On Guard

Toyota has to lift the appeal of its HiLux in the face of increasing competition. Paul Maric looks at whether it can make the cut

As a central location to the success of the iconic Toyota HiLux in Australia, Townsville was Toyota’s first non-metro dealership 47 years ago, and today boasts one of Toyota’s largest distribution centres.

It’s little surprise that Toyota chose Townsville as the venue for the launch of the revised Toyota HiLux.

Since the launch of the Toyota HiLux in 1968, the HiLux has leapt from strength to strength, with Australian drivers representing 700,000 HiLux sales worldwide. That’s one in 20 HiLux global sales in Australia alone.

Intense competition in the commercial utility segment has meant that Toyota no longer has the luxury of sitting around and waiting for customers to flow through dealership doors. With the launch of the Ford Ranger, Mazda BT-50 and Holden Colorado just around the corner, and the German Volkswagen Amarok just gone, the HiLux – even in its mildly facelifted form – is fast becoming the oldest vehicle in this segment.

Exterior changes to the HiLux start from the A-pillar forward, and include a new grille, bonnet, headlamps and front bumper. The SR5 models come with new wheel fenders, integrated mirror turn signals and revised alloy sports bars.Toyota-HiLux_11

Inside the cabin, Toyota has pleasantly updated the HiLux interior with new designs and a radio fascia, along with upgraded steering wheel controls on the SR and SR5 variants. The top-spec SR5 now comes with a touch screen satellite navigation system using a 6.1-inch LCD screen with voice commands and Bluetooth telephone and audio streaming (Bluetooth standard on SR variants).

Also featured, in the SR5, is USB music connectivity, voice recognition for critical commands, steering wheel mounted Bluetooth telephone controls, automatic headlights, cruise control and automatic climate control. The SR misses out on automatic climate control and satellite navigation, instead using a double DIN radio unit with Bluetooth phone capability and Bluetooth audio streaming (along with USB and auxiliary inputs).

In terms of safety, Toyota has now graced buyers of their entry-level Workmate variant with ABS brakes and a tachometer (welcome to the ‘90’s, Toyota). Six airbags are standard on 4×4 SR and SR5 variants, while stability control is only standard on the SR5 4×4 models (that’s four of the thirty five HiLux variants) and optional on SR Double Cabs.

When quizzed about the lack of lifesaving safety features on the HiLux range, and whether the replacement HiLux model will feature stability control across the range, David Buttner, Senior Executive Director – Sales and Marketing, told Delivery, “Toyota is totally committed to improving passive and active safety for every car to market”. Mr Buttner also said that Toyota’s lead HiLux engineer has been to Australia three times in the past 18 months, to evaluate our tough road and weather conditions in a bid to ensure HiLux remains reliable and capable of tackling the varying conditions.

In recognition of the added competition in the field, 4×4 HiLux models have had between $1960 and $8340 value added, with 4×2 models following suit with up to $1640 of added value. The HiLux range has also increased from 32 to 35 models (comprising of 17 4×2’s and 18 4×4’s).

With the HiLux 4×4 range representing the greatest percentage of Toyota HiLux sales (and owning 25% of the market share), they were the vehicles of transport for the launch, with a mix of four-speed automatic and five-speed manual SR and SR5 Double Cab 4×4’s. As a result, we were unable to test any 4×2 or 2.7-litre four-cylinder petrol variants.

Toyota-HiLux_10The best part about any minor facelift to a successful vehicle is that it remains successful post facelift (sans a major marketing or engineering disaster). The HiLux is certainly no exception, with the driving experience remaining greatly unchanged.

All test vehicles were loaded with 250 kg of ballast to simulate real driving conditions and to aid with traction during the off-road portion of the launch program.

Shoehorning a four-speed automatic, top-spec 3.0-litre turbo diesel SR5 Double Cab, we set off toward the outskirts of Townsville, where a challenging off-road course awaited us. Four-wheel-drive modes remain selected by a manual controlling lever that allows the driver to manoeuvre between 2H, 4H and 4L. We were instructed to travel in low-range four-wheel-drive mode for maximum torque and tractability over steep rocky inclines.

With all HiLux 4×4 models now featuring a rear Limited Slip Differential (LSD) as standard fitment, it’s no surprise that the HiLux walked up the steep and rocky terrain thrown at it. At one point, with only one front wheel and one and a half rear wheels with traction, you could feel the four wheel drive system shuffling torque between the axles to maximise available traction.

Despite the four-speed automatic being a fairly agricultural gearbox, it coped extremely well with the treacherous terrain and heat conditions. Also withstanding the torture was the air conditioning system, which is one of the HiLux’s many industrial strong points.

Now six years old, the 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine still outputs 120 kW and 343 Nm of torque and is slowly beginning to show its age. Our first test vehicle was mated to a four-speed automatic gearbox, and my foot was often buried on long uphill stretches, and that’s only with one extra passenger and 250 kg of ballast. The five-speed manual is far spritelier in comparison, but leaves a lot to be desired in comparison to the competition. The advantage of the frugal performance is equally frugal fuel use, with the five-speed manual consuming 8.1 l/100 km on average.

Luckily, the 4.0-litre petrol six-cylinder petrol engine helps the HiLux move along with a bit more pace (and comes with a five-speed automatic gearbox), offering 175 kW and 343 Nm of torque with the manual gearbox, increasing to 376 Nm of torque with the automatic transmission for the same power output. Expect to see fuel use figures of around 13 l/100 km – a considerable compromise if you pay for your own fuel.

Where the diesel lacks get-up-and-go, the petrol V6 digs deep and offers sonorous power delivery that can be relied on for overtaking and moving a sizeable load. Power is delivered smoothly and with confidence, but comes with the obvious fuel use compromise. The five-speed automatic gearbox always feels like it’s in the right gear and seldom hunts unnecessarily, unlike its four-speed automatic counterpart, testimony also to the advantage of the increased torque availability.

On the open road, the HiLux is surprisingly smooth and somewhat nimble. Excellent feedback through the steering rack, and direct brake pedal feel, make the HiLux a pleasure to travel in for long journeys.Toyota-HiLux_3

Among other changes, towing capacity on 4×4 models has increased to 2500 kg and 4×2 models receive a revised suspension configuration that achieves a flatter, more stable and comfortable ride.

HiLux pricing starts from $18,990 for the four-cylinder petrol 4×2 Workmate Single Cab cab-chassis, with the entry-level Workmate 4×2 Single Cab cab-chassis diesel demanding a $5500 price premium, starting at $24,490. The most affordable way to get into a 4×4 HiLux is with a 4×4 Workmate Single Cab five-speed manual turbo diesel, starting at $31,990. The range finishes with the four-speed automatic 4×4 SR5 Double Cab diesel, priced at $50,990.

With 35 variants available, there is surely a vehicle to meet the needs of any purchaser.

Despite all the fanfare at the launch of the revised HiLux, it’s quite evident that it’s starting to become very long in the tooth. With Toyota’s competition launching new models in the coming months, the HiLux is likely to struggle to remain at the top of the commercial sales charts.

If brand loyalty and reliability is anything to go by, the HiLux will have a fighting chance; after all, it’s still an impressive workhorse. Only time will tell, so watch this space.

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