GENERALLY SPEAKING, 4WD utes don’t change that much. In many ways they are a victim of their load-lugging nature; the sophistication of modern cars gets somewhat washed out by the time it reaches the utes.
Yet the market’s requirements and government legislation have accelerated in the last decade, and with it the archaic old ute has been forced to keep up. Utes like the Toyota HiLux, first introduced in Australia in 2005, were a huge leap forward over their predecessors in comfort, power and general sophistication. A load of newer models since 2005 have kept the game moving forward.
The HiLux was upgraded in 2011 and called a new model, but in reality it is a shallow facelift of the 2005 version. However, that doesn’t mean the HiLux doesn’t come with some worthwhile improvements. For the 4WD versions, in particular, an increase in towing capacity from 2250kg to 2500kg makes for a more attractive potential tow tug.
Other changes across the range include new sheet metal from the A-pillar forward, with a new bonnet, radiator grille, headlights, front bumper and taillights, plus silver accents on the steering wheel and upgraded seat fabric and door trim. There is also a fresh upper dashboard design that features new controls for the heating and ventilation.
Key upgrades for the 2011 SR 4X4 Double Cab we tested include ABS brakes and cruise control, side seat and curtain-shield airbags and sports-style front seats, plus improved fabric on the seats and doors.
Standard equipment includes steering wheel-mounted audio controls, power windows (auto up-down for driver), cruise control, remote central locking, side steps, power exterior mirrors, side seat and curtain airbags and a body-coloured front bumper. Air-conditioning is a $2051 option.
SR Double Cab buyers can also opt for a $1500 safety package (as fitted to our test vehicle) that adds vehicle stability and traction control, electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist. The package also includes 17in steel wheels, body-coloured over-fender flares and an Optitron back-lit instrument cluster.
The price before optional extras or on-road costs is $41,990, a saving of $2900 over the previous SR 4X4 Double Cab model.
The HiLux interior does feel somewhat old-school these days and the overwhelmingly grey colour scheme makes it feel dull and utilitarian, as does its vinyl floor covering.
The seats up front are very supportive and comfortable, but the back pew is too upright and not the best three-seater couch in the market.
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION
There are no surprises here. The familiar 3L turbo-charged and intercooled four-cylinder continues with the same outputs as before, linked to the familiar five-speed manual and part-time, dual-range 4WD system.
The engine fires to a familiar diesel beat, and while it won’t inoculate occupants from what’s occurring within its chamber walls, it’s quieter and smoother than some competitors.
Select first gear with the slightly rubbery gearshift, let out the light clutch and you notice the same bug-bear that afflicts most turbodiesels – the dreaded turbo-lag. But the HiLux doesn’t provide that all-or-nothing contrast some similar vehicles do. Rather, the engine picks up gradually as revs get to around 1500rpm, and has reached full-strength when it spins at around 2000rpm.
Unladen performance is quite good, comfortably keeping up with the traffic and responsive to throttle inputs when a lane-change or highway overtaking is necessary. This ute doesn’t like to rev much past 4000rpm, but in truth that usually isn’t necessary, unless you’re trying to stay within the torque band of the next gear when laden.
The HiLux’s performance in isolation appears more than acceptable, but when driven back-to-back with more powerful opponents you realise how much more they have on offer.
The dual-range 4WD system is one of the few remaining with a lever operation. It’s arguable wether this is a better (simpler) setup for the bush, but it’s certainly harder to select the required drive mode than the electronically actuated systems.
The coil-spring, independent front and leafspring live-axle rear suspension is entirely conventional for the class, and provides the HiLux with a ride quality one step away from being terse. It certainly doesn’t hide its commercial provenance, and the 17in low-profile tyres that come with the option pack don’t help. The standard 16in wheels might improve ride a little, as would a load in the tray.
The HiLux can push along with a fair degree of confidence, and the 17in tyres do help with a slightly more responsive steering and lateral grip.
Like most in the 4WD ute class, this vehicle is not designed to be the ultimate in road holding, so you do have to take a more prudent attitude to speed than with a regular sedan. Yet there are some other vehicles in the class, like the Ford Ranger and Volkswagen Amarok, which handle and ride noticeably better than the HiLux.
Even though the 3L turbodiesel isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, it doesn’t slice wedges of cash from your wallet when it’s time to fill up. In fact, this is one of the more economical utes in the class, especially when towing.
You can expect less than 10L/100km when driving unladen, and we achieved 12.5L/100km while towing an 1841kg tandem-axle caravan.
When we hooked up the caravan (with 115kg towball download), the HiLux barely moved. This was reflected in its road manners, where the rig stayed completely stable, with only slight pitching and no yawing. The light ball load obviously played its part in this, but we know this is a stable chassis, given past testing, and nothing has changed there.
The HiLux seemed fine for moving off the mark (though we found slow-speed manoeuvring required a degree of clutch slip that isn’t very healthy for the friction material) and at slower, urban speeds, where it seems a relaxed tow hauler.
On the freeway, however, it felt almost every hill, and our double-dip (meaning a gentle long climb followed by a steeper one) test hill knocked the wind out of it.
While the HiLux steamed along, only very gradually loosing speed at full throttle on the gentler grade, we were quickly down to second gear and 65km/h as it got steeper. This is not the first vehicle to be knocked around by a van’s weight when broaching a hill, but take this into consideration if performance is important.
A key side benefit is towing economy. While it was worked harder than some in the performance component of the test, the HiLux’s overall economy didn’t appear to suffer.
THE BOTTOM LINE
When a vehicle has been on the market for six years, it’s easier to criticise it for lacking the technological advancements of more recent competitors, especially in the current, fast-changing vehicle market. This is where the HiLux suffers most – it’s a vehicle that has become outdated with the arrival of more recently developed models. And Toyota has done very little in this most recent upgrade to address this problem.
That said, the HiLux provides a certainty that fresh-faced ute candidates aiming to lure some of your hard earned do not. The Toyota reputation for simplicity and reliability (though tarnished lately with several embarrassing recalls) and resale values, together with the HiLux’s comfortable interior, good economy and overall competence, give it the sort of appeal flash newcomers can’t.
Thanks to Jayco Sydney, 63-67 Glossop Street, St Marys, NSW 2760, (02 9623 197) for the loan of the caravan for this test.
Engine: In-line turbo-charged four-cylinder diesel
Max power: 126kW@3600rpm
Max torque: 343Nm@1400-3400rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Ground clearance: 212mm
Kerb mass: 1810kg
Gross Vehicle Mass: 2780kg
Gross Combined Mass: 5030kg
Fuel tank capacity: 76L
Roof load: 100kg
Towing capacity unbraked/braked: 750kg/2500kg
TBM maximum: 250kg
For more information about the Toyota HiLux, visit www.toyota.com.au
WORDS AND PICS Philip Lord
Source: Caravan World Mar 2012
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