 Series LandCruiser transfer case is adopted via a custom adaptor to the six-speed auto. This provides a constant 4×4, just like a 200 Series and Prado. Offering excellent on-road driving, as well as slippery road driving. Think dirt, icy roads and the like. A dash-mounted push-button locks the centre differential to provide a “proper” 4×4. Just like the Troopy. Then, dash-mounted low and high range buttons finish the selections to return the best all-round 4×4 you can have.

As standard, larger rubber is crammed into the wheel arches. Being only 265/65R17, while they are larger in diameter than standard, they are still considerably smaller than I prefer. Larger tyres will offer increased underbody clearance. 

Then, the options begin. I added a rear E-Locker (front is also available), snorkel, under-sill rock sliders and a 175-litre long-range diesel fuel tank. Underbelly alloy plate protection from the front end to midway along the belly protects the steering and driveline. That returns a brilliant long-distance, outback touring vehicle capable of tackling most destinations. It does not make it a rock hopping machine. Or a 4×4 to bash around the super-hardcore play-tracks.

That rounds out the actual 4×4 conversion. Which leaves an empty van to add either seating and storage system or, as we did, a camper fitout.

4×4 conversion problems

Some baulk at driving a modified vehicle, worried that parts are either hard to come by or unavailable. While I understand the worries, I’m happy to take the risk. If non-genuine parts are ever needed, at least when dealing with a reputable company, they’ll have spares on the shelf to send out.

The HiAce 4×4 conversion lifts the standard van by 150mm. Which includes suspension and larger tyre size. It’s still not as high as most new 4x4s on the market. Dual-cabs or wagons. Given the longer wheelbase, that also contributes to plenty of underbelly scrapes.

The larger tyre diameter size contributes to the loss of power and torque. A simple remap would easily overcome the problem. I’ll be looking into that soon.

The turning circle of our converted HiAce is atrocious. It’s so bad it turns me off wanting to go into crowded car parks. Given I know I’ll have to do multi-point turns to get into and out of parking spaces. Same for tight 4×4 tracks. We have to take a few bites at turning in tight spaces.

The same goes for the poorly towing capacity of 1500kg (1900 for the LWB). It leaves few options for towing a caravan. But hey, we don’t need to, given the camper setup. Perhaps a boat or general camping trailer might be an option if required.

Suspension flex plays a lot in helping keep a 4×4 moving offroad. The more flex you have, the more likely your driven wheels will stay in touch with the ground to keep you moving. The HiAce has little flex, which is why I opted for the rear diff lock. 

Even though 4×4 converted, the HiAce remains a monocoque design. Many say they can never be as sturdy or rugged as a ladder frame. But there’s no getting around it.

Not surprisingly, few companies offer aftermarket 4×4 gear for a HiAce. That leads to either missing out or improvising and making custom parts, if possible. Given I don’t take the “no, that can’t be done” attitude of many, I’ll be looking into having a few more custom parts made for our HiAce. Stay tuned on that.

Claimed standard fuel consumption is 8.4L/100km (combined average). I could only wish for our converted van to achieve that. Sadly, it’s up around 15 to 16L/100km at best. That remap may help!

What I love about the Hiace 4×4

The view from the driver’s seat is commanding. While not a traditional van cab-over, the semi-bonnet design offers superb views to the front and both sides while negotiating tight tracks. Plus, not being a cab-over returns a far superior ride quality. 

While the longer wheelbase sucks with the poor ramp-over, it returns an excellent ride on corrugated and rougher tracks at most speeds. Compared to my Troopy with aftermarket suspension, the HiAce is superior. 

The interior living space of the HiAce rocks! Not only is ingress and egress easy via the left and right sliding doors, plus the enormous rear lift-up tailgate. The height inside is enough to allow access to the insides for sleeping or preparing food. Fare enough, given I stand at 6 feet, I need to duck my head, but being able to use the bed without deploying the pop-top roof is a boon. Those who are height-challenged, like my partner Sharyn, who stands at 5’3″, can easily walk in without knocking her head. Compared to much larger 4×4 trucks, with purpose-built camping pods, even OKAs and pop-top slide-on campers, it’s a rarity to have that much head space.

It’s modern; like it or not. The HiAce is full of the latest safety features with multiple airbags, lane departure warnings. Voice and audible beeps telling me everything that’s going wrong in the world outside. Personally, I’m not too fond of many of them. Luckily, some can be switched off or muted.

The driveability is brilliant. Given that the front suspension, brakes, and steering are courtesy of the 200 Series LandCruiser. On road, the system steers far better than the solid axle front of my Troopy. The brakes, wow. Simply superb compared to my Troopy. Even though I have modifications to mine. While Pedders upped the disc size and added braided brake lines, the callipers remain standard. The larger rotors are the reason for swapping from 16 to 17-inch rims.

Given the converted HiAce is a full-time 4×4 (lockable centre diff), it drives superbly on dirt surfaces without locking that diff to return a confidence-inspiring steering quality. 

The width of the new series of HiAce’s is significant. Being able to palatize loads for commercial use would have been the main agenda, but given its width, it allows for an east/west sleeping arrangement. That saves considerable floor space to be used as either open walking, storage, or other features. 

