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 networks.
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.
While Alborz will cover the drive experience in the V6 petrol HiLux range tomorrow, I spent the day driving the turbo diesel Toyota HiLux SR5 4x4 Double Cab and SR 4x4 Double Cab and must say that I'm quite impressed with Toyota's latest offering. The HiLux SR starts from $40,990 in 4x2 Single Cab V6 Auto form and the model tested on the launch was the HiLux SR 4x4 Double Cab, which is priced from $41,990. SR5 pricing starts from $46,990 for the HiLux SR5 4x2 Single Cab V6 Auto, with the model tested at the top end of the price range, retailing for $53,490 (a saving of $2200 on the outgoing model).
From the outside, it's easy to spot the SR5 HiLux in traffic. Chrome external mirrors, flared wheel arches, a new grille and polished alloy sports bars headline the external changes. The agricultural-looking SR misses out on alloy wheels (featuring steel wheels instead), as well as chrome mirrors and door handles, alloy sports bars, fog lights and privacy glass.
Inside the cabin, the SR5 is signified by a light-coloured plastic plate on the radio fascia backing, along with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and white backing on the steering wheel controls. The newly designed interior further streamlines the experience behind the wheel and ensures the driver spends less time fiddling with controls and more time concentrating on the road.
Common to all SR5 variants is a 6.1-inch satellite navigation screen with traffic alerts and announcements. Also featured in the SR5 is USB music connectivity, voice recognition for critical commands, steering wheel mounted Bluetooth telephone controls, automatic headlights, cruise control, automatic climate control and a raft of safety features that includes six airbags and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC). The SR misses out on automatic climate control and satellite navigation, and instead uses a double DIN radio unit with Bluetooth phone capability and Bluetooth audio streaming (along with USB and auxiliary inputs)
Under the bonnet, the driveline remains the same, with the only visual change an adjustment in the bonnet scoop location (now centred) for turbo diesel models.
As is often the case with car launches attended by the media, a selected course is available that suits the vehicle's target terrain. In Toyota's case, they picked quite a challenging four-wheel drive course that tested the HiLux to the probable limits of a buyer's intent.
Full suspension extension and jagged rocks were used to demonstrate the HiLux's seemingly bulletproof four-wheel drive system. While it doesn't have predetermined off-road modes with hill descent control like the Volkswagen Amarok, it seems quite content tackling terrain with the option of 2H (two-wheel drive, high range), 4H (four-wheel drive, high range) or 4L (four-wheel drive, low range).
A very sharp rock hit at the wrong angle got the better of our test car's tyre, which deflated almost instantly after making contact.
Our test route was completed with around 250kg of ballast in the rear, which simulated a load in the tray. Even on undulating dirt roads and dirt roads covered in small rocks, the HiLux exhibited the right ride characteristics and never surprised the driver with unpredictable moves.
It's disappointing to see no lap-sash seat belt in the rear for the centre passenger. Also in the disappointing basket is the lack of stability control or extra airbags on entry level Workmate models (stability control is only standard on four of the thirty five new HiLux variants and optional on SR variants) and no light on the dashboard to indicate that the car is in 4H mode.
On the open road, a typically smooth ride remains. The tilt-only steering wheel has commendable feel and offers communication between the road and the driver. The brake pedal offers plenty of bite and delivers confidence behind the wheel.
Overtaking and hard acceleration in the four-speed automatic SR5 4x4 turbo diesel variant is painfully slow. Due to the low-revving nature of the turbo diesel motor, the lack of gears means that the ratios aren't adequate for acceleration bursts.
The five-speed manual on the other hand is marginally better and offers spritely performance in comparison, but still feels lacking, with only 126kW and 343Nm of torque on offer (in comparison to the Amarok and Mitsubishi Triton that both offer 400Nm and the upcoming Ford Ranger, which will output 470Nm of torque in the top-spec diesel variant).
Towing on the top-spec SR5 turbo diesel is limited to 2500kg, which should be adequate for most buyers, but again trails the competition (Amarok offers 2800kg braked towing capacity and Triton offers 3000kg braked towing capacity).
Toyota is continually committed to offering reliable commercial vehicles and a dealer network that easily outdoes its competitors, but it's disappointing to see safety generally swept under the carpet and drivetrains left in their current forms.
If you are happy with the modest update though, the new HiLux still provides excellent motoring and will likely remain a class leader in this highly competitive segment for some time to come.
To read more about the other Toyota HiLux variants and pricing, read the Toyota HiLux range news story.