2018 Toyota HiLux Rugged review

The Toyota HiLux Rugged is an attempt to tap into the lucrative accessory market in a more holistic way. This factory-backed SR derivative serves as a hardcore halo, and shows off what TMC's Australian engineers and designers can do when given something to sink their teeth into.

Expensive dual-cab ute buyers are no strangers to splashing out on factory accessories to make their workhorse look tougher, and go further. Toyota Australia reckons the average HiLux owner drops about $2000 on extras including bars, steps, tub liners and covers.

It’s with this in mind that the company recently launched three new HiLux versions: the ‘luxury’ Rogue, hardcore ‘Rugged X’ and the stripped-back ‘Rugged’. The latter is tested here. All serve as halos for what is now Australia’s most popular new vehicle range.

Toyota clearly sees this trio as a bulwark against the almost-as-popular Ford Ranger, and potentially reputable ‘aftermarket’ accessory fitters, such as Australia’s own world-class supplier and 4x4 parts-maker ARB. Can’t blame it…

The Rugged tested here is in many ways the most interesting of the three. Ever more high-end HiLux buyers are using them as second family cars or as weekend warrior-mobiles, but there’s still a harder core of regional dwellers who want a proper workhorse. Nationwide market clinics made that point clear.

The starting point for the HiLux Rugged is the $46,560 HiLux SR version, which sits below the top-selling SR5 in the line-up. It hits the Melbourne arrivals dock fitted with an SR5’s different tub and new 17-inch alloy wheels on 265/65R17 Bridgestone Dueler tyres.

From there, Toyota Australia techs fit a range of parts developed and tested in-house by its 35-strong team of designers, techs and fabricators, at a pre-PD ‘production’ site at Webb Dock. These include: the steel bullbar and rear bar with step; a towbar/towball/tongue; a seven-pin flat trailer wiring harness; rear recovery points; side rock rails that don’t warp like steps when bashed; and a snorkel. Only the Rugged X gets more underbody protection, though.

Concessions to ‘style’ beyond those new wheels include: a tougher grille design; black body side mouldings; a bolted-on black sports bar with tie-down points; plastic tub liner with tailgate protection; black tailgate handle with integrated camera; and various decals.

Inside are niceties such as satellite-navigation, DAB+ radio and rubber floor mats that you can blast off with a water jet.

The all-up price is $54,990 before on-road costs, or $8430 more than the SR blank canvas. That’s a fair chunk of change, though interestingly enough it’s only $550 more expensive than a HiLux SR5. From that vantage point, it’s not bad value at all.

MORE: HiLux Rogue, Rugged and Rugged X pricing and specs

Besides, the hard-wearing cloth seats, manual AC buttons and the use of hard-wearing plastics give it the right sort of mud/dirt-ready feel, and the telescopic steering column makes it more ergonomically sound than most.

The cabin remains pretty spacious in the rear as well, and the seat bases flip up for tall items. Those fixed overhead grab handles that are a genuine concussion risk need to go, however. Seriously, taller occupants are one emergency-brake away from a big forehead bruise. At best.

Perhaps another angle can be summed up by Toyota’s own PR, which insists the Rugged’s new components “are fully integrated and engineered into the core vehicle and covered by the standard factory warranty”, and that they are not “accessorised special editions”.

While buying quality aftermarket accessories from the likes of ARB can be a great approach, there can unfortunately also be ‘grey areas’ – not with the covered parts themselves that have warranties, but components that interact with them.

For instance, are your factory front springs able to handle a big hefty bar? If they break, who pays? Many people will be drawn to Toyota’s idiot-proof approach, and the promise of immediate warranty fixes should the proverbial hit the fan.

Mechanically, the HiLux Rugged isn’t much changed. The 2.8-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder donk still makes 130kW of peak power at 3400rpm and 450Nm of maximum torque (with the auto gearbox, it’s 420Nm with the manual) between 1600 and 2400rpm.

That’s despite the Rugged’s extra 193kg of kerb weight over the SR, accommodated in part by revised front suspension components to handle the extra frontal mass.

