Let me tell you a story about how it all happened.
Why a new car? Our ancient and mostly reliable Jeep Cherokee which lives down on Melbourne's Mornington Peninsula was dying. Bought new in 2004, our diesel KJ has lapped Australia with boat in tow, done more trips to the Gippsland Lakes (again with a 2100kg boat) than I care to think about, lived with us in Fremantle where it did many camping trips into northern WA, and overall has been a great car for all of it’s 189,000kms.
But, old age has crept in and after a full turbo rebuild about three years ago, it was clear that my Jeep was heading into its twilight years. Like our resident octogenarian Anthony Crawford, old age on the KJ also manifested itself via a touch of incontinence. In the Jeep’s case this was evidenced by the rear diff's constant weeping oil.
Then the whining started – at a constant 80 kays the rear diff sang a whalesong that set vibrations up through the car. While fixable, this combined with the passenger side rear mirror falling off – a legacy of some street vandalism back in 2009 when I painstakingly Araldited it back together after finding Jeep charged over $1200 for the part.
The list of ailments grew – only one speaker still working on the radio made it a mono rather than a stereo. The sunroof started leaking. The air-con fan only ran at two speeds – too low and flat out. And the steering had taken the term ‘vague’ to a new level.
Throw in a relatively recent son at 20-months-old and a planned two-month stint working out of the Melbourne office, and it was time for a new car.
The new car brief? Simple.
Something to replace the Jeep that worked for our small family and that would stay down the Peninsula most of the year when I was stuck up in Sydney wet-nursing a dozen motoring writers. It has to be able to tow a boat which, fully fuelled and loaded with camping gear, tipped the scales at just over two tonnes. It needed to be safe for my wife to drive with our two-year-old son in the back. Bonus points for being able to handle firewood collection duties in winter, and garden mulch in summer. Plus camping.
Oh yeah – I’ve been eying off a Pee Wee 50 for my son’s first bike too. Put all the requirements together and it is pretty obvious that a dual-cab ute was the only choice. Just like the 146,820 Australians who purchased a new ute in 2016, it was obvious that a lifestyle ute would fit the bill perfectly. Now, to choose one…
Running CarAdvice would tend to mean that I would take our own advice pretty seriously. The fact is I do. My daily driver – a Porsche Macan S diesel – was bought because Alborz told me to buy it. Luckily I don’t just listen to him: it was a car that consistently won all class-based comparisons by our team and rated well in all considerations.
So I turned to CarAdvice over the Christmas break, looking at dual-cab utes.
I knew which one was best, as I was on the last eight-way dual-cab ute comparison. The Ford Ranger has consistently won – not only on CarAdvice but other publications. On that particular test it certainly got my vote.
The Isuzu D-Max made a strong case with a bulletproof engine and drivetrain, however lacked enough refinement to make the grade on the family side of the dual-cab ute equation for this buyer at least.
The Triton is the value price-point leader and ticked a lot of boxes, but ultimately I could not see myself being happy with it over the long term, due to it being too basic.
If I recall back to that test, the brand new HiLux scored mid-field. Not only that – I thought at the time it looked downright wrong: looking back at my scribbled notes had written one telling sentence ‘SR5. Chin not there. WTF?’.
So how on earth did I end up buying one?
Well, the brilliantly riding Amarok fell at the first hurdle – lack of rear curtain airbags meant that Missus CarAdvice CEO said no. Never. Not a chance. Proving that I don’t always listen to my wife I also polled 10 other CA’ers on the matter, most with kids, and interestingly enough the entire second-row occupant protection issue fell 2:10 against. Meaning only two CarAdvice team members argued the Amarok was an acceptable consideration: Alborz, who used logic to suggest that since my son was in a child seat in the middle of the rear, curtain airbags would mean little in the event of a side impact.
Benn, our Sales Director was more blunt, saying "mate I have two kids and would buy a Defender if I could. In fact I think I will". In the against camp was everyone else with kids. I didn’t ask Paul Maric as not only doesn’t have kids yet, but I know what his opinion would be.
