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New vehicle launches are scarcely more significant than the arrival of a new-generation Toyota HiLux. In this instance, it has been ten years between drinks. Over the course of that decade, the changes in the ute segment have been immense.
We have steadily seen the rise of the weekend warrior class: those who buy dual-cab utes as style statements and family haulers as well as tools of the trade. New utes are safer, more refined, more comfortable and more expensive than ever before.
But one constant has remained — the Toyota Hilux’s position atop the sales charts. Sure, the Ford Ranger and Mitsubishi Triton have eroded the Toyota’s lead significantly, but no matter how long in the tooth, more people have consistently opted for this known quantity than shop elsewhere.
That’s why a brand new one is a massive deal. In a good month, the Toyota HiLux can be Australia’s top-selling vehicle full stop — though the mining boom wind-up will no doubt play a role in making this target more elusive.
But clearly, the key question isn’t how the HiLux will go in terms of sales — that’s almost foregone. The key question rather is, can the Toyota now match the best in segment in terms of design, refinement and performance, as well as the toughness it has always offered in spades?
Making the job harder is the fact that the segment goalposts continue to shift. This year alone we’ve seen the launch of the new-generation Triton and Nissan Navara, plus the heavily updated Ford Ranger and more mildly revised Mazda BT-50. Soon, the MY16 Volkswagen Amarok will touch down with class-leading infotainment added to its already top-notch arsenal.
Let’s take a closer look at the new Toyota HiLux and see if it has what it takes to justify its inevitable popularity.
The variant tested here is the flagship SR5 dual-cab, which will in all probability comprise a sizeable chunk of dual-cab HiLux sales. Cashed-up tradies wouldn’t be seen dead in something with steel wheels and vinyl floors, after all.
It retails for $55,990 (plus on-road costs) in automatic guise, which puts it at the upper end of the market, above the Navara ST-X ($54,490), Isuzu D-Max LS-M ($53,000), Volkswagen Amarok Highline ($52,490), Mazda BT-50 XTR ($51,700) and Mitsubishi Triton Exceed ($47,490). It does, however, undercut its main rival, the $56,590 Ford Ranger XLT.
For that outlay, you get a fair list of standard equipment, including satellite navigation and the full suite of connectivity and cruise control. Our test car also came with full leather seats with electric adjustment (a $2000 extra).
The new cabin is certainly a step up on the old HiLux, and in terms of presentation and materials, is both car-like and sits at the pointy end of the segment. You get a 7.0-inch floating touchscreen lifted from the new Corolla, a chunky steering wheel with reach and rake adjustment (something many utes still don’t offer), clear gauges (albeit without a digital speedo), and excellent Bluetooth phone pairing and clarity.
The navigation software is nothing special but does the job, while the system itself is easy enough to operate. That said, the screen is prone to being blanked out by the sun, and is very easily covered in a veneer of dust, which gets irritating when you’re actually getting the car dirty.
As you’d expect, all the dials, vents and cabin plastics feel hardy and well screwed together. Our car copped a beating during testing but none of it resulted in any rattles or squeaks. There are, however, a few odd ergonomic touches in the new HiLux, such as the placement of the off-road mode dial that can hit your left knee, and the sharp-edged corner on the upper glovebox cover.
It’s certainly a nice interior, but is it better than a Ranger or Amarok? The Ranger has the odd bit of flimsy plastic, but its layout feels more intuitive. The Amarok has a better driving position and is more spacious.
The answer is more unequivocal once you hop into the rear seats. The HiLux lags a bit, and that’s not really expected from the newest ute out there.
It edges out the narrow Triton in terms of space, but as we found in our recent multi-ute comparison test, the Toyota trails its rivals from Volkswagen and Ford. There are more ergonomic idiosyncrasies in the second row too, such as the fixed grab handles that hover a few centimetres from your forehead. A hard dab of the brakes from the driver and there's a good chance you’ll scone yourself.
This relative lack of rear space is interesting given the HiLux’s dimensions are far from small. At 5330mm long, only the BT-50 and Colorado are longer. Its 1855mm width is middle of the pack, and its 1815mm height ditto. The answer perhaps lies in the wheelbase, which at 3085mm is shorter than all comers bar the Triton.
As is de rigeur for the class — with the notable exception of the Amarok — the HiLux offers full curtain airbags for both rows. In fact, the HiLux leads the class with seven airbags in total, including a driver’s knee-bag. The fleet-favoured five-star ANCAP rating is well-deserved here.
Under the bonnet of the new HiLux is a downsized 2.8-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder in place of the old 3.0-litre unit, which can also be found in the new Prado and Fortuner. When paired to our test vehicle's six-speed automatic transmission, power and torque outputs respectively are 130kW at 3400rpm and 450Nm between 1600-2400rpm.
For comparison, the Ranger/BT-50’s five-pot puts out 147kW and 470Nm, the Colorado’s 2.8 makes 147kW and 500Nm and the Navara’s 2.3-litre twin-turbo makes 140KW and 450Nm.
