Hi Good Lookin'
Frontline’s Hi-Top HiAce, that is…
by Malcolm Street
Whilst many RV travellers in their younger years started out in a campervan of some sort, most later moved on to motorhomes. However, the humble campervan still has much to offer the budget/lightweight/keen-to-go-anywhere traveller.
Although base vehicles for motorhomes have changed over the last 15 years, those for campervans have not. In years gone by the vehicles of choice were either a Volkswagen Transporter or Toyota HiAce and that is mostly the case today. Of course there have been other vehicles that have come and gone, but the VW and HiAce have been the long stayers. That is certainly the case at Sydney-based Frontline Camper Conversions, where both the VW T5 and the HiAce still reign supreme; the latter being our review model.
Enter the Hi-Top
For the most part Frontline build pop-top conversions, but in this case the curiously named L-Shaped Hi-Top has a moulded fibreglass roof, which has been developed in-house by Frontline. It's a good fit and looks like part of the original vehicle. Undoubtedly one (or should that be five?) of the excellent features are the opening windows. There's nothing like good ventilation in a camper this size, not to mention a high level of natural light.
Apart from the Fiamma F45 awning there are a few other clues that this might be a campervan and they’re mostly on the drive’s side: power socket, fridge vent and water tank filler. Being a light commercial van conversion there are two entry doors: the sliding side door and hinged rear door. Those, apart from anything else, give easy access, especially at the rear with the optional protection bar and step.
Powering the HiAce is a 2.7 L petrol engine. It puts out a maximum of 111 kW and 241 Nm of torque, which gives a more than acceptable performance when driving through the 4-speed automatic gearbox. There are a couple of options here: a 3.0 L 100 kW turbo diesel is available that’s lower powered but has a much higher torque (300 Nm) output, but adds about $4000. If a manual gearbox is acceptable that lops about $3000 off the price on either diesel or petrol.
Behind the steering wheel the HiAce’s controls and instrumentation, including those on the steering wheel are functional, but lack the chic of European vehicles. The slight oddity is the under dash handbrake, which harks back to older vehicles but keeps out of the way of the centre seat passenger’s legs when a bench seat is fitted. I have to say the bucket seats are certainly an improvement on the bench seat on earlier models. Between the seats a centre console offers a decent size space for all the usual items needed when travelling.
This floorplan is different to the usual campervan layout because of the L-shaped lounge directly behind the cab. This has a removable pole-mounted table, while at night the lounge converts to a bed, which leaves the rear area for both kitchen and general storage. Timber with a laminate finish is used for the general cabinetry work and it gives a simple but effective finish. Although this campervan has a hardtop, none of the airspace above the original roof line is used for anything except an all-round shelf. That might sound a bit of a waste of space but given the confined nature of the interior it's good for space perception reasons, not to mention being less top heavy when driving.
Within the confines of the van the dinette offers a reasonable amount of seating space, while a small cabinet occupies the space between the end of the lounge and the doorway. Not only does it provide cupboard space and a bedside cabinet, it also acts as a small barrier between the end of the seat and the doorway. Under the wall seat is a good sized drawer – much easier to use than either a ply hatch or floor locker door. Two LED reading lights mounted above and behind cab seats do double duty as lighting for both lounge seat and bed.
Making up the bed is quite simple. First, lift out the table and stash it behind the rear cupboard. Then pull out the seat base (complete with fitted legs) from the side and transfer the back cushions to make up the bed. It measures 1.80 m x 1.24 m (5 ft 11 in x 4 ft 1 in). It has to be said that the bed is not particularly long but I suspect that if you are keen on the camper, then Frontline might shorten the rear cabinets.
On that subject, or to be more specific the kitchen area, it's surprisingly large given what has been squeezed in. Fitted into the kerb-side kitchen cabinet are a round stainless steel sink and a two burner methylated spirits cooktop with a hinged lid that together with the adjoining forward cabinet offers some bench top area for food preparation. The forward cabinet is set back slightly to make access easier but it does offer more precious storage space. Under both the cooktop and sink, sliding doors give access for stashing all the kitchen essentials. At the rear of the kitchen bench are an LED light for illuminating the sink and a 240 V power point.
Fitted into the cabinet on the opposite side of the walkway are an 80 L fridge, microwave oven and cupboards of various shapes and sizes, plus an open shelf above. On the front side of the cabinet, handily adjacent to the seat, is a small 12 V switch panel with both 12 V and 5 V socket charger outlets, together with a TV antenna connection, and there's a matching socket on the outside of the van.
Although not immediately obvious, this camper does have an external shower. Being at the rear, the tap fitting for the kitchen sink also doubles as an external shower. And being under the lift-up tailgate, that area can be enclosed for privacy.
What I Think
Most campervans available in Australia for the private market tend to be the pop-top variety, so it's certainly of interest when a high top model is available. The downside is of course that the campervan sits taller on the road, but I don't think that's much of a disadvantage except in undercover carparks and other places with height barriers. What this L-shape model also offers is a layout different to the more usual rear bed seat/sideways lounges layout, yet still with room to move inside. Of course the bed has to be made up every night, but with campervans there's nothing unusual about that at all.
- Moulded hard top
- Multiple side windows hi-top
- Relatively good amount of internal storage
- Internal lighting
- 12 V/5 V charger points
- Being a Toyota, no cab walk through
- A few minor finish issues
- Metho stove slower than LPG
- Under-dash handbrake
Click HERE to visit Frontline's website.
Click below to download a PDF of the full test, including specifications and contact details.
Frontline HiAce HiTop (1440 KB)
Frontline HiAce HiTop (1440 KB)