Our tester was fitted with the $2000 six-speed auto gearbox with manual mode, chosen by the vast majority of buyers. The GVM remains 3000kg (the kerb weight is now 2238kg, so the payload ceiling comes back) and the towing capacity is 3200kg with a braking trailer.

Claimed fuel economy is 8.6L/100km, though we hovered around 10.5L/100km once we left the highway, where it was sitting at 1600rpm at 100km/h. The standard fuel tank remains 80L.

Not much more can be said about the engine that we haven’t written before. It’s quieter than a Colorado or D-Max, hits peak torque just off idle (there’s an ‘idle-up’ button for cold starts) and has an opt-in Power mode that changes the throttle calibration. The Rugged’s regional-buyer focus means the DPF should be getting regular high-speed burn-offs.

On-road, the HiLux remains middle-of-the-pack in the class. Its hydraulic-assisted steering is low-resistance – a good thing for urbanites – and its NVH suppression is pretty good. However, its rear leaf suspension only settles down with a few hundred kilos in the tray (the sports bar helps).

It lacks the Ranger’s SUV-like comfort over potholes and speed bumps, but also choppy corrugated gravel roads that haven’t seen the underside of a grader since 1987.

Off-road, though, and the Rugged lives up to its name. If we were buying a 4x4 dual-cab tomorrow to take across the Simpson, it’d be a HiLux or Isuzu D-Max, because they’re both proper workhorses supported by extensive regional dealer networks. This special HiLux spin-off only builds on that.

The black power-coated bullbar obviously works with all the existing safety features (airbag sensors, super-conservative ESC tune etc). It features two nifty LED driving lights, antenna/light-bar mounts, and room for a winch.

Those rock rails/side steps made from chassis-mounted steel tubing are designed to handle the vehicle's GVM. That moulded tub-liner is top-notch, as is the black four-piece steel sports bar capable of supporting a vertical load of 75kg, or securing up to 200kg in the tub bed via tie-down points. It’s secured by many bolts into the tray bed, not side.

Core 4x4 stats include a claimed running clearance of 253mm when unladen, though if you want more clearance, you’ll need to give it an aftermarket lift. The approach angle is 45 degrees and the departure angle 21 degrees.

Like most utes, the HiLux is a part-time 4x4 with a dial-based 4H system (shift on the fly) and low-range gearing, augmented by a ‘graunching’ hill-descent control. The communicative hydraulic steering, easy over-bonnet view and boundless low-end torque make the HiLux a riot off-road, and after a beating everything felt tight as a drum.

We tackled a 600mm wading pool, some articulation-testing moguls, boulder-laden course, a few mud pits, slippery gravel inclines and declines, and sandy trails. Piece of cake.

If you do manage to get stuck, the red recovery points are made from 20mm-thick steel plate and with a large cross-vehicle bracing structure for additional strength, and can apparently accommodate a 8000kg snatch strap or 9000lb winch. Throw some mud-pluggers and a lift kit into yours and not much will stop you, though…

Where the HiLux Rugged will appeal to many is the fact that should anything go wrong, you’ve only got to deal with Toyota. On the downside, its three-year/100,000km warranty is the equal-worst of any major brand in Australia. We want the company to stop coasting on reputation and give five years of full factory cover.

You also get short six-month/10,000km service intervals in a market where most competitors offer nine-month or 12-month intervals with 15,000km distance intervals. On the plus side, each service is a cheap $240 a pop, and Toyota’s dealer network is the biggest and broadest in the country.

So, does the HiLux Rugged make a solid case? Well, for the price of an SR5 version you get plenty of hardcore 4x4-ing extras, and some cabin updates to boot. So yes, we’d say it does indeed make a case for itself.

Hardcore 4x4-ers may prefer to deal with their preferred aftermarket suppliers, and we completely understand, but Toyota Australia is nevertheless wise to offer a one-stop shop of its own. This thing would clean up parked out the front of a country pub.

Images taken by Igor Solomon and Frank Yang at the Australian Automotive Research Centre

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