So, in terms of outputs, the HiLux is about par. But it’s an excellent, flexible and most of all, refined, engine that feels largely effortless and comparatively muted all at once. It shifts the ute's 2075kg kerb weight with no dramas, and offers good rolling response courtesy of snappy gear changes.
Braked towing capacity is superior to the old HiLux’s 2500kg mark, at 3200kg with the auto and 3500kg with the manual. The former is 300kg less than the best-in-class Ranger, BT-50, D-Max and Colorado, but outstrips the 3100kg claims of the Triton and 3000kg claim of the 2.0-litre Amarok.
In terms of straight-line performance, our recent testing had the HiLux as the slowest in the pack. But reflecting our gut feel on the engine’s refinement, our decibel reader also found the HiLux to be among the quietest utes tested.
The obvious reason to downsize the engine’s capacity is fuel economy, and the HiLux’s official ADR combined cycle claim of 8.5 litres per 100km is decent, though falls short of the class-leading Navara, plus the Triton, Amarok and D-Max.
That said, we were unable to achieve the Toyota's claimed figure on our mixed on- and off-road loop. We’ve gotten close to factory claims with other utes, but the HiLux came in at 11.8L/100km — a fair old discrepancy. In its defence, our test car had low kilometres and perhaps hadn’t been entirely run-in. The HiLux offers an 80-litre fuel tank too, which is equal to the class-leaders.
One area where the HiLux SR5 is not equal to the class leaders is payload, which measures 925kg. The Ranger XLT offers 952kg, while the equivalent Amarok, D-Max and BT-50 all offer capacities of more than one tonne.
It Toyota has a long tray though. At 1569mm it beats out rivals. It’s also widest at 1645mm (though its intrusive arches reduce this to 1109mm, inferior to many). Our tester came with a good plastic tub liner.
What is interesting is that despite the comparative lack of payload capacity, the HiLux’s unladen ride is actually less refined than some rivals, with the tub feel notably more jittery and unsettled over bumps. Like all rivals bar the (solid axle with coils and trailing arms) Navara, the HiLux offers a (five) leaf rear suspension setup.
That’s not to say it’s bad though — it’s a leap over the old HiLux. But it’s rarely as settled and planted as an Amarok or Ranger, or Navara. It settles nicely when laden though, taking our 650kg weights without so much as blinking. It also proved unfazed and stable when towing as well. In these areas, there are few better.
Perhaps the most impressive element of the Hilux’s dynamics is its steering. It’s not the electric-assist setup of the Ranger, but it’s among the lightest hydraulic systems out there. This means your tired arms have an easier time twirling the wheel after your shift compared to, say, a Navara, which has a steering box that feels as though its located in setting concrete.
Off-road, the HiLux offers the best breakover angle in the business, excellent axle articulation and a more subtle electronic stability control system (ESC) than is usual for Toyota. It has proper low range, a lockable rear differential and a hill-descent function that uses the ESC to control your descent speed.
The low range is just that — properly low. And though the engine lacks the truck-like low-end tractability of the D-Max, it does just fine. Additionally, knowing Toyota’s rigorous Australian testing regimes and jealously protected (and earned) reputation for toughness, you can bet your bottom dollar the new HiLux will take a hell of a beating. Toyota would be committing brand Seppuku if it dropped the ball on this front.
When it comes to aftersales, the HiLux is a mixed bag. Of most benefit is that Toyota has Australia’s biggest dealer network, and if you ever head bush, there’s no car that’s easier to get parts for. Regional mechanics tend to know the HiLux like the back of their hand too.
The service costs are also quite cheap, being capped at $180.00 a pop for the first six visits, or 60,000km. This is a lower rate than rivals, though the Colorado, BT-50 and Ranger get lifetime cover. Still, for the first six services, it’s the cheapest to run.
That said, the six-month/10,000km service intervals are very short, given a number of rivals (Amarok, Colorado, Navara, Ranger and Triton) offer 12-month intervals marked at 15,000km (20,000km for the Navara). Toyota’s three-year/100,000km warranty also falls short of that offered on the Triton, D-Max, BT-50 and Amarok.
One area that’s harder to cover but worth mentioning is resale. Look up old HiLuxes and it’s obvious that few cars hold their value better.
So that’s the new Toyota HiLux. It's all-new and feels it. And it's a big step up on the old car in terms of cabin design, refinement and value. But the segment has come a long way, and to be honest, the Toyota is no class-topper.
Its rear seat space is sub-optimal, its fuel economy proved higher than we’d expected, its towing capacity and payload fall short of the class best and, while it’s commendably refined, its unladen ride isn’t top-of-class.
The reality is, new or not, the Toyota HiLux is a middle-of-the-pack contender. Of course, the HiLux will sell in huge numbers, and fair enough given the scope of Toyota’s network. But don’t think that the HiLux’s likely ‘most popular’ tag necessarily equates to ‘best’.
Check out our full eight-way dual-cab ute comparison test here.
Click on the Photos tab to see more 2016 Toyota HiLux images by Tom Fraser.