Buying a ute is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Most models offer a selection of two- or four-wheel drive and a number of cab configurations in order to satisfy the variety of buyer needs.
It should come as no surprise then, that the 2016 Toyota HiLux is available in a choice of three cab sizes, three trim grades, two ride heights, two drive types, four engines and two transmissions. What’s more, the HiLux can be specified in one of six colours and personalised with over 30 different factory options.
Now while my trusty Casio calculator suggests that offers over 50,000 unique variants, not all combinations are possible – so let's just go with the universal ‘oodles’ to denote the permutational volume of HiLux configurations available.
Our test car then could be described as reasonably unique, given it features eight optional items on top of the relatively common base.
The HiLux SR 4x4 double-cab chassis has a 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine and a six-speed manual transmission, and costs $44,990 (before options and on-road costs).
Add to this the premium Silver-Sky paint ($550); heavy-duty alloy tray ($2464); 18-inch machined-grey alloy wheels, including the spare ($1385); premium steel bull-bar ($2466); snorkel ($685); tow bar ($565); trailer wiring harness ($342) and reverse camera ($421) – phew!
That is a total of $8878 in options that brings the as-tested price to $53,868, which when you consider a HiLux SR5 double-cab still costs $2122 more (at $55,990 before on-roads), doesn’t seem too bad – given the specification and personalisation achieved.
The SR is the mid-specification model in the range, but the larger wheels and plentiful accessories make it appear much more upmarket. The Toyota bull-bar adds LED running lights to the front of the pickup and the snorkel just completes the tough and purposeful look.
Up front, the cloth seats and basic plastics initially give off a bit of a low-rent vibe, but under closer inspection there is a real solidness to the cabin and a level of detail that is impressive for a car in this segment.
Case in point, the ventilation controls feature a little ute icon on them, as opposed to the generic car outline found almost everywhere else.
You won't find a ‘hand-knurled aluminium’ knob anywhere in the car, but the materials and switchgear feel like they will stay as they are for a very long time. The HiLux has forged its reputation on longevity, after all.
The seating position is good, with great visibility despite the load guard on the tray. There is plenty of storage around the cabin too, including a chilled upper-glovebox in the dash.
As simple as it may be, too, we like the basic digital clock at the top of the dash, and find the simple air conditioning controls far easier to manage than some of the more high-tech solutions out there.
In the back, there is not as much leg and head room as some other dual-cab utes, but the seats are reasonably comfortable and fold up in a 60:40 split, to allow for more in-cabin storage and also provide access to under-floor jack and tool storage (which, it turns out, we needed).
Two rear passengers will be fine for longer trips, but pushing to three would definitely challenge the comfort of the ute.
There are no vents for rear passengers but there are door pockets, ISOFIX points, cup holders in the center arm-rest and coat hooks, perfect for keeping the hi-vis vest in top condition!
In the middle of the dash is a 7.0-inch touchscreen display which looks very modern and high quality. All button inputs use a back-lit touch-pad style interface – like on Star Trek – but can be annoying when you need to do something quickly without looking, like turning the volume down.
There are complimentary buttons on the steering wheel, but sometimes a twisty knob is still the best.
The system is well featured (it even has a CD player, something of a rarity these days) despite not offering a navigation package, and is quick to pair to a phone. That said, the audio quality over a Bluetooth phone call is pretty average.
On the move, you can hear the distinct induction and turbo cavitation noises through the snorkel. To be honest, it’s pretty cool.
The 130kW/420Nm 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel pulls well, especially low down in the rev range. It’s a very easy car to drive, and the six-speed manual, while a bit clunky, never misses a shift and becomes second nature soon enough.
Hit the ‘Power’ button and we would go as far as to describe the big ute as ‘sprightly’. The low-down response is heightened, although in-gear acceleration at highway speeds is pretty ordinary – power mode or not.
Economy is also quite reasonable, our ute returning 10.7L/100km after a predominantly urban week (9.3L/100km claimed) with a bit of off-road thrown in.
Something more prevalent in trayback utes, is the longitudinal floating sensation you get when the load bay is empty. The SR is a bit more pronounced than most given the front suspension has a pleasant compliance when running into bumps, only to have the back end jitter around on the down-side.
This is amplified over corrugations, but settles well when at least a 100kg load is put in the tray.
The ride isn’t uncomfortable or jarring, and the bouncing is absolutely expected from a vehicle like the HiLux. So, even when appreciating this trait, it still makes the Toyota an easy car to live with in an urban setting.
Steering is slow, and a little bit heavy, but it is accurate enough around town. Despite the length and awkwardness of the extended tray, the HiLux is still easy to parallel park, although I imagine without a camera there may be a few bumps along the way.
The tray itself is easy to fold down for both rear and side access, and we found a palette would easily slide in.
The 4x4 HiLux has a switchable four-wheel drive system that can be changed from 2WD to 4WD via a rotary dial on the dashboard. There is a rear differential lock but no hill-descent control on the manual transmission.
Off road, the 3085mm wheelbase limits the ramp-over angle (you can hear it scraping on the rocks, sorry Toyota), but even with the road-biased tyres and fancy wheels, the HiLux has great articulation and is fundamentally a very capable vehicle.
On our test route, there was no terrain that stopped the Toyota, although it was far more bouncy along the rocky tracks than we expected.
Fair to note, too, that we were unlucky enough to receive a flat tyre thanks to an errant self-tapping screw on the road. The standard jack and tools worked… but if you need to be back on the road quickly, we’d suggest equipping your ute with some better gear.
The supplied extension handle needs to be used to operate the winch to drop the alloy spare and then to turn the jack handle – so it’s very much a one-person job. That said, we had the tyre switched and were back on the road within 20 minutes.
In all, our ‘custom’ HiLux still showed why the model remains such a consistent seller, despite being challenged, and even bettered, by other utes.
It is predictable, capable and well built, doing everything it is supposed to, day in and day out.
The HiLux may not be the ‘best’ ute on the market, but the risks are low. It is built for work and built to last. And, even staying within the Toyota catalogue, it can nonetheless be built to your personal spec.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Sam Venn and Tom Fraser.