The Commuter currently commands more than 90 per cent of sales in Australia’s Light Bus (up to 20 seats) segment. So, we recently put one to the test to see why this 12-seater is such a dominant performer when you need to haul plenty of human cargo.
Price and Features – Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?
The Commuter is available in either standard specification, or higher-grade GL trim like our test vehicle with a list price of $70,140. Both share the same 2.8 litre turbo-diesel engine and six-speed torque converter automatic transmission and can be driven using a standard driver’s licence.
Unique to the GL is also a choice of four exterior colours and body-coloured bumpers, door handles and mirrors which give a more upmarket look.
Plus there’s an electrically-powered sliding side door with driver remote control, LED daytime running lights, glass roof escape hatch, leather-accented steering wheel, synthetic leather/fabric seats and digital rear-view mirror with auto dimming.
There are also numerous features shared with the standard model including a quality infotainment system with 7.0-inch colour touchscreen, steering wheel-mounted controls and multiple connectivity including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and CD inputs. The driver gets a 4.2-inch colour multi-info display, plus there's cruise control, reversing camera, heaps of USB charging ports in the passenger zone and lots more.
Design – is there anything interesting about its design?
Sturdy grab handles on the A pillars and above the front door openings make for easy entry for the driver and front passenger. The front bucket seats are manually adjustable for height, length and backrest angle, but there’s no lumbar support or base cushion rake adjustments. Even so, they provide good overall comfort and support.
The 10 rear passengers have access to a roof-mounted climate control panel behind the driver’s cabin and all seating positions have an adjustable roof-mounted air vent. Most also have their own pop-out cup holder, elastic mesh storage pocket, reading light, USB port and wall-mounted cup/small-bottle holder.
We wish that the driver’s seat had a fold-down inboard armrest, as seen on numerous HiAce rivals.
Including the driver and front passenger, the Commuter has five rows of seating. And in commercial airline tradition, the comfort level decreases the closer you get to the tail. The second row consists of two RHS (right-hand side) seats opposite the side entry door, which have reclining backrests and offer the most legroom, but miss out on the pop-out cup holders and storage nets.
The third row has twin RHS seats and a single LHS seat, with reclining backrests on the twin but not on the single. There’s adequate knee-room in the twin, even for tall adults, but the cup/small-bottle holder in the wall cavity is partially blocked by your hips when seated and is awkward to access.
The LHS single seat, being closest to the side door entry, has a big protective frame in front of it which can feel a bit squeezy depending on the passenger’s size.
The third row has twin RHS seats and a single LHS seat, with reclining backrests on the twin but not on the single.
Fourth row seating is the same as row three except that there’s literally no knee-room for tall adults. The fifth and final row has twin RHS seats only, with similar knee-room restrictions plus fixed backrests and no USB ports or reading lights. The rearmost window seat is the worst of the lot, as the foot room is halved by intrusion of the rear wheel housing. So, this back row is only for small kids or adults that lose at papers-scissors-rock.
To the left of row five is open floor space with storage for the tool kit bag (mounted on the wheel housing) and a limited amount of luggage, which is easily loaded through the large single-lift tailgate. However, there are no anchorage points provided to secure it.
The glass roof escape hatch doubles as a sunroof, which creates a bright and airy feel in the passenger zone. However, given that it’s clear glass with no retractable blind or cover provided, it could also be uncomfortable sitting beneath it with a midday summer sun overhead.
To the left of row five is open floor space with storage for the tool kit bag.
Access to the wall-mounted USB ports could also be difficult for those not seated in window seats. Their device cables would have to run either over the laps - or behind the backs - of window seat passengers.
We also wish that the driver’s seat had a fold-down inboard armrest, as seen on numerous HiAce rivals, which can greatly reduce shoulder/arm strain and improve driver comfort. If fitted to the front passenger seat as well, then better still.
Engine and transmission – What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?
Toyota’s 1GD-FTV 2.8 litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel, which is also found under the bonnets of the current HiLux ute plus Prado and Fortuner SUVs, produces 120kW at 3600rpm and 420Nm of torque between 1600-2200rpm. This is slightly less than the 130kW/450Nm in the SLWB Van on which the Commuter is based.
The 2.8 litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel produces 120kW/420Nm.
The Aisin AC60E six-speed torque converter automatic has full converter lock-up on fourth, fifth and sixth gears, along with overdrive on fifth and sixth for economical highway driving and the option of sequential manual-shifting.
Fuel consumption – How much fuel does it consume?
