STORM WARNING | UTE Review -Toyota HiLux Rugged

HiLux comes under increasing pressure from the latest competition – Words by Stuart Martin

Toyota has built its brand around a strong reputation for reliability, workhorse muscle and off-road prowess; but its success has also made it a rather large target for rivals in recent years.

The launch of its Halo trio last year improved its market offering as the Raptor topped arch-rival Ford’s Ranger revamped model line-up and the Germans grabbed a chunk of the market. Volkswagen’s V6-powered Amarok and the Mercedes-Benz X 350 d are aiming to take a growing chunk of a rich model mix with outputs well beyond 190 kW and 550 Nm.

Toyota’s approach sadly has not involved any change to the HiLux drivetrain, which has gained veteran status and, by the numbers, looks and feels a little underdone.

The 2.8-litre, 16-valve double overhead cam intercooled turbodiesel with the variable-nozzle turbocharger produces 130 kW of power at 3400 rpm, with 450 Nm for the auto we drove (420 Nm for a manual), available between 1600 and 2400 rpm, and a little narrower than the rev range for the manual.

Neither figure is class-leading and, given the numbers coming from the special-edition models of its opposition, could have done with an upgrade. Claimed fuel use of 8.5 litres per 100 km (7.8 litres for the manual) isn’t bad for combined consumption, but in the real world, expect in the realm of 10 L/ 100km from the 80-litre tank.

An unlimited kilometre warranty of five years was brought in at the start of the year and is now within segment averages, but a six-month or 10,000 km service interval is about half what the class leaders offer and needs to improve; pricing for the first six services (for three years or 60,000 km) at the time of writing is $240.

We’re sampling the Rugged X in six-speed auto form, which at $63,690 is a $2000 jump from the six-speed manual version.

Based on the SR5, the Rugged X list of features is not spartan – including leather seats, front seat heaters, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shifter, single-zone climate control (with rear vents), a trip computer, keyless entry and ignition, cruise control, carpet floor trim with rubber floor mats, a cooled front glovebox and an (awkwardly-placed) 220-volt three-pin plug.

Much of the car’s functionality is controlled from the touch-screen infotainment system, which has six speakers, digital radio reception, satellite navigation, Bluetooth, USB, 12-volt outlets and integrated ‘apps’ − but no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto yet.

The driver can find a decent position behind the nice leather-wrapped steering wheel − which has audio, voice and phone controls − with electric seat adjustment and steering reach-and-rake adjustment, the latter still something of a rarity in this style of vehicle.

A revamped instrument cluster features dark dials, orange needles and white illumination among the changes for the Rugged X, and is clear and easy to read.

The package sits on purposeful-looking 17-inch wheels with more aggressive, yet surprisingly quiet 265/65 off-road tyres, complete with body and wheel arch mouldings, black tail-light surrounds, a model-specific honeycomb front grille, gloss black exterior mirror caps and door handles, a snorkel (which contributes to an increase in wind noise) and towbar.

Once set up behind the wheel, the 1885 mm wide and 1815 mm tall Rugged X feels familiar to regular HiLux drivers. Adequate performance outputs and use of the Power button (worth hitting every time you start the HiLux) on the auto gets the 5350 mm long ute underway smartly, but not quick enough to make the driver yearn for constant 4WD to overcome a shortfall of rear-wheel traction.

The ride quality from the double-wishbone front suspension with anti-roll bar (with uprated coils for the extra equipment’s weight) and the leaf-sprung damper-equipped rear is less fussy than its Rogue sibling, thanks to the taller rubber on the smaller wheel, but it loves a couple of hundred kilograms in the tray to keep everything settled. Rear occupants are reasonably well catered for in leg and head room terms, with vents but no rear-facing power outlets. Door pocket and console storage, front and rear, is good without being great, although some storage beneath the rear bench helps.

The safety features list is devoid of any automatic emergency braking systems and it still runs rear drum brakes. To its credit, it does get seven airbags (the usual six plus one for the driver’s knees), stability and traction control, automatic LED (low-beam) headlights and daytime running lights, hill-start and descent assist, and a reversing camera, but no sensors in the new steel bumpers.

As its name suggests, the Rugged X is meant for off-road pursuits when it’s not being used as a workhorse, so it sits on heavy-duty-spec suspension, has a rear diff lock and is dressed for the part, which is where local aftermarket suppliers have put their efforts in. The locally-developed extras are airbag-compatible and are all covered under the factory warranty.

There’s a heavy-duty steel winch-ready front bumper bar, a 5mm-thick alloy bash plate and an integrated 120-watt 24-LED 66 cm light bar, as well as LED driving lights, a heavy-duty steel rear bar with step, towbar, side rock rails with steps, and 20mm-steel integrated recovery points front and rear, rated for up to an eight-tonne snatch strap.

With an approach angle of 28 degrees, a ‘corner’ approach angle of 49 degrees and a 21-degree departure angle when heading off-road, the clearance is better than the numbers would suggest. Ground clearance is listed at 251 mm.

While all that is going to please the off-roaders, if you’re using it as a tool of trade during the week to fund the bush frivolities, the payload has dropped significantly − to around 750 kg, down from 925 kg in the SR5 on which the 2252 kg Rugged X is based. There are also a few other numbers worth considering – the GVM is 3000 kg and the Gross Combined Mass is 5650 kg for the automatic, or 5850 kg if you’re in the manual.

The business end of the vehicle is protected by a mat in the tray, as well as extra protection for the tailgate, with tie-down points in all four corners. The tub also houses a proper sports bar, which can support a vertical load of 75 kg and help secure up to 200 kg on the floor, with four tie-down points in the corners in addition to the bar.

The braked towing capacity is unchanged, according to Toyota, with a 3200 kg rating for the auto, a 300 kg drop from the manual.

The aggressive looks of the Rugged X will no doubt appeal to those who thought the restyled HiLux wasn’t tough enough aesthetically, and the added benefit of the warranty coverage for the locally-developed off-road extras will also hold appeal.

The HiLux’s strong sales record will no doubt continue, with the Rugged X likely to gather plenty of fans among the Toyota off-roading faithful. However, the payload reduction and absence of any drivetrain updates means this HiLux is unlikely to be the only tough-looking dual-cab ute on your shopping list.

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