Over the past few years, we have seen the humble work ute transform into a high-tech, high-priced leisure machine.
But not everyone needs all the bells and whistles, and in the case of the 2016 Toyota HiLux Workmate, stripping away all the options, accessories and luxury appointments leaves you with what is arguably a better example of the breed. A pretty basic but highly functional double-cab 4x4 pickup.
The fact you look like a UN Peacekeeper almost adds to the appeal.
Priced from $43,990 (before options and on-road costs), the six-speed manual Workmate undercuts the mid-spec SR by $2500 and the range-topping SR5 by $10,400. Toyota is currently running a drive-away deal that sees the Workmate head out the door for $42,990, which makes the value attraction of the base pick-up even greater.
You don’t even need to go ‘open-cut pit white’, the Workmate comes in six colour choices, but everything ‘not’ white comes with a $550 metallic premium.
Behind the no-frills black, plastic bumper is a 2.4-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel with 110kW at 3400rpm and 400Nm available between 1600 and 2000rpm.
It’s a surprisingly good engine, and for the majority of driving, you don’t notice that it is the less powerful of the Toyota offerings (the 2.8-litre diesel in the SR and SR5 has 130kW and 420Nm available).
Much of this has to do with the way the six-speed manual transmission works with the engine, especially with the Power Mode button.
To be clear, the Power Mode doesn’t actually unleash any more power. It just feels like it does.
Essentially, your throttle inputs are amplified (the reverse happens when using the ECO Mode) meaning a even a light tap on the pedal has a significant result at the flywheel. It makes the 2.4 feel especially responsive, particularly low down in the rev range. The downside is a slightly higher fuel consumption, and the twitchy throttle comes with a propensity to chirp the rear tyres as you zap away from the lights.
Use the ECO mode and all of that response just vanishes, and sure, you may be saving a little bit of fuel, but we think the frustration that comes with a lack of action/reaction physics when you step on the throttle is enough to not bother with this setting at all.
The transmission too, is very light and easy to use. Our own James Wong even taught himself to manage a three-pedal commute in the HiLux. Surely a story to tell the grandkids around a camp fire in the future.
Toyota claims 7.3L/100km for a combined cycle, and if you stay away from our favourite ‘Power Mode’ button and remember there are six forward gears, then it's highly achievable. Our week with the car, both on the road and off, we sipped 9.4L/100km.
Running about in the standard setting (neither PWR or ECO active) and the HiLux does the job really well. It is a very easy car to drive and for a no-frills working ute, is a very easy car to live with.
Even the wheels follow the back-to-basics approach, the black painted 17-inch steel rims look much tougher and relevant here than they do on the HiLux-based Fortuner SUV, where it looks as if someone has stolen your hubcaps.
Inside, the cloth seats are comfortable and reasonably supportive, and despite the utilitarian nature of the plastic floor and rubber mats, the HiLux still feels well put together and up to the multitude of tasks that will be asked of it.
We even like the basic digital clock in the centre of the dash, and are big fans of the cupholders in front of the air vents.
The air conditioning works well and you are treated to power mirrors and windows too.
There are twin glove boxes, a centre cubby, coin tray and single cupholder on the console and a phone tray in front of the gear shifter. Everything is easy to reach and easy enough to use, despite some of the functions being hidden from immediate view when you are behind the wheel.
All four doors score bottle holders and there are eight grab-handles around the cab for when the going gets bouncy. The steering column is adjustable for reach and rake, and there are seven airbags, including side-impact curtains for rear passengers.
While on rear passengers though, the room in the second row isn’t what we’d call class-leading. It’s pretty cozy to be honest. Even getting in is tight, the doors aren’t huge and the grab-handles on the B-pillar are waiting in just the right spot for you to bash your head on.
Once in though, head room is fine (but not great), and my knees were quite cramped, although there is good toe room. There is no centre arm rest for added comfort, nor are there vents or even a 12-volt outlet. You do get a pair of ISOFIX points though, although with no side steps, the rear of the HiLux is a long way up for children to climb in. We wouldn’t really recommend it as the school run daily.
