The Humble HiLux | REVIEW Toyota Hilux

HiLux now has a fight on its hands to maintain its first ranking in the face of stiff competition – words by Stuart Martin.

Oh what a feeling! Well almost. Once it was the HiLux first and daylight second, much like Toyota’s lead in the new vehicle sales race. But the competitiveness of the light commercial vehicle segment has caught up to what was once the clear leader, leaving the new-look HiLux fighting to xkeep its elongated nose in first place…just.

This year, the HiLux has topped the brand’s sales, just ahead of its Corolla stablemate (with which it is vying for No.1 overall) and Ford’s Ranger (both beyond 30,000 units), although it’s the Blue Oval’s only model to sell beyond 10,000 units.

The flagship of the HiLux range is the SR5 dual-cab, which in manual guise asks $54,390 – that’s also $2000 cheaper than the 2.0-litre turbo 132 kW/420 Nm VW Amarok Highline and $5000 below both the 147 kW/470 Nm Ranger Wildtrak and the new 165 kW/550 Nm V6 Amarok. Holden’s revamped 147 kW/500 Nm Colorado Z71 is $600 more, and the top-spec 133 kW/430 Nm Triton Exceed is $6000 less.

The 2080 kg (regardless of transmission) HiLux now shares the engine from the Prado – a 2.8-litre, double overhead camshaft, common-rail, 16-valve, intercooled and turbodiesel four-cylinder producing 130 kW at 3400 rpm and 420 Nm of torque from 1400 rpm through to 2600 rpm when bolted to a six-speed manual.

That’s 30 Nm down on the output when the $2000 extra is spent on the six-speed auto, where 450 Nm is on offer across a narrower range – 1600 to 2400 rpm – and the braked towing capacity drops to 3200 kg.

An 80-litre tank is drained at a claimed rate of 7.6 litres per 100 km by manual models on the legislated combined cycle laboratory test – 9.2 on the city cycle and 6.7 on the highway mode – although our time in the six-speed manual resulted in 8.8 at a 34 km/h average speed, without a lot of heavy towing or off-road work to increase its thirst.

The power plant is a willing worker and doesn’t mind telling you it’s toiling – the chuggy soundtrack isn’t overly harsh but is apparent when under load, and time in both Triton and VW’s new Amarok V6 put it in perspective.

Well-weighted steering feels a little sharper, with reach and rake adjustments for the decent leather-wrapped steering wheel a welcome feature.

The cabin is comfortable and has good-sized well-cushioned seats to make longer journeys no chore, although the unladen ride might take care of that. It does still get a jiggle up on small ripples and uneven bitumen, dealing better with larger bumps; it’s not the worst of the segment and half a tonne of gear and passengers makes a difference.

The front suspension is an independent, double-wishbone coil spring set-up with an anti-roll bar; the rear has leaf springs to shoulder the tray or towbar loads.

The manual is rated for a 3500 kg braked towing capacity, 300 kg more than the automatic, while both get 925 kg payloads within a gross combined mass of 5850 kg.

Measuring 5330 mm in length, 1855 mm wide and 1815 mm tall, with a 3085 mm wheelbase, the HiLux is a decent-sized ute, tipping the scales at 2075 kg.

The tub is useful without being cavernous – there’s the aesthetically interesting sports bar that’s not a load-bearer, and there’s no standard tub-liner for the 495 mm deep cargo bay.

It measures 1520×1540 mm (across the top) or 1550×1515 mm (along floor of deck), 1540 mm wide at the top (25 mm narrower at the floor), with an 1110 mm stretch between wheel arches along the floor.

The features list is well stocked for infotainment purposes, with digital radio reception (although ABC and SBS digital radio stations are elusive in Toyotas for some reason that’s overdue for remedy), as well as USB, auxiliary and Bluetooth links for the nice six-speaker sound system.

There’s also satellite navigation and some integrated Apps all controlled by touchscreen.

It sits out too far from the dash and suffers under direct sunlight, but for the most part is easy enough to see. The same can be said for the instruments too, although the centre display needs a digital speed readout among its myriad choices.

Less easy to utilise is the 240-volt three-pin power outlet, buried within the centre console – in some vehicles there’s a USB in the same place, and that’s not the easiest position into which you can wrangle a skinny power cord, let alone a larger-diameter domestic version.

In-cabin storage is taken care of reasonably well with two small gloveboxes, the centre console, door pockets and under-seat storage beneath the rear seat.

Folding power mirrors, cupholders beneath the front outboard vents and in the centre console, 18-inch alloys with 265/60 profile tyres (and a full-sized spare) and single-zone climate control also make the list, but there’s only manual seat adjustment in the face of electric systems on its opposition.

There are options that should probably be standard – the leather-accented “premium” interior adds $2000, rear parking sensors are $407, and, while the towing receiver is standard, the tow bar itself is an extra $580.

The six-speed manual is a reasonable unit, cleaner and quicker in action than the Triton but not as sharp as the Ranger’s newly-upgraded shifter.

Where the SR5 scores is the intelligent manual transmission function, which matches the revs on down changes to smooth out the downshifts. If you’re used to doing it yourself you don’t have to turn it on at all, but the function is useful when towing heavier loads, leaving the braking as the main focus for the driver.

The 4WD system can be shifted from RWD to 4WD on the run, but there’s no on-road AWD option, something offered by the Triton to good effect.

The HiLux doesn’t suffer greatly for the absence of on-road 4WD capability, but pushing hard on fast dirt roads or slippery wet bitumen can result in the stability control stepping in if the tail is provoked, a demonstration in why prevention is better than cure. There’s a standard rear diff lock for more serious terrain, and two modes – power and economy – to tailor throttle response.

Good throttle control is needed or leave power mode alone – it significantly sharpens everything up, which can result in passengers whinging about less-than-smooth driving patterns.

Also on the safety features list is trailer sway control, seven airbags – front, side, curtain and driver’s knee – and anti-lock brake function for the front discs and rear drums. The manual misses out on hill-descent control and there’s no active emergency auto-braking systems yet.

The LED headlamps are auto-levelling and dusk-sensing, plus there’s a reversing camera, but no rain-sensing wipers.

Toyota backs the HiLux with a three-year/100,000 km warranty and capped-price servicing programme, but the intervals are on the short side. Pricing currently sits at $180 for up to the first six services, for three years or 60,000 km at intervals of six months or 10,000 km.

The unbreakable reputation has been well developed by Toyota, and the Japanese giant has been making plenty of hay on the back of its broad shoulders. The HiLux remains a well-equipped, capable and comfortable ute. While it remains one of the vehicles that is an automatic inclusion on any LCV ute test-drive list, it’s no longer an automatic choice for purchase.

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