This company turns the 2WD HiAce into a capable 4WD campervan - February 2014

Bus4x4 – best known for its 2WD to 4WD conversions for mining company transport – has introduced a high-ground clearance version of its HiAce Commuter that’s also fitted with a two-speed transfer case.

bus4x4 hiace hltAs a commercial vehicle the Bus4x4 HiAce HLT (High Lift Trooper) is intended to replace the LandCruiser Troop Carrier as a go-almost-anywhere people transporter, service van or ambulance. There’s also a camper van in the mix, with customised interior packages.

Brisbane-based Bus4x4 will build a camper on a brand new, wide-cab SLWB HiAce 2WD van, or they’ll do the conversion on a low-mileage one they’ll import, or on a HiAce a customer has sourced in the Australian used market.

The conversion cost starts at $42,790 including GST and if that sounds like a lot, here’s what you get: live Dana front axle; coil spring front suspension; body lift with replacement rear leaf springs; Pedders shock absorbers; New Process transfer case; front and rear propeller shafts; dash-mounted electronic 4WD selector; all-terrain tyres and a compliance engineering certificate. Optional mods include various diff centres.

All components are made or engineered in Australia and come with warranty.

Compared with Bus4x4’s standard HiAce conversion that has single-speed transfer case the HLT gets a two-speed transfer case with deep reduction gearing and redesigned suspension to lift belly clearance by 140mm.

Improved traction is ensured by limited-slip differentials front and rear.

As with the standard Bus4x4 HiAce Commuter the live beam front axle is a Dana 44, fitted with free-wheeling hubs.

bus4x4 hiace hltThe standard rack and pinion steering is replaced by a recirculating ball design, because the best way rack and pinion works with a live axle is by mounting the steering rack on the axle itself, as is done on some US-made heavy trucks. Axle-mounted steering adds to unsprung weight and restricts off-road axle movement.

At the rear the standard HiAce axle is retained, but the suspension is replaced by cambered leaves that create a body lift. The prototype we tested retained standard rear drum brakes, but a disc package has been specified for production vehicles.

Control over 2WD-4WD-4WD Low Range is done via an electronic link, from a push-button module on the dashboard.

On and off road

Our test Bus4x4 HiAce HLT was the company’s prototype, in eight-seat, mine-bus configuration, but the company will build HLT vans into campervans with pop-top roofs.

bus4x4 hiace hltGetting in and out of the HLT was something of a challenge, because there was no additional step provided. However, a drop-down step and additional grab handles are in the design phase.

The prototype was built on a HiAce Commuter, powered by the ubiquitous Toyota three-litre turbo-intercooled diesel that drops into HiLuxes and Prados. The transmission was a manual five-speed, but the Bus4x4 conversion should work just as well with an optional four-speed automatic transmission.

On road it drove just like a 2WD, but with a superior view! Ride and handling were as original, but the steering had a distinct ‘dead’ spot either side of centre: that was due for correction by a change of steering geometry.

Corrugated dirt roads didn’t worry the HLT, other than for road noise drumming inside what was a big tin box.

On road fuel consumption worked out around 13L/100km.

Switching from 2WD to 4WD could be done at any speed, provided the front hubs were locked. Low range selection required a stop. Engagement and disengagement of 2WD, 4WD and 4WD Low Range worked quickly, with no sing of driveline-torque ‘hang-up’.

Off road the New Process transfer case’s low-range gearing allowed the HLT to crawl up anything on which it could get traction and where its considerable front overhang let it climb without digging in. The approach angle was only 25 degrees and that’s one of the compromises of a cab-over-engine configuration. The plus side of the COE layout was a short wheelbase of 3110mm, for an overall length of 5380mm.

bus4x4 hiace hltThe prototype’s diffs lacked the tractive ability of a full locking setup and that would be our preferred arrangement.
However, as tested, the Bus4x4 HiAce HLT was easily the most capable vehicle in its class – well ahead of the 4Motion VW Transporter and Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4x4.

Will it replace a LandCruiser Troop Carrier campervan conversion? We think that it’s certainly a lower-cost, more ergonomically acceptable camper van platform than a modified Troopy, but when it comes to extreme terrain a double-diff-locked Troopy still has go-anywhere and towing legs that the HLT lacks.

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