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The 4×4 Campervan that Doesn’t Compromise Offroad (much)

There is no perfect travel vehicle. Even if we take cost out of the picture entirely, you have a tradeoff between size/manouverability and interior space/comfort.  For example, you can buy a Ram 3500 and tow a 4000kg caravan…super comfortable, but that’s one huge rig so good luck going offroad with it, or even finding somewhere to park it.  You could also buy a Fuso Canter and then have a much smaller vehicle to deal with, and one that’s super capable offroad…but it’s a slow, noisy, manual truck.

Vans have historically been popular, even giving rise to the #vanlife tag. They are relatively cheap to buy and run, and offer huge amounts of interior storage compared to a ute.  You can even fit a bed in them.  But what about offroad?  That’s where vans have historically been lacking, as almost all are 2WD, and the few that are all-wheel-drive tend to lack low range and offroad traction aids such as cross-axle locking differentials, as well as being limited by small tyres and long wheelbases.  That’s why people buy trucks such as the Canter or Isuzu NPS, but those are much bigger and much more expensive.  There are a few all-wheel-drive campers based on vehicles like the Sprinter, but these are really dirt-road tourers and don’t have the drivetrain or clearances for anything  resembling a 4×4 track, and they’re also very long wheelbase so lack clearance.

Now we have another option, an offroad-capable van in the form of this converted Hiace.  There are two companies doing the conversions, Bus4x4, and this one from EnduroCo. The Hiace has been re-engineered with LC200 parts to make it all-wheel-drive, taller tyres fitted, low range, and optional cross-axle locking differentials front and rear.  There’s also a bullbar with winch mount, and siderails which can take the weight of the car – that’s important, as the major weakness of the 4×4 Hiace is ramp over angle, particuarly in the Super Long Wheelbase (SLWB) variant.

How good is the Hiace offroad?  Claims it will go anywhere a Hilux will go are wide of the mark as it simply doesn’t have the rampover angle, or turning circle in tight situations, nor does it offer brake traction control so I’d advise optioning at least one cross-axle locker, preferably two. 

That said, the Hiace is way, way more capable than any other van on the market, old or new, particularly in the shorter LWB version, and if it does run out of rampover, those siderails will prevent damage.  Essentially, I wouldn’t have too much concern pointing the 4×4 Hiace down touring tracks marked “4WD Only”, because it has some actual offroad capability. Now I would expect to have to use more skill than if I was driving a Hilux, but it’d still get to almost everywhere I want to go as the access tracks to the vast majority of interesting touring destinations are rough and do not require extreme 4×4 capability, but are beyond where you’d want to take a softroader, or where a 2WD van could hope to venture. They can tow only 1500kg, but if you’re touring in a van that’s not really a problem.

That’s why I’m really pleased to see these 4×4 Hiaces on the market.  I feel they would be a near-perfect mix of onroad comfort, payload, interior size and offroad ability, a new mix of capability that did not previously exist on the market unless you count the aged Delicas. Maybe worth a look?

Thanks to Aussie Hilander for helping make these videos.

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