Putting Frontline’s HiAce Adventurer through its paces to find out...
by Malcolm Street
Frontline Camper Conversions is a Sydney-based campervan-only builder and one of a surprisingly small group of dedicated campervan builders. Mostly small vans, i.e. Toyota HiAce or Volkswagen T5 are used as the base vehicles, but occasionally other vehicles like a Toyota Troopie are converted for keen off-road enthusiasts. There are certainly some common layouts available between the various vehicles, particularly the vans, but some are just unique to one vehicle. Our review vehicle was a Toyota HiAce-based Adventurer, a layout that is also available on the VW T5 van. It comes with quite a lengthy options list, some of which are included in our review van, but the base conversion might generally be described as a liveable camper and affordable at the same time.
To many, the ubiquitous Toyota HiAce van is the only base vehicle that should be used for a camper conversion. Certainly a vehicle that has been around for many years, it has gained a deserved reputation for Japanese reliability. In its current form the HiAce is available with either a petrol or diesel engine and with either a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic.
Like most small vans, it comes with a nearside sliding door a top-hinged door at the rear. When compared to its main rival, the VW T5, whilst it does have a price advantage, it’s slightly smaller overall and does not have flat floor for easy access between the driver’s cab and the rear of the van. One thing that is quite impressive about the Frontline conversion is the way the pop-top roof integrates neatly into the HiAce roofline. Items like the awning give the game away but from some angles the camper looks like a normal van and those (optional) flush-glazed tinted windows definitely look quite swish.
Our review van came in white, which although some might find a bit boring, it’s the cheapest option and also I’d suggest the easiest to keep looking clean. With a different coloured van, matching the pop-top roof and awning costs extra.
On the Road
With any vehicle like this, it has to be remembered the HiAce is designed as a light commercial vehicle; that is for tradesman or delivery use and more for short distance city driving rather than long distance country touring. That said, there is no doubt the van has improved in both appointment and comfort levels over the years and is a much better proposition than it once was. It is however, still a van rather than a car in terms of driver and passenger comfort.
When sitting behind the steering wheel, all the necessary control and safety functions are close to hand and both the driver and passenger get airbags as standard. For the uninitiated, sitting over the front wheels, rather than behind them, can be a little disconcerting, but it doesn’t take long to get used to it. Although there is no walk-through to the rear, the centre console provides an excellent cab storage area and also a good place to park the iPod. Unlike the VW, the standard HiAce radio does come with a 3.5 mm auxiliary socket.
Mated with the optional four-speed auto gearbox, the 111 kW 2.7-litre petrol engine performs well enough. It offers more power than the 100 kW 3.0-litre turbo-diesel, but in the torque stakes the 300 Nm diesel is a better performer than its 241 Nm petrol counterpart. The diesel option costs a hefty $4000 for a manual, rising to $6,200 for the automatic!
Setting up the Adventurer for day use doesn’t take long at all. It’s mainly a matter of parking the on a reasonably level site, opening the sliding door and releasing the four pop-top roof straps and pushing the roof up – something made quite easy by the gas struts. An advantage of the rising full roof is that air circulation is very good through the screened gusset windows.
I like the optional Fiamma awning on campervans. Unless the weather is really cold, a campervan awning does a good job of protecting the side of van from both sun and rain. Many people only think in terms of the sun, but a partially-open awning is great for sliding door vans and very effective in keeping the rain away from the opened sliding door. For long term stays, awning walls are available, as is a small tent for the rear door area.
Inside the Adventurer the layout is quite simple, with a kitchen/storage area cabinet along the offside and a day/night lounge taking up the mid section. The lounge can be used to legally carry two passengers (optional seat belts required); just for sitting on when camped by day or folded down into a bed by night. The area behind the lounge has a platform and large cushion for extends the bed.
Fitted into the offside-rear area is a sliding-door cabinet; the front half having shelves and the rear having a small hanging space. Right in the rear corner is a small shelf that on this camper held an optional external shower hose.
Under the bed at the rear is a good storage area, the front-half being a good-sized drawer (optional) and accessible from inside, whilst the rear part can be accessed by opening the rear door. Part of this space is occupied by the house battery and charger, but the rest can be used for general storage. I reckon a couple of large plastic bins would work well and keep things neat.
Lighting in the van consists of two fluorescent fittings in the ceiling and two LED reading lights in the rear. It’s not hard to see how an LED light fitted to the rear door or one fitted above the cooktop would be useful items.
Apart from the front seats, which cannot be swivelled around, the only camper seating is the two seater lounge in the rear. A single pole-mounted table, normally stored behind the driver’s seat, can be used in conjunction with the rear seat for eating, but it isn’t overly large, given its intended use by two people.
Time to Eat
In a camper this size it’s not surprising the kitchen area is split across the van. That does not mean impractical though. Directly behind the passenger seat is a swivel-mounted cabinet that contains a cupboard below and an Origo two-burner cooker above, which uses methylated spirits for fuel, thereby making the Adventurer LPG free. The spirit-fired cooker is slower than LPG but does save on the space needed for a cylinder. Having the cooker on a swivel mount does mean it can be used inside or out. Also, being at standing height it’s definitely easier to use outside, with the added bonus of minimising cooking odours inside.
Along the offside bench top there’s a stainless steel washing up bowl supplied by a flick-mixer tap directly behind the driver’s seat. That leaves room for a surprising bit of benchtop space. Under the sink is a two-shelf cupboard and beside that, an 80-litre Engel fridge under a good sized drawer.
Alongside the fridge are three storage compartments and the 12V fuse and switch panel. It’s surprisingly handy and able to be accessed easily (unlike some I have seen) when sitting in the rear seat. Our review van didn’t have one, but an optional microwave can be fitted in this area, with a subsequent loss of storage space of course.
Setting up the bed is relatively simple – done by releasing catches on either side of the rear seat and then laying it flat. The bed measures 1.91 m x 1.22 m to 1.12 m (6 ft 3 in x 4 ft to 3 ft 8 in) – narrowing down towards the front. An option to have the bed width widened is done by not having the offside rear cabinet, but that does mean a substantial reduction in storage area.
What we Think
The campervan lifestyle doesn’t appeal to all: For some it’s a bit too cramped and outdoorsish, but for those who do the Frontline Adventurer is certainly going to be of interest. Even if this particular layout isn’t the first choice, as mentioned there are other options. What is great about this rear bench-seat layout, though, is that the van can be used easily as a multi passenger vehicle if the optional rear seat-belts are fitted. Also good about the HiAce is its relatively small size, making it easy to park and manoeuvre around town. In terms of the vehicle, I’d have to say my preference lies with a VW T5 and it’s good to see that Frontline offer both vans with a similar layout. For me the slightly larger T5, along with through-cab access and a better driving experience, makes the extra $5000 or so a good deal. For those on a budget (don’t forget maintenance costs – the HiAce has the edge here) and/or who really like the Toyota HiAce, then the Frontline Adventurer is a winner!
- Small van – excellent for around town and camping in the bush
- Toyota reliability
- Excellent internal storage
- Bed easy to set-up
- Can carry extra passengers with rear seat-belts fitted
- Mirror above rear door for reversing
- No cab-to-van access
- No light above cooktop when used outside
- Hot water not really an option with flick mixer tap and external shower
- Methylated Spirit powered cooking much slower than LPG
- Bed might be too small for some
Click HERE to visit the Frontline website.
Click below to download a PDF of the full test, including specifications, photos and contact details.
iMotorhome Roadtest - Frontline Adventurer - 2012 (4032 KB)
A budget HiAce conversion with room to spare...