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Utes such as the Toyota HiLux are big business in Australia – they account for about one in six new vehicle sales annually – but the country’s top-selling dual-cab looks positively pint-sized when compared to its more generously proportioned bigger brother from the US, the Toyota Tundra.
The Tundra is imported to Australia and converted to right-hand drive by Queensland conversion specialists Performax International. It’s sold to order alongside similarly large pick-ups such as Ford’s F-Truck range and a range of Chevrolet Silverados – neither of which can be bought new in dealerships.
By contrast, the Toyota HiLux is sold through 275 dealers across this wide brown land, and competes with the likes of the smaller Ford Ranger and Holden Colorado – not to mention the Mazda BT-50, Volkswagen Amarok, Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi Triton.
The HiLux is the category’s top-seller – averaging about 3200 units per month – and remains in the top five for all vehicles sold in Australia. The SR5 diesel automatic dual-cab model tested here is known to be one of the most popular specification levels in the range: no mean feat given it costs $54,490 plus on-road costs.
The larger Tundra doesn’t get a Guernsey on the national sales charts due to being imported through a private company, but at $120,190 plus costs it’s a damn sight more expensive than its smaller sibling. A “damn sight” must be American slang for $65,600…
You do get considerably more metal for your money when you buy a Tundra. Its sheer size – 5.81 metres long, 1.93m tall and 2.03m wide – makes it 55 centimetres longer, 7cm taller and 20cm wider than the HiLux. The Tundra rides on a 3.70m wheelbase – a full 61.5cm longer between the front and rear wheels.
Add to that the fact the Tundra tips the scales at 2660 kilograms before you put anything or anyone in it – a full 700kg heftier than the flagship HiLux – and it seems as though the Tundra should be a huge, cumbersome truck, yet the more diminutive HiLux is no shrinking violet in terms of its size.
We parked the two side by side to get an idea of the proportional differences in silhouette – and we were surprised at just how big the Thai-built HiLux is in comparison to the American truck.
The width of the Tundra is the biggest giveaway, and on the street it looks a more menacing thing, with its enormous grille with horizontal chrome bars and small headlights giving it a prime-mover look.
They say size isn’t everything, but there’s no denying that both the HiLux and Tundra offer buyers no shortage of usable space.
To best understand both of these vehicles’ interior treatments, it is best to consider the HiLux SR5 as a utilitarian vehicle with some creature comforts, while the much dearer Tundra Platinum is aimed at offering a family-friendly atmosphere with some utilitarian benefit.
And the truth is that these two are poles apart.
The HiLux’s cabin is narrow, and it is difficult to find a comfortable seating position as the steering wheel offers no reach adjustment.
While the SR5 has electric seat adjustment for the driver, both Trent and myself found it hard to get a position that allowed enough legroom but also kept the steering wheel close at hand.
The Tundra, on the other hand, has electric adjustment for the seat, as well as the steering wheel, and it can be brought closer to the driver’s chest at the push of a button. On top of that, taller and shorter pilots can set and save their preferred position using the memory system, which even tilts the side mirrors to the right spot.
Above: Toyota HiLux (top) and Tundra (bottom).
In terms of space, too, there’s no contest.
As you’d expect, the US truck is much bigger inside, with enough rear leg room to make a German limousine driver green with envy. Indeed, long-limbed adults will find it very amenable, though those long in the torso will notice a lack of headroom due to the body-on-frame construction of the vehicle. It’s the same story up front, with headroom restricted a little further by the Tundra’s electric sunroof.
The leather-trimmed seats are big, broad and comfortable to sit on, but there’s not much in the way of bolstering or lateral support.
Above: Toyota HiLux (top) and Tundra (bottom).
We were particularly impressed by the fit and finish of the Tundra.
Switching the driving position to the other side of the cabin involves more than just swapping the steering wheel to the other side. New plastics are required over the dash, new dials and a instrument cluster need to be installed, a revised centre console is needed, and so are new door panels (so the switches and buttons are correctly positioned).
We’ve seen some bad takes on the switcheroo in the past, but the Tundra was almost flawless in its conversion conviction. The only issue we found was the instrument cluster, which had a flimsy plastic sheath that interrupted the view of some of the car’s instrumentation.
Above: Toyota HiLux (top) and Tundra (bottom).
The leather trim on the doors and dash makes the Tundra feel (relatively) classier than the HiLux, which features some “leather” trim on the chairs, but it feels more like hard-wearing vinyl.
There are no luxury trimmings on the dash or doors of the HiLux, with plastic coverings made for work rather than pleasure.
The HiLux’s seats are smaller and not as comfortable in the front, while the rear is considerably more cramped for head and leg space – particularly the latter. No surprise given the rear doors of the Tundra are lengthier than those on a S-Class limousine.
There are plenty of other items the Tundra gets that no HiLux on sale currently has.
Those items include 20-inch alloy wheels, power folding side mirrors, dual-zone climate control and a powered rear windshield. The seats aren't only more impressive in the Tundra due to their memory settings – they also feature heating and ventilation up front.
That’s not to say the HiLux is a stripped-out work truck. As with the Tundra, the SR5 model has a touchscreen media system with reverse-view camera, satellite navigation and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming along with USB connectivity.
The Tundra furthers its case, though, with safety items such as standard blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and eight airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain, and driver and front passenger knee airbags).
As Toyota USA says, “no other truck has that”, and indeed the HiLux makes do with six (dual front, front side, full-length curtain).
Under the bonnet, these two trucks are vastly different, too.
The HiLux we tested was the turbo diesel version, fitted with a 3.0-litre four-cylinder unit pumping out 126kW of power at 3600rpm and 360Nm of torque at 1400rpm.
This isn’t the newest engine going around, but it is tried and tested and known for its reliability. There’s decent pulling power from low in the rev range, and it gathers pace nicely on the move. It is teamed to the choice of a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic, the latter of which was fitted to our test vehicle.
It shifts through the gears quite well, never leaving the engine feeling underdone in terms of torque, despite some rivals (like the Ford Ranger and Holden Colorado) offering significantly more pulling power.
The Tundra on the other hand has a petrol engine – a big, burly one at that. Its 5.7-litre V8 unit produces 284kW of power at 5600rpm and 544Nm of torque at 3600rpm.
A turbocharged four-, six- or eight-cylinder diesel would likely be the engine most would choose – particularly in Australia. But there isn’t such a thing for the North American market, and so petrol V8 is the only choice available to us.
It’s a willing and powerful engine, and feels comfortable hauling the Tundra dual-cab’s 2660-kilogram mass despite the knowledge that a torque-laden turbo diesel would be an even better fit.
Indeed, the HiLux’s power is more effortless in its application.
There is some low-rev turbo lag and it is grumbly at idle (and noisy on the highway) but its more frugal nature never makes you feel like you’re going to need to consider another mortgage on the house just to pay the fuel bill.
Our fuel use display averaged a consistent 9.6 litres per 100 kilometres in the HiLux (against an official 8.7L/100km), where the Tundra’s thundering V8 used 14.6L/100km according to its dashboard readout (there’s no official fuel use claim in Australia, but Performax International says it uses between 14 and 15 litres per 100 km).
The HiLux has a 76L diesel tank and based on our figures it should have a range of 791km, while in the Tundra you would be able to cover just 685km before it empties its entire 100L tank of unleaded. Thankfully it doesn’t need 95 or 98 octane premium fuel because it’s tuned to run on rubbish American fuel.
The HiLux also claims a win when it comes to load capacity. Its tray is capable of hauling a full 820kg load in dual-cab pick-up guise, where the Tundra’s payload is just 642kg.
Measuring up the trays, though, the Tundra has the advantage. It spans 1.68m wide at the tailgate, 1.69m deep and with a gap of 1.27m between the wheel-arches. The HiLux’s tray is 1.51m wide at the tailgate and 1.52m deep with a gap of 1.10m between the arches.
US buyers aren’t as likely to load up their truck with stuff, as they generally prefer to tow, and that’s where the Tundra claws back some ground. It can tow 4.3 tonnes in this guise, where the HiLux is only capable of pulling 2.5 tonnes behind it. That’s a big difference, particularly for boat, horse or caravan enthusiasts.
Off the beaten track, the HiLux offers a superior approach angle of 30 degrees (the Tundra has a 26-degree approach angle) and its departure angle is also better, 23 compared to 21 degrees.
That means it’ll theoretically climb and descend steeper sections without bashing its underbody on the ground – and during our off-road test neither ute felt as though it was going to bottom out. Both vehicles also offer good levels of ground clearance (26cm for the Tundra, 22cm for the HiLux).
The Tundra felt the more secure of the two vehicles over ruts and a mixture of surfaces from slippery creek crossings to sandy tracks. It rode with more composure and confidence than the HiLux – no doubt due to the longer wheelbase and more relaxed suspension setup of the US ute.
The same is the case on sealed roads, with the Tundra offering a more passenger-friendly ride, with the rear-end only showing some wobbliness over patchy country roads.
The HiLux, on the other hand, has a jiggly nature at most speeds, and rougher roads exacerbate the jarring firmly sprung rear-end that can skip and fumble over larger bumps.
When it comes down to it, there’s a vast gulf between these two vehicles, and not just in terms of price.
The Tundra is verging on sophisticated – it is packed with safety items that aren’t seen on any utes sold in showrooms across Australia, and it offers supreme space and comfort. In comparison, the HiLux feels ancient and truck-like.
Toyota is set to introduce an all-new HiLux in 2015 that will likely be bigger, more polished and offer more equipment – and it can’t come soon enough. There’s certainly some lessons it can learn from its sizeable American cousin.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Glen Sullivan.