The man who oversaw the development of one of the Toyota iQ - one of the most unconventional Toyota models of all time - was shocked when he learned that the company wanted him to lead the development of the new-generation 2016 Toyota HiLux.
“No-one was more surprised than me… it’s quite a leap from a car like iQ,” said the executive chief engineer of the Toyota HiLux, Hiroki Nakajima.
The iQ – a Smart Fortwo-sized city car sold in Europe – was renowned for its squat styling and its incredibly clever interior packaging. This was a car that spanned less than 3.0 metres in length and yet managed to fit four seats and nine airbags in, including a world-first rear curtain airbag.
Nakajima said he was used to the world of passenger cars, stating that he knew commercial vehicles to be “rather noisy and uncomfortable”. But moving from a tiny city runabout like the iQ to a purpose-built utility vehicle meant a new way of thinking for the company.
According to Toyota, Nakajima’s focus on occupant space and comfort lead to the brand having to “rethink what tough means”.
Under his tutelage, Toyota worked to the ethos of “A new era for pick-up. Every inch a HiLux”. Essentially, it had to offer similar levels of utility, but be very different in the way it approached its end goal.
As such, the new model is built upon an entirely new platform, features increased stiffness and a thicker body frame for improved torsional rigidity and towing capability (now up to 3.5 tonnes), while there are also revised suspension components, new bigger brakes, a pair of new turbo diesel engines as well as revised petrol engines, new manual and automatic transmissions and enhanced safety technology.
The new gearboxes are clever: there’s a throttle blipping function in the six-speed automatic, while the 2.8-litre diesel with the six-speed manual has “intelligent” mode that works to produce smoother shifts by matching the engine speed when shifting gears.
And the steering is now said to require fewer turns lock-to-lock in the 4WD models, while all HiLux variants are claimed to be easier to drive, with less effort needed to steer (the previous model had quite heavy steering).
Inside – as you’d expect from a man who managed to fit four car seats in to the floor space of some shower cubicles – there have been space improvements over the old model. The back seat is roomier than before, the hip-point for ingress and egress has been raised, and there’s no vinyl seat trim in Workmate models any more – instead there is hard-wearing fabric trim. Sweaty tradie bums, be gone!
Some of the things HiLux buyers have been putting up with for years – such as having to pay an option fee for air conditioning on the base model Workmate variants – have been done away with, and unlike some rival utes the HiLux now has rake and reach steering adjustment (though 4x2 single-cab models miss out on that).
There are neat items, too: SR and SR5 models get a cooler/heater box in the dashboard that can fit two 600mL bottles and is fed by the car’s ventilation system; and dual-cab models get a 60:40 split-fold seat with hidden under-seat storage.
Further, and following many other Toyota models, every HiLux on sale gets a touchscreen media system with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, power windows, mirrors and door locks, and cruise control.