Matt Campbell finds out if the country's best-selling ute is worthy of sitting in top spot.
Australia’s most popular ute – the Toyota HiLux 4x4 – has been revamped for 2014, with key improvements to its safety, equipment and fuel efficiency levels.
The update announced early this year included a comprehensive raft of safety features making their way across the Toyota HiLux 4x4 range, which the brand says are aimed at making the high-selling dual-cab models better suited as dual-purpose vehicles: in short, these part-time work trucks are now more family-friendly.
The new gear includes standard stability and traction control for 4x4 models, which grants those variants of the Toyota HiLux range the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating. Other new additions include a three-point middle rear seatbelt (previously lap only), and a seatbelt reminder for the front passenger.
The safety modifications also bring the popular HiLux up to par against key rivals such as the Mazda BT-50, Ford Ranger, Isuzu D-Max, Nissan Navara, Holden Colorado, Mitsubishi Triton and Volkswagen Amarok.
The SR5 dual-cab 4x4 model tested here has seen an increase of $1000 over its 2013 model predecessor, pushing it to $54,590.
Along with the new safety items, SR5 models gain a 6.1-inch touch-screen media system with a reverse-view camera and satellite navigation. The media screen’s menu system is similar to that seen in some Lexus models, and it certainly lifts the cabin ambience over the previous aftermarket-style system. Bluetooth phone and audio streaming is standard, and there are auxiliary and USB inputs, too.
New steering wheel mounted audio controls help keep things simple for the driver, and there’s also a more contemporary information screen which includes average and current fuel consumption, cruising range, outside temperature and a compass.
Our test SR5 was also fitted with an optional leather pack ($1500), which includes cow-hidetr-immed chairs and door panel inserts, as well as electric seat adjustment for the driver.
As has been the case for the Toyota HiLux for some years, the interior offers a reasonable but not exceptional experience for occupants. The seats are firm and not overly comfortable at the front, while the rear seat’s backrest is very upright. It lacks the clever storage options of its contemporaries, too, with small cup and bottle holders and a shortage of small item stowage.
Under the bonnet the existing 3.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder engine is unchanged, still pushing out 126kW of power at 3600rpm and 343Nm of torque from 1400-3400rpm. Those figures are well down on king hitters like the Holden Colorado (147kW and 500Nm), the Mazda BT-50/Ford Ranger (147kW and 470Nm) and the Nissan Navara (170kW and 550Nm for range-topping ST-X models).
Fuel use has improved, however, courtesy of the newly available five-speed automatic transmission, as was fitted to our test car. Replacing the existing four-speed, the new ‘box helps the Toyota HiLux sip a little less fuel – 8.7 litres per 100km compared to 9.3L with the old cog-swapper, but still falling short of competitors like the VW Amarok (8.3L).
The engine remains a robust and honest thing. It offers good urge from low in the rev-range, while its power delivery can be a little gruff at times, particularly during inner city commuting where it idles roughly and is quite noisy under acceleration. At higher speeds the engine settles well, though it’s never hushed, and the lack of a further high gear means it will still be revving harder than you may expect at freeway speeds.
The new five-speed auto, though, does make a difference to its manners. It shifts quickly and intuitively, and while we noticed some clunky shifts under hard acceleration, it is a big step up from the existing four-speed in terms of its usability.
Unlike many of its peers, the HiLux retains a manual-style second gear-shifter instead of a more modern shift-on-the-fly rocker switch for off-road duties.
On the road, the HiLux hasn’t changed. With an empty tray the rear leaf suspension will buck and fumble over sharp-edged bumps such as surface changes, while it generally proves fidgety unless there’s a load being lugged. It steers faithfully, with decent weight and response, but some rack rattle is evident over bumpy sections.
Testing the HiLux with varying loads – from about 200 kilos of farm equipment to almost a tonne of concrete (its quotable payload is actually 835kg) – proved that it stays adequately composed while its body remains suitably level and commendably stable under stress. There’s no doubt it’s capable of getting the job done, and it is arguably more liveable when it’s loaded up.
At the business end, the tray measures 1520mm long and 1515mm wide, big enough for a standard pallet but not as copious as the class-leading Amarok (1555mm by 1620mm). Its towing capacity is 2500kg (braked) – once again well short of leaders such as the D-Max and Colorado (3500kg).
Toyota’s long-standing reputation for strong ownership benefits won’t be damaged by a capped price service program priced at $170 per visit for the first three years of ownership, although servicing is required every six months or 10,000km rather than the industry-standard annual or 15,000km checks. It is also backed by an industry-average three-year, 100,000km warranty.
The updated HiLux SR5 dual-cab does improve on an already successful formula for the Japanese brand. However, it still can’t match the levels of refinement seen in the Volkswagen Amarok and Ford Ranger, nor does it match up in terms of towing capacity, torque or fuel use.
While it doesn’t set any benchmarks or make any bold claims, the HiLux is still the country’s best-selling ute - and that doesn't look set to change anytime soon. Now with more equipment, better safety credentials and that iconic reputation for reliability, it will undoubtedly continue to find favour with plenty of buyers.