The Ranger. The thinking man's ute crumpet based on the sales charts, you could say. Bringing the best of Aussie engineering with the blingy pick-up looks from the US has been a winning combination for the Blue Oval badge in Oz. Throw in the class-leading active safety gear in the XLT and Wildtrak and surely this was the lifestyle ute for me?
Not exactly. Firstly the all-American looks just don’t set my world on fire. Secondly, the active safety features of lane change assist and forward collision warning, plus the driver convenience feature of active cruise control, are all nice to have. But, and this is a big but, they are not features I currently hugely desire in my cars for myself or my wife.
As a motorbike rider, lane change assist worries me as I see the dumbing down of an already bike-illiterate motoring public taking even greater liberties around the over-the-shoulder-head-check when changing lanes as reliance on the electronic system infiltrates driver habits.
I drive around 300 different cars a year across all price points and, while blind-spot monitoring continues to improve, there is no way in a million years I would rely on it to detect a motorbike 100 per cent of the time.
AEB is a great feature and I like it. Active cruise control – ditto – although again if my set speed is faster than the car in front, I tend to do this thing called overtaking. If it is the right lane I’m in and the person in front is blocking me, then please refer here. Finally for the Ranger – it was expensive. Drive-away pricing ranged between $5-6K more than what I finally paid.
While you may be the pick-up of the bunch, Ranger, you were not my pick.
In the end I came to the middle of the market – the HiLux, and in my particular case, the SR5. With all the information at my fingertips, I knew this was not the best 4WD dual-cab out there – but could it be the best one for me?
When I revisited the reasons the HiLux had not performed as well on test as some of its competitors, things started falling into place. The ride from the rear? A real HiLux weak spot, this became less of an issue as this is not my daily driver, and I did need a vehicle that could tow a mid-sized boat both on and off-road. Tick.
The narrow body size that makes the rear more appropriate for two rather than three? I have one kid and a dog – and I like off-roading in Victoria where the overgrown tracks favour narrower 4WDs much of the time. Tick.
I wanted some modifications that would personalise the ute for my next decade of adventures and the HiLux has the best aftermarket support. Tick.
So, at 46 years of age, I bought my first Toyota and my first HiLux. A hefty $54,000 on the road, although I added in a very nice Blueys Ute metal rolling hardtop that the dealer has already pre-drilled holes into the rear for a pricey $2990.
It was a demo with 987km on the clock in graphite grey, with leather, towbar and a plastic tub liner.
Like the other 42,104 Australians who purchased the top-selling vehicle in 2016, I am now a fully paid-up member of club HiLux. And guess what? I really like it.
And you would want to like the HiLux, based on the haters out there. In my entire car-buying résumé, I don’t think I have ever experienced such vitriol as that which comes from telling other car lovers you bought a Hilux.
Everything from ‘Rollux’ due to a small Swedish car magazine with a moose fetish, through to the ‘Sheeple’ for its popularity, combined with a constant theme that Toyota is trading more on its past than its present when it comes to unbreakable reliability.
Being told 'since you bought a HiLux you obviously can’t think for yourself', is somewhat ironic, when you run the largest editorial-only motoring publication in Australia.
'How can you not follow your own advice' is one question that has come up a lot when it comes to buying a HiLux. Let me be clear – I’m immensely proud of what we do at CarAdvice. I was a reader well before I became CEO and, following Alborz and Tony, I knew they were doing something different when it came to writing about cars. No different to the much-expanded team here today – I think they are the best in the world when it comes to driving, assessing and reviewing cars.
However, when it is all done and said, cars are a deeply personal thing. Like coriander; some people love it and some hate it (genetically, apparently).
In my case, I wanted a vehicle that would let me raise my son doing the things I want him to do, and at the end of that process the not-the-best-on-test HiLux was the best for me.
Listen to Andrew Beecher discuss his opinion piece on the CarAdvice podcast and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.