The 2016 Toyota HiLux could be the most important vehicle the Japanese brand launches this decade.
The Toyota HiLux has long had a reputation for being one of the toughest utes on the market, and with this, the eighth-generation model, the brand says it has made the unbreakable HiLux even more unbreakable.
Toyota has spent six years and covered more than 650,000 kilometres around Australia in developing the all-new HiLux, and the company claims it has taken a step up from the top-selling model it replaces.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Toyota’s development team could have rested on their laurels and done as little as possible to get the updated model over the line – but they didn’t.
Development started in 2009, and the company was part-way through the process when newcomers like the Volkswagen Amarok and Ford Ranger/Mazda BT-50 meant the company tore up its plans and went back to the drawing board. That was 2011, and now Toyota reckons it has done everything needed to ensure strong sales for the years to come.
How much has changed? In short, a lot.
Underneath is an all-new frame and platform that has been strengthened for better structural rigidity, and that new frame has meant that the benchmark 3.5-tonne towing capability that rivals had lauded previously is now achieved by some variants of the HiLux range (manual 2.8-litre diesels; auto 2.8L diesels have 3.2-tonne capacity).
There’s a new suspension setup – revised leaf springs and new mounting points designed for better ride comfort and compliance – and the new locally developed “rugged” suspension tune has been such a hit that it will be rolled out for demanding markets such as Russia, South Africa and the Middle East.
There are new engines and gearboxes – the most important of which was fitted to the model we spent most of our time in at the Australian launch of the new HiLux this week, the SR5+ dual-cab diesel, a $57,990 plus on-road costs proposition that has plenty of standard kit including leather trim and electric driver’s seat adjustment.
The new 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel unit has a smaller capacity that the previous model (3.0L), and one fewer cylinder than a couple of its chief rivals (BT-50 and Ranger have a five-cylinder 3.2L engine).
It also produces less power and torque than some main rivals with the newly-developed six-speed automatic gearbox version pumping out 130kW and 450Nm (the manual has even less – 130kW and 420Nm).
While the new 2.8-litre’s peak pulling power hits a little later and doesn’t last as long as it did in the 3.0L version (2.8L: 1600-2400rpm; 3.0L: 1400-3200rpm), there is more torque and therefore it never feels overwhelmed.
In fact, this engine is a standout. It is so markedly more refined in its nature than the engine that previously powered the HiLux that it almost makes you think this could have been built by a different manufacturer. It is considerably smoother in building momentum and startlingly quieter than the gruff old engine in the existing HiLux.
In fact, the noise, vibration and harshness improvements in the HiLux’s cabin are massive. There’s virtually no road noise intrusion at all and there are few of the frustrating vibrations that used to fill the cockpit. Our only real complaint is a little bit of wind noise at highway speeds.
The six-speed automatic shifts gears smoothly and effectively on the road, cleverly and cleanly dropping down gears when you brake, and even blipping the throttle in some situations.
We also tested the 2.8-litre manual model with a 2700 kilogram off-road caravan in tow, and the power delivery and refinement once again shone through.
From a hill-start (testing the HiLux’s anti-rollback feature that can keep the vehicle stationary for a couple of seconds) to some higher speed straights with crosswinds and typical sweeping highway bends, the manual HiLux never felt out of its depth, even with such a load to lug. The integrated brake booster switch was neatly mounted in a blank on the dashboard.
While the old HiLux was something of a bucker and wobbler, the new one is considerably better controlled in terms of the suspension composure and compliance. It is considerably better than it was before, although you do still feel a lot of the bumps in the cabin (even with ballast on-board), and off-road the back end can buck over larger potholes.
Its steering is better, too. Toyota hasn’t moved to an electric system – a retuned hydraulic rack and pinion is fitted – but the new unit is much more focused on offering ease of use.
The old HiLux’s steering was heavy and a bit of a pain to use around town, but the new lighter system in the 4x4 models makes for easier parking manoeuvres, as well as better cornering response at higher speeds.
And because – according to Toyota Australia research – 100 per cent of HiLux owners will take their vehicles off-road, the launch program included an array of different rough-and-tumble tasks, all of which the Toyota truck dealt with brilliantly.
In 4H and 4L the steering is impressively accurate and nicely weighted – an important factor when you’re perched precariously on the edge of a rut or about to make a quick correction on the rocks.
Slow going is made easier by the HiLux’s wheel articulation, which has been bettered by 20 per cent, while the approach (31 degrees, was 30) and departure (26 degrees, was 23) angles make steep hill ascents and descents easier. Ground clearance – 279mm – is improved by 25 per cent, so rut-jumping isn’t as much of an issue.
Add to that a completely revised underbody protection system that was fine-tuned by being smashed and muddied for thousands of hours, and you know that the guts of the Lux should be well protected.
All of this was evident during our off-road stints in various cars of different specifications. The SR models with their newly-developed all-terrain tyres had excellent grip, while traction was readily available up the craggy, slippery hillsides, even on the 18-inch highway tyres of the SR5 models. The upgraded hill descent control system was far less graunchy and noisy than the existing version (still seen in Prado). The low-range gearing has been fiddled, too, so much so that in first gear in 4L it is entirely possible to leave the hill descent control to momentum.
And with a wading depth of 700mm – 100mm less than the class-leading Ranger and BT-50 – the HiLux copes quite well in the wet.
At the business end, the diesel dual-cab SR5 model has a better payload than the model it replaces (was 835kg, now 925kg), but that’s still less than some rivals like the BT-50 (top-spec GT: 1082kg).
Still, the tub has been redesigned and is now longer (by 19mm, now 1569mm) and wider (up 79mm, now 1645mm) than before, and it while it is slightly deeper than it was (up 20mm, now 481mm) it isn’t as deep as some rival tubs. And while the 1109mm wheel-arch gap in the tub isn’t going to be able to fit a pallet, there are plenty of cab-chassis offerings that will.
Inside is massively improved, too. Repeat buyers will be thoroughly impressed at how far the eighth-generation Toyota HiLux has come compared with its predecessor, and many rivals can’t match the standards set by the big Japanese truck.
The interior is completely new, and in a first for the ute segment, every model has a touchscreen media system. In the SR5 you get satellite navigation and digital radio, too, and the system is simple to use – though we wonder how many tradies in the Workmate model will wish for a more dust-resistant screen… That said, all models with the pick-up tub get a reverse-view camera as standard, while cab-chassis buyers can get a camera fitted for just $440. Nice one, Toyota.
However, there are some really thoughtful touches to the cabin, including a cooler box that can store two 600mL bottles, and a pair of hidden stowage bins in the rear underneath the split-fold back seat base.
Parents will be happy to learn that ISOFIX points with top-tether straps are fitted to the outboard rear seats, but those same parents may also be a little disappointed by a lack of rear-seat air vents.
And while the new HiLux’s back seat accommodation is suitably improved, it perhaps doesn’t feel as spacious as some competitors for shoulder space or overall width. But the back seat has more legroom, is quieter and has a more comfortable seat than before, there’s a flip-down armrest with cupholders, and a pair of clever shopping bag hooks in some models, too.
As far as well-rounded utes in this segment go, there are plenty, but the 2016 Toyota HiLux may well be the best of the bunch. It is more refined yet more rugged than before, and it also has better equipment and more technology.
We can’t wait to put it against its rivals to see how it stacks up in the dual-cab 4x4 pack. Stay tuned.