Like an old shoe, the HiLux remains the best-selling ute in Australia. But, is the shine starting to wear off? Paul Maric finds out.
It has been one of Australia's best-selling commercial vehicles for the past 20 years, and like sunrise follows sunset, that trend is bound to continue.
The 2018 Toyota HiLux continues to dominate the sales charts, and despite not receiving a significant update since its launch, the 2018 Toyota HiLux SR5 remains a popular choice among tradies that want a premium dual-cab offering.
Toyota spent a great deal of time and money engineering the HiLux to cope with a range of conditions, including a chunk of hot weather and four-wheel-drive testing in Australia.
The Australian arm even helped develop bespoke factory-backed off-road modifications for the recently launched Rugged, Rugged X and Rogue.
The HiLux kicks off from $20,990 (plus on-road costs) for the entry-level Workmate 4x2 single-cab and runs all the way through to the SR5, which is priced from $54,440 (plus on-road costs) for the SR5 4x4 dual-cab manual.
Toyota's three new models are priced from $54,990 (plus on-road costs) for the Rugged and run all the way through to $61,690 (plus on-road costs) for the Rugged X. We recently had the chance to test all three models, and you can read more about that here.
From the outside, the HiLux SR5 gets LED daytime running lights, LED headlights, fog lights, 18-inch alloy wheels, a sports bar, tub liner and chrome highlights.
Inside the cabin, the SR5 gets an upmarket look and feel. Contoured seats team with pushbutton start, stylised and backlit analogue gauges and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Central to the cabin is an 8.0-inch colour infotainment screen that manages the audio and satellite-navigation functions. Further down is a cluster for the automatic climate control and the four-wheel-drive controls.
Storage around the cabin is excellent with two cupholders up front, a further storage cavity behind the gear stick, and a decent-sized centre console that doubles as a padded armrest. There's also automatic up/down on all four windows, plus automatic folding wing mirrors and keyless entry/start. There's a glovebox plus an upper storage area that's also cooled.
While the infotainment system may look good, it's not overly user-friendly and lacks the functionality of other systems in this segment, like the unit Volkswagen uses or Ford's Sync 3 infotainment system – both of those featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is desperately missing from the HiLux. Navigating between menus can be slow, while entering navigation destinations takes an eternity.
There's a voice-control function, but it too can be clumsy and sometimes can't understand the commands being sent through to the system. Thankfully, a long hold of the voice button allows commands to be pushed through to your phone's inbuilt recognition system. Ahead of the driver is a 4.2-inch LCD display that takes care of the trip computer and other critical functions.
Visibility out the front, sides and rear is surprisingly good. At first impression it may seem like a daunting task to drive a car the size of the HiLux, but it's all pretty straightforward. It lacks front and rear parking sensors, but it does have a decent rear-view camera with guidelines. The camera is mounted high on the tailgate, which means backing in to connect a trailer is easy work.
Head and leg room in the first row are great. Move back to the second row and there's ample room to sit two adults side by side. A set of air vents for the second row helps pump hot and cold air into the space to keep them comfortable. You can also store kids here thanks to two ISOFIX points on the two outboard seats and top tether tie-downs.
Under the bonnet of the HiLux SR5 is a 2.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine that produces 130kW of power and 420Nm of torque with a manual gearbox and 450Nm with the automatic. While it comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission, our test car had the optional ($2000) six-speed automatic. It sips through 8.1 litres of fuel per 100km.
Strangely, the HiLux only tows 3200kg in six-speed automatic form with a braked trailer – that's in comparison to 3500kg in six-speed manual with a braked trailer. That's despite the automatic variant offering an additional 30Nm of torque to play with. The manual SR5 can load up to 925kg in its tray, while the automatic can haul just over a tonne at 1005kg.
In terms of four-wheel-drive equipment, the SR5 comes with a low-range gearbox, rear differential lock and hill descent control. The drivetrain operates in two-wheel drive (rear-wheel drive) until the driver switches to four-wheel-drive high-range and then to four-wheel-drive low-range.
We had the chance to test the SR5 both on- and off-road, in addition to towing a 2500kg boat over 200km through a series of city and country roads.
In and around the city, the HiLux performs well with ample torque available low in the rev range. Peak torque is available from 1600rpm and runs all the way through to 2400rpm, with the six-speed automatic managing gears effectively and always offering torque when required.
Three driving modes adjust how the throttle responds to demands for torque. The Power mode is the most entertaining, but it's worth keeping in mind that it doesn't actually alter peak power or torque, it simply adjusts throttle sensitivity.
Toyota stuck with hydraulically assisted steering instead of moving to an electrically assisted steering rack like a number of other dual-cab utes in this segment. That works against the HiLux in and around the city, making low-speed jobs like parking more difficult than they need to be.
The ride in and around the city can also be quite firm at low speeds. In addition to leaf springs, the HiLux uses a damper designed to cushion impacts and stabilise the impact transmitted through the body. The damper is quite firm, and as a result it picks up a lot of imperfections on the road.
Conversely, when there's a load in the rear or when the HiLux is towing, it feels more settled than its competitors in this segment, as the damper doesn't allow the leaf springs to store as much energy to rebound following the bump.
We connected a 2500kg boat to the HiLux to see how well it would cope with a weight that is slightly heavier than the car itself (2045kg kerb mass). Our 200km journey included a number of steep country hills, which demanded a lot from the engine.
It accelerated cleanly and was happy to drop back one or two gears at highway speeds to tackle steep hills. During overtakes it required a bit of a wind-up to get moving, but it felt confident and planted on the road. The ride never felt like it was being led by the boat, and even when we hit corrugated sections, the rear stayed planted, which inspires confidence.
Off-road is where the HiLux really shines. With a claimed 279mm of ground clearance, the HiLux leads the segment with the greatest standard offering. It's matched by a 31-degree approach and 26-degree departure angle. Wading depth is capped at 700mm, which is also impressive for this segment before needing to step up to a snorkel.
The standard traction-control system does an excellent job of managing torque distribution in the four-wheel-drive high-range mode. In this mode, the car is sending 50 per cent of torque to the front and 50 per cent of torque to the rear axle. Traction control then manages slip on each axle. Locking the rear differential further prevents requiring traction-control intervention on the rear axle, but it can only be engaged in low-range.
Off-road, we found the steering to be a bit heavy in comparison to other vehicles in this segment, like the Ranger. That necessitates extra wheel work when navigating narrow passes or when requiring accuracy. It'd be nice to see an electrically assisted steering set-up in future HiLux models.
Frustratingly, you'll need to visit your Toyota dealer every six months to service the HiLux. Service intervals are every six months or 10,000km and cost $240 a pop. Over the three-year warranty period, it'll set you back $1440 to service.
The Toyota HiLux SR5 remains a great option for drivers wanting a premium HiLux offering, but it has fallen behind the pack in terms of technology and innovation. It's worth looking at other vehicles in this segment before rushing out to purchase a HiLux.