It’s been a top-selling ute through seven generations, but can the HiLux retain its crown in the face of stiffer competition?

As the ute of choice for countless tradies, Australians have bought over 850,000 HiLux models through its 47-year existence. Globally, the sales of HiLux have notched up over 16 million conquests since the nameplate was born in 1968, and it maintained its appeal through 2014 with the sale of 38,126 vehicles in the Australian market, ahead of the nearest rival by 43 percent, or more than 11,000 units.

HiLux is built in six countries – Thailand, South Africa, Argentina, Malaysia, Pakistan and Venezuela. Vehicles for Australia come from Thailand, which accounts for around 70 percent of global production.

The current-generation vehicle has been on sale in our market for the past decade, consistently being Australia’s best-selling 4WD. For seven of those ten years, HiLux has been the outright third best seller among all vehicles in Australia, making it to second spot in 2012.

Although 4×4 versions did not arrive until 1980, the all-wheel-drive alternative has outsold the 4×2 models every year since 1992, as buyer demographics changed to the point that since the start of 2005, 4×4 sales have outstripped 4×2 sales by more than 100,000 vehicles.2015 reveal of Toyota HiLux (SR5 double cab pre-production model shown).

But, as we know, all good stories inevitably must come to an end. Right now Toyota is clearly worried that its replacement might not retain its world-beating crown, once it is released onto the Australian market in October.

Despite the company’s usual preference for secrecy in the months prior to the launch, Toyota Australia held a media preview at its Sydney headquarters in May, five months before its release, with Toyota Australia’s executive director sales and marketing, Tony Cramb, seemingly trying to talk up enthusiasm without actually providing much by way of solid information.

This change of tactics on the part of Toyota was undoubtedly caused by this year’s release of the exceptionally attractive Mitsubishi Triton, which brings in a new era of car-like driving in the light commercial vehicle category. Nissan’s Navara NP300 has also beaten Toyota to the starting gate in 2015, even though that company’s engineers have not quite got their sums right when selecting the spec for the coil sprung suspension on the rear axle of the dual-cab ute.

Against these newcomers, Ford’s Ranger, Delivery Magazine’s Ute of the Year for 2015, presents a much stronger product offering through the addition of safety features Toyota may not be able to match. The new bolder-styled Ranger includes features such as lane keeping alert and lane keeping aid, tyre pressure monitoring, adaptive cruise control, forward alert with collision mitigation, electronic stability control and rollover mitigation, and an integral rear-vision camera.

For the 2016 model year HiLux, Toyota has adopted a new thicker and stronger frame and is claiming a payload of up to 1240 kg, although it declined to confirm whether this weight rating would be common through only the single-cab versions or extend further up the range. Within the 31 variants, the 2016 MY HiLux range will include 4×2 and 4×4, three cabin styles (single, extra and double) and three equipment grades (WorkMate, SR and SR5). This range expansion is focused on adding more double cabs, more 4×4 variants, more diesel options and reintroducing 4×4 WorkMate.

Dimensionally, there are changes to the dual-cab body, being 70 mm longer, 20 mm wider but with a slightly lower roofline.

For reasons that can only be based on marketing division input rather than buyer requirements, Toyota has increased the range complexity from 23 models upwards to now peak at 31 different variants, one of these being a Hi-Rider 2WD.

2015 reveal of Toyota HiLux (SR5 double cab pre-production model shown).

High ground clearance is relevant when a vehicle is intended for travel off-road, but has no justification other than in its visual presence when it is intended to spend its life on the bitumen. The Hi-Rider 2WD concept becomes an impediment to loading goods because the tub walls are higher than necessary, as are the tray deck heights when loading. It’s, unfortunately, a sign that Toyota has lost its connection with the work the vehicle is likely to do, heading more for how it looks than how it functions.

Under the bonnet, Australian buyers can expect a choice of four engines, including two new diesel engines, with new six-speed manual and fluid automatic transmissions. The new ‘intelligent’ manual transmission is claimed to eliminate shift shock by matching engine revs to the transmission speed. The maximum towing limit for a braked trailer has been increased to 3500 kg.

Toyota’s Australian engineers took global responsibility for developing the next-generation suspension package for the local HiLux, with testing at the Anglesea proving ground and over sealed roads and off-road trails in Victoria, NSW and South Australia.

The new suspension is claimed to provide improved off-road performance, with increased wheel articulation, better suppression of vibrations and improved roll stiffness. Similar suspension settings will also be used to provide superior ride and handling in markets such as South Africa, Russia and South America.

HiLux’s two newly developed GD-series four-cylinder, common-rail, turbo-diesel engines develop substantially more torque than the current model’s 3.0-litre unit. The 2.8-litre version offers up to 450Nm of torque from 1600-2400 rpm, a gain of 25 percent. Power output improves by 4 kW to a peak of 130 kW at 3400 rpm, along with higher gains below 3000 rpm to support low-to-mid-range performance.

The 2.4-litre, four-cylinder diesel, which provides a torque rating of 400 Nm from 1600 to 2000 rpm and maximum power of 110 kW at 3400 rpm, will be the main engine used for 4×2 HiLux variants in Australia. Both the 2.4-litre and 2.8-litre diesel engines offer a claimed improvement in fuel economy of 10 percent when compared with the previous 3.0-litre diesel engine.

Upgrades to HiLux’s 2.7-litre 2TR four-cylinder petrol engine have produced greater power, up more than five percent to 133 kW, with torque increasing by two percent for a claimed improvement in fuel consumption to less than 11 litres/100 km on the combined cycle.

Variable valve timing has been adopted on both the intake and exhaust sides, while new shapes have been introduced for the tumble port and combustion chamber to support high compression. Other updates include lower weight for the roller rocker arm, retainer and valve springs, along with measures to reduce friction, including a new oil pump and timing chain. The 4.0-litre petrol V6 engine continues to be available.

Through the range there’s a variation in tyre and rim fitment to suit different applications, with 16-inch, 17-inch and 18-inch rims for a tyre choice that varies from practical on/off-road light commercial tyres to purely on-highway tread patterns with lower aspect ratios. As manufacturers increase the complexity of tyre fitment, buyers should also be aware that selection of the most appropriate tyre and rim combination at the time of purchase can save dollars, extend tyre life and improve performance for the intended application of the vehicle. The message here is choose your tyre and rim combination before taking delivery of the vehicle.2015 reveal of Toyota HiLux (SR5 double cab pre-production model shown).

Toyota claims the interior seating positions are now more natural, with an increase in space front and rear, despite a slightly lower roof height. Seat backs are thinner, there’s more shoulder space and headroom, and rear seat passengers gain an extra 35 mm of knee room. Body rigidity has been improved with additional spot welds and greater use of high tensile steel when compared to the outgoing model. There’s also a larger fuel tank (80 litres), LED headlights and daytime-running lamps.

From a safety perspective Toyota is aiming for a five-star ANCAP rating, yet to be confirmed, and is including stability and traction control, anti-lock braking, reversing camera, seven airbags, hill-start assist and emergency stop signal as standard across the range.

From a media display perspective, all models in the HiLux range will now feature touch-screen audio controls, multi-information displays and keyless smart entry and start, plus factory-fitted air-conditioning, cruise control and power windows, mirrors and door locks.

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