The upgraded GVM, from 3500 to 4200kg, allows for plenty of gear to be added. However the 4×4 conversion does take from some of that. Given I wanted to load maximum fuel and water to our fit-out, the upped GVM provides plenty of leeway.

Troopy problems

Troopcarriers are not renowned for massive suspension flex. Although I have a superb aftermarket suspension kit in Terrain Tamers rear parabolic leaves and front Smart coils, they are limited by the overall Toyota design. As such, relying on front and/or rear diff locks is a great option to help get you further down the track or stuck further into the gunk. 

While the interior of a Troopy is cavernous, it’s small in relation to the HiAce. Much is wasted via the long bonnet out front of the driver/passenger seats. Once inside, there is no chance in hell of standing room, well, except for the stars of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. Yep, a pop-top roof is an option to allow standing room, but the length of that living area is still much smaller than our HiAce. Given the narrow body, sleeping configurations are only viable as north/south. 

Getting into and out of a Troopy is a pain. Either climbing over or squeezing past the passenger’s seat or via the rear barn doors. Almost whichever way you attempt, you’ll be straight onto a bed, storage compartment or narrow walkway. Seating is then limited to atop the bed, a foldable side lounge or back into the front driver and passengers’ seats. My Troopy is a little easier, given the extra aftermarket side door on the passenger side.

Troopy upside

There is no doubting the long-term durability of a LandCruiser Troopcarrier. They will outlast most vehicles operating in poor conditions and mechanically non-sympathetic owners and drivers. Their inherent ruggedness and durability make them one of the world’s most sought-after touring 4x4s. 

Simplicity rules when travelling to remote areas. Although the latest version of the long-running Troopcarrier utilises more electronics than the previous, they are relatively simple vehicles. 

The 4.5-litre intercooled turbo diesel V8 is their longest-running engine in use to date for Toyota and all up; while not offering overly high figures for power and torque, it is easily upped via chips, remaps and tunes. Yes, plenty of folk argue the previous 1HD-FTE straight six was superior, but they offer a beaut long-term engine either way.

Twin 90-litre diesel tanks are perfect, mostly negating the need to upgrade to a larger capacity. Factory lockers were excellent when offered, although plenty of aftermarket versions were available, of which mine has front and rear ELockers.

Therein lies a massive advantage to the Troopy: aftermarket gear. Yep, you imagine it and it’ll be available for a Troopcarrier. Everything from extra cupholders to diff locks, replacement pop-up roofs, portal axles, and fitment of much larger suspension and tyre options all go a long way to making a Troopcarrier far superior offroad and to empty your pockets.  

Pushing more of the aftermarket gear, my Troopy has an extra door fitted to the left-hand side, making ingress/egress much more manageable for passengers and accessing my gear. While mine is set up with four additional bucket seats in the rear instead of a camping fit-out, it’d make life much easier to access a fridge, bed or general storage via the extra door. 

Given the 3500kg tow rating of a Troopy, it’ll handle most vans, boats, or trailers for touring duties. 

Manual only; I reckon it’s a good thing, but I concede many prefer an auto gearbox. The Troopy gearstick is a long-throw change, giving your left arm plenty of exercise. Hey, there’s another aftermarket gadget – an extension for the gearstick. I told you everything imaginable was available.

So, which is better?

All up, there is no simple one is better than the other; it depends on what you need and want from a 4×4.

I won’t bother mentioning the costs of either vehicle; neither is cheap, especially the HiAce, when the 4×4 conversion is taken into account. A small fortune can be spent on aftermarket gear and general camping fit-out, so final pricing is relative to the individual and what they are prepared to spend for their form of the ultimate outback touring 4×4.

Given the lack of ground clearance being the main HiAce foible, that leaves the Troopy as a better offroad capable machine. But, given the interior space, ease of access, and the potential to lift it higher and increase performance outputs, the HiAce is my choice for an all-round outback tourer. Given our HiAce was made to be a tourer, I’d point out that touring 4x4s do not need to be able to tackle the gnarliest, most challenging tracks on offer. Sure, I like my 4x4s to be as capable as possible, hence my additions after the initial 4×4 conversion. As far as easy to moderate tracks, long-distance gravel roads, full of corrugations or otherwise, the HiAce eats the Troopy for comfort and ease of driving. The longevity of the HiAce over those challenging conditions is yet to be determined.

The ease of using the insides of the HiAce for sleeping, kitchen, cooking and storage also makes it a hands-down winner.

Even though we considered many other types of 4x4s before committing to the HiAce (OKA, various 4×4 trucks, wagons and twin cabs), I’d still opt for the HiAce if I had to choose again.

The one thing that may well bring the HiAce up to the Troopy’s offroad clearances and ability is if we were to choose the (shorter) long-wheelbase version of the HiAce, as compared to the super long wheelbase, as it subtracts 600mm from our wheelbase, benefiting ramp over angles and turning circle. Hmmm, but then we’d lose interior living space – like I said, what is best depends on what you want and need.


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