Rugged by name, rugged by nature. Toyota has long maintained the HiLux is unbreakable, and its newest flagship, the Rugged X, wears its off-road credentials on its sleeve. But while it may be tough on the outside, the interior plays up its plushness.
Among Toyota’s new three-pronged flagship HiLux range, the Rugged X sits at the top. It's essentially an SR5 with the extra protection parts from the SR-based Rugged
Toyota touts the Rugged X as more than just a sticker pack, though, with