IT’S BEEN a tough year for what’s billed as Australia’s toughest ute.
Toyota’s Hilux has taken a rare pummelling in the sales race against fresher – and better – competition.
Put it down to age; the outgoing Hilux first arrived in 2005. And while it was given the usual freshen-ups over the decade it was on sale, the shift upmarket in the formerly workhorse-oriented utility segment – headed by the Volkswagen Amarok and newgen Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50 – meant its more truck-like manners let it down when it came to everyday liveability.
Now Hilux has come out fighting. A new ladder-frame chassis, interior, body and engine give a nameplate that is sometimes Toyota’s best-selling model a fighting chance against refreshed ute rivals.
From the outset the Hilux is a more convincing vehicle. The interior of the most expensive SR5 model now lives up to its $53,990 price tag (add $2000 for an auto), which applies to the carry-over 4.0-litre petrol V6 or the new 2.8-litre turbo-diesel four.
It’s that diesel that accounts for the bulk of sales. And while it’s a ground-up design, its figures are less exhilarating than some rivals. There’s a modest 130kW to play with, and it is instantly clear the engine isn’t about revs, with strain setting in above 3000rpm.
Fortunately the 450Nm in the auto (manuals make do with 420Nm) makes up for it and delivers with hearty mid-range reserves. Light throttle up a hill is enough to comfortably build pace in this two-tonne-plus workhorse.
While the diesel is more muted than before, there’s still enough rumble to remind you that the Hilux doesn’t slip into the ranks of passenger cars. Its 8.5L/100km fuel number is also unremarkable.
The six-speed auto is honest but uninspiring; it quickly deciphers the driver’s movements but lacks the smarts to intuitively hold gears in twisty terrain. That said, it will slip down a ratio or two on steep descents.
Yet there’s no hiding the Hilux’s workhorse underpinnings – independent wishbones up front, a leaf-sprung live axle out back. It was telling that Toyota lumped more than 200kg in the tray for the initial media drive, something that settled the rugged rear noticeably; it was neatly controlled, comfortable even, especially over degraded back roads.
A subsequent drive with an empty tray highlighted the ruggedness of that rear suspension. It’s far more susceptible to small imperfections and can buck over big ones. That said, there’s rarely a city speed hump you can’t tackle at the posted limit.
Steering is well weighted but lacking bite and immediacy; put that partially down to the SR5’s broad but high-profile 265/60R18 tyres. Dry grip is decent by ute standards, with controllable understeer when hooked in too hard, but wet traction is marginal over an unladen tail.
Toyota has focused much of the Hilux’s development to off-road.
A towering 279mm of ground clearance and impressive 700mm wading depth make for effortless progress. Throw in nicely tuned traction control and a locking rear diff and there are few rough challenges the Hilux won’t devour.
There’s no centre diff, though, so on-road 4WD is a no-go.
But the Hilux does live up to its workhorse status, able to carry 925kg as an SR5 and lug 3200kg (or 3500kg with the manual). Now, if only Toyota can work on keeping the wrinkles at bay as this newgeneration Hilux approaches its retirement age in 2025…
Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale el e ren t hyee Toyota Hilux SR5 Double Cab 2755cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, TD 130kW @ 3400rpm 450Nm @ 1600-2400rpm 6-speed automatic 2080kg 11.5sec (estimated) 8.5L/100km $55,990 Now
Jolting unladen ride; new diesel lacks sparkle; interior cost-cutting Rugged and tough design; bulletproof reputation; spacious interior
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New Hilux brings rear leaf springs that are 100mm longer, rear dampers now located forward of the axle, and stiffer anti-roll bars. The steel protection plates are 40 percent stronger and cover 30 percent more of the underside.
‘All-new’ is an abused term in the car industry, but in the Hilux’s case it’s deserved. Other than the lesser-selling V6, there’s only one thing carried over between old and new – the Toyota sticker on the tailgate.
SR5 includes digital radio and satnav, but only single-zone air-con and no digital speedo. Leather trim (standard on many rivals) is part of a $2000 ‘plus’ pack that also adds a powered driver’s seat.
TOYOTA developed more genuine accessories than ever for this Hilux. There are multiple bullbars, a snorkel, various storage pods for the tray, a sliding tray bed, and an integrated tow bar that doesn’t impact the offroad departure angle.
There’s also matte-black 18-inch alloys and, for the first time, Hi-Rider models that get the 4WD height and look without the drivetrain.
Put those accessories down to Hilux’s extensive Australian development.
RECENT update adds to already impressive driving dynamics, with great blend of on-road nous and work ute ability. Five-cylinder turbodiesel brings much-appreciated grunt with a dose of character.
GREAT twin-turbo engine, great cabin, great dynamics (for a ute).
Comfort suspension pack (which removes a leaf from the rear) reduces load capacity but noticeably improves light-load ride quality.