Nobody would have thought five years ago that the two best-selling cars in Australia would be dual-cab utes. But, they are, and dual-cab utes are going gangbusters with manufacturers keen to capitalise on sales at an all-time high.
We've just spent the best part of two days testing Toyota's all-new models aimed at the buyer wanting more features and more off-road ability from their dual-cab ute.
The Toyota HiLux Rogue, HiLux Rugged and HiLux Rugged X kicked off as an idea among Toyota Australia's executive team in 2015, just before the current-generation HiLux was released. The idea for each vehicle wasn't approved until early 2016, after focus groups and senior management agreed on the final products.
From the point of sign-off through to public announcement earlier this year, Toyota's Australian engineering team worked to develop, prototype and test the upgrades to each vehicle.
According to Toyota, the upgrades are more than just aftermarket parts strapped onto the vehicle, with each model offered with a full Toyota warranty and certified engineering to ensure no parts affect airflow or the vehicle's safety systems.
Rogue, Rugged and Rugged X pricing and specifications
With customers spending $2000 on average accessorising their new HiLux, the company thinks it has hit the sweet spot in terms of a ute to meet everybody's needs.
Kicking off from $54,990 (plus on-road costs), the SR-based HiLux Rugged builds on the SR offering and brings with it a snorkel, new grille, side rock rails, sports bar, a heavy-duty steel rear bar and recovery points. While it comes with a six-speed manual gearbox, it can be had with a six-speed automatic for $2000 more.
Off-road fans will love the HiLux Rugged X, which has been engineered with the sole intention of withstanding tough conditions off-road.
Priced from $61,690 (plus on-road costs), it's based on the SR5 and complements the current specification leader with a raft of off-road gear along with a six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic will set you back an additional $2000.
A winch-compatible heavy-duty steel front bar works in unison with an integrated bash plate, LED light bar and driving lights, along with a new grille. A new tub has been designed to cater for a steel sports bar capable of 75kg of vertical load, along with the ability to secure 200kg on the floor of the tub.
Inside the cabin, the Rugged X features leather-accented seats, a newly designed instrument cluster, metallic-black ornamentation and black headlining.
Next up is the HiLux Rogue, which is priced from $61,690 (plus on-road costs) and comes exclusively with a six-speed automatic transmission. Added equipment includes a new front-end design, outboard driving lights, new hard tonneau cover and the same interior highlights as the Rugged X.
Under the bonnet of each model is the same Toyota HiLux top-specification diesel engine, which is a 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel that produces 130kW of power and 450Nm of torque when mated to the six-speed automatic and 420Nm when coupled with the six-speed manual.
What has changed, though, is the running mass. The extra equipment attached to the Rugged X adds an additional 207kg, increasing mass to 2252kg, the Rugged comes in at 2235kg and Rogue 2174kg. That means payload is now 748kg for Rugged X, 765kg for Rugged and 826kg for Rogue, with GVM remaining 3000kg.
Towing capacity remains unchanged, with six-speed automatic variants capable of 3200kg braked and six-speed manuals 3500kg braked.
On the road
Under the skin, Toyota uses a stiffer set of springs at the front of the Rugged and Rugged X. While they're different from regular HiLux variants, they are the same stiffer springs fitted to HiLux models with an optional bullbar.
Protection from rogue rocks and debris is next level in the Rugged and even more so in the Rugged X. The Rugged brings a snorkel, new grille, side rock rails, sports bar, a heavy-duty steel rear bar and recovery points that are made of 20mm-thick steel plate.
Rugged X is even more durable with its steel front bar. To demonstrate the capability of the underbody and side sill protection, Toyota had us side-step the HiLux onto a rock while moving to demonstrate its ability to withstand the weight of its body on each side step – an impressive feat.
On the open road, each of these models feels exactly like any other HiLux, unsurprisingly.
With no engine or suspension changes (beyond the stiffer springs in Rugged and Rugged X), the HiLux drives and rides like it would any other time. The only noticeable change is even less punch in the Rugged and Rugged X for things like overtaking.
An extra 200kg increases the vehicle's weight by almost 10 per cent, which adds further strain on the engine. That's noticed even more when there are a few passengers on board. It's at this point you'd really have to think about aftermarket power extraction if you wanted to load it up with a big trailer and passengers – it feels like it could be underdone when carrying a heavier load.
It's when driven off-road that the difference is most noticeable. The underbody protection works to not only protect the vehicle, but also acts to push smaller rocks out of the way – instead of being collected on parts of the vehicle's underbody.
Approach angles are 28 degrees and 30 degrees respectively for Rugged/Rugged X and Rogue models, but it's the corner approach angle that really impresses with the Rugged and Rugged X models. They come in at 49 degrees for Rugged X, 39 degrees for Rogue and 45 degrees for Rugged.
Drivers after maximum ground clearance will head toward the Rugged, which sports 253mm of ground clearance, the added weight on the front of the Rugged X pushes its ground clearance down to 251mm, while the Rogue clocks in at 216mm.
Our challenging off-road course included a rock crossing designed to test underbody rigidity, along with a number of steep ascents and descents. Even on the steeper sections of track, the car wasn't fussed grazing sections of the adjacent gravel wall. This type of thing in a car without a metal bullbar would damage paintwork.
In typical HiLux fashion, it was unfazed by the off-road course and engaging the 4WD modes. A flick of a switch moves from 2WD high-range to 4WD high-range, while another turn shifts into 4WD low-range.
There's also a rear differential lock in each of the three models, while the Rugged X and Rogue also get a hill descent control.
The off-road drive continued through the Flinders Ranges, where we attacked long stretches of corrugated and rutted roads that shook the living daylights out of the attached equipment and interior.
On these parts of road, the extra weight across the front of the Rugged and Rugged X helped keep it planted and sure of itself when coming in and out of dips in the road.
While the ride was typically firm at lower speeds, once speeds picked up it was quite settled and happy to motor along with soft hits through the chassis and into the cabin.
The interior changes are only subtle, with a new headliner, perforation for the leather seats and a new gauge cluster. The new cluster helps give the car a more upmarket feel, while the perforated seats help improve breathability.
Servicing for the new models comes in at $240 per service, with six-monthly, 10,000km service intervals. The warranty also remains three years, with no current plans to increase the warranty to five years – the current length offered on HiLux in Europe.
While the three new HiLux models offer a step up in terms of features, and in the case of the Rugged and Rugged X a big step up in off-road ability, it's still the HiLux we know and love beneath the skin.
The HiLux Rogue, Rugged and Rugged X go on sale nationally at the end of April.