Toyota does not publish an official combined figure for the Commuter. So, our own number, calculated from fuel bowser and tripmeter readings after almost 250km of testing, with no payload and the auto stop/start function activated, worked out at 11.0L/100km. That’s pretty thrifty for a vehicle of this size and weight. So, based on our figures, you could expect a realistic driving range of around 640km from its 70-litre tank.
Practicality – How practical is the space inside?
The Commuter’s 2665kg kerb weight and 3720kg GVM result in a 1055kg payload rating. A large cabin placard stipulates a boarding capacity of 10 people plus ‘payload’ (their luggage we assume) of 100kg. So, if you deduct the weight of driver, front passenger and the 100kg luggage allowance, say 250kg all up, that leaves 805kg of payload capacity to cater for 10 passengers who would therefore need to be an average weight of 80kg to avoid exceeding the payload limit.
These are notional figures of course, but it’s a no-brainer that 10 seats occupied by sumo wrestlers are going to weigh a lot more than those filled with primary schoolers, so an owner would need to be aware of these weights with each bus-load - particularly when towing.
Including the driver and front passenger, the Commuter has five rows of seating.
It’s rated to tow up to 1500kg of braked trailer and with its 5220kg GCM (or how much it can legally carry and tow at the same time) that means it can carry its maximum payload while doing it. That’s a practical set of numbers, given that a trailer would often be needed to carry the luggage of a full bus-load of passengers.
Numerous cabin storage options include a large-bottle holder and storage bin in the base of each front door, plus smaller bottle/cup holders in the centre and on either side of the dash. There’s also a small cubby to the left of the gearshift for small items, plus a single A4-sized glove-box and a full-width overhead map shelf.
The front doors have large-bottle holders and a storage bin in the base.
There’s also a large centre console which looks like an oversized desk organiser. It sits low to the floor and is very efficient in retaining bulky items like lunch boxes, camera bags, clip-boards etc. And, as mentioned earlier, most rear seat passengers have access to pop-out cup holders, elastic net storage pockets and wall-mounted cup/small-bottle holders.
What’s it like as a daily driver?
The driving position is comfortable and noise suppression is excellent, resulting in a pleasant cabin environment. Large windows and a conspicuously high roof with centre skylight create a spacious and airy feeling for all passengers.
Driver’s all-round vision is excellent thanks to a combination of large truck-style door mirrors with the lower sections housing wide-angle lenses, a clear eye-line for the central rear-view mirror through the large rear window and a reversing camera.
The 1GV-FTD turbo-diesel has commendable refinement and its smooth power delivery and ample torque keep the Commuter’s 2.6 tonne-plus kerb weight moving along with admirable efficiency.
The Commuter’s 2665kg kerb weight and 3720kg GVM result in a 1055kg payload rating.
Gearing of the six-speed auto ensures that at typical city and suburban speeds the engine is usually operating within its peak torque zone between 1600-2200rpm. This also applies to highway driving, with only 1800rpm at 100km/h and barely 2000rpm at 110km/h at full lock-up ensuring it’s not only at peak torque but also optimising fuel economy.
But be warned. If you stray a few km/h over any posted speed limit, which usually occurs when coasting down hills, be prepared for a loud female voice to remind you to “please obey all traffic regulations” each time you do it. Funnily enough, it’s quite effective as a speed-limiting device, because it becomes so annoying you try really hard to avoid triggering it.
What’s it like for tradie use?
We did not have the opportunity to load each seat with human cargo to see how it performs at its 3720kg GVM rating. However, based on previous HiAce testing at peak GVM ratings, we have no reason to doubt the Commuter’s competence when operating at its 3720kg GVM or 5220kg GCM ratings. Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to conduct a GVM test post-virus to find out.
Safety – What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?
There’s no ANCAP rating for the Commuter even though HiAce Van and Crew Van variants carry a maximum five-star rating. And with only three airbags, the Commuter has the least number of airbags in the HiAce fleet.
However, it does have AEB with pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection plus lane departure alert with steering assist, road sign assist, vehicle stability control including trailer sway control and hill-start assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, reversing camera, front/rear parking sensors and more.
Each of the 12 seats has a lap-sash seatbelt and headrest, but there are no top-tether or ISOFIX child seat anchorage points. And it also comes equipped with small red hammers placed strategically in the passenger compartment, to shatter a window if an emergency escape is required.
Ownership – What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?
It has its shortcomings like any vehicle but if you regularly have to shift a large crew by road, this 12-seater in top-shelf GL specification would be hard to top. Just ask Toyota’s rivals - if you can find any.