For most folks, the Hiace is the name that usually comes to mind when the words Toyota van are mentioned. And rightfully so as this has been the Japanese carmaker’s erstwhile offering for decades. But for those old enough (who are considered 90s kids), there is one name that resonates—LiteAce.
Yes, Toyota did bring in the smaller yet still spacious people mover in 1989. It was an 8-seater with dimensions that weren’t as lengthy as the Hiace yet still offered space for people and their gear. Plus, it boasted of some features that were considered cool for their time.
One of these is the reclining seats for the second and third rows. The second row actually had a slide and recline function that, combined with the recline-flat third row, made for a rather spacious sleeping space. This meant you could use your LiteAce as a mobile bed.
Then there was the floor-mounted shifter, This made driving the LiteAce a bit more bearable, car-like even. Together with the steeper rake of the windshield and more natural position of the steering wheel, you sort of felt like you were piloting a car and not a huge truck-like van.
Of curse, this feeling was quickly dismissed upon realizing that there was no hood ahead of you. Just like its bigger Hiace brother, this was a “flat nosed” van whose 1.5-liter 5K four-cylinder engine was mounted atop the front axle—underneath the driver’s chair. Translation: it became rather hot for drivers’ butts.
Other quirks were the power. Or lack thereof. Sure, the engine was decent. But the body seemed to be a bit too much for the mill, resulting in uphill climbs or overtaking maneuvers requiring one to use the “turbo” switch—a.k.a. switching off the dual aircon for added “boost” .
Yes, it had its flaws. But we all loved it. It was relatively easier to drive versus those full-size L300 vans of the time. And it offered roomy and comfortable quarters for 7-8 Filipinos (or more, as most folks would do) with comforts like the aforementioned dual aircon, as well as a Toyota badged Alpine stereo with cassette.
The Toyota LiteAce was eventually dropped from Toyota Motor Philippines’ lineup in the late 1990s in favor of the Revo. Yet it will continue to be an icon of the decade. Something worth remembering even to this day and beyond.