Driver feedback is again pretty simple, with just a twin-set of standard dials and a single digital read out for the trip meter. Economy data is available through the media screen.
Speaking of which, although we are not a fan of buttons to control audio volume, the 6.1-inch multimedia touch screen is a really pleasant addition in a car of this level. The system is well featured, despite not offering satellite navigation, and even displays vision from the standard rear-view camera.
As noted with the up-down buttons for volume, there are some annoying usability traits of the Toyota system, and the interface is quite basic, but once you’ve paired a phone to Bluetooth and settled on your favourite talkback or sports radio station, it is easy enough to leave alone and get down to some actual work.
Engaging 4WD is via a simple dial that can switch from rear- to four-wheel high range on the move or low-range 4WD when the car is stationary. There is no rear differential lock that both the SR and SR5 have, but unless you are really working the Workmate hard, the standard driveline is competent and capable.
We note that there are no dedicated recovery points on the front of the Workmate though, so do be mindful of this before attempting anything too tricky.
The Workmate has a different tub-style to the flashier SR5 model, and instead of tie-points inside the bed, there are eight lugs on the outside of the tub to allow a net or other tie-down strap to be secured.
The tray is a bit under 1600mm long (1569mm) and a bit over 1600mm wide (1645mm), and about 480mm deep; which meant more than enough room for our sheep, but not enough to squeeze a pallet between the arches.
No sports bars here either, just a frame to protect the rear window and assist for the securing of ladders or other loads. You can of course accessorise to your heart’s content, but the standard set-up works pretty well.
Opening the tailgate requires a latch on each side to be un-hooked too.
You get a 955kg payload rating (with a GVM of 3000kg) and 3200kg braked tow rating. The manual gets an extra 200kg over the auto, and when all put together, the manual Workmate has a 5850kg gross combination mass (GCM).
There’s a full-size 17-inch spare under the rear chassis rails as well.
Ride compliance is a regular discussion point of most modern utes. From a technical sense, the HiLux has independent double-wishbones with coil springs at the front, and a solid live rear axle on leaf springs at the back. This offers 520mm of articulation and with a 225mm ride height and 31-degree approach and 26-degree departure angle, the Workmate has all the right numbers in all the right places to be a pretty competent performer at work or off-road.
It’s on-road where the business-centric hardware doesn’t quite line up with the some of the best in the class.
The front springs compress well enough when hitting a bump, but then the rear leaves just feel a bit too rigid for un-laden running about. Even over reasonably smooth country roads, you can feel the HiLux working and bouncing away beneath you. Put simply, it is quite fidgety.
Load up the tub and it will settle, like all utes do, but we know that many utes spend a great deal of their life empty, so that standard performance is important.
Steering too, although not as light as the electrically assisted rack in the Ford Ranger, is easy to manage and still quite communicative over all terrain.
For an entry-level 4x4, double-cab pickup, the 2016 Toyota HiLux Workmate is a very likeable and complete option. You get everything you need to get the job done, and to make day-to-day living as easy as possible.
It’s not the smoothest ute to drive nor the most spacious in the back, but it’s a very usable and very capable worker, both on road and off. Plus when you are behind the wheel it doesn’t feel like a base-spec machine.
The cost of owning a HiLux is basically nil. There’s always a market for second-hand ones plus servicing is just $180 for each 10,000km interval. Sure, there may be consumables or the occasional extra bit of work needed, but from a managed cost peace of mind standpoint, it’s a big tick.
Although the SR, with the more powerful 2.8-litre engine and rear differential lock is just $2500 more (plus, the whole painted bumper thing), and is our pick of the HiLux range, the Workmate still represents great value and is a good, low-risk option especially if you are buying more than one.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by James Ward and Tom Fraser.
Thanks to For the Love of Lamb for the use of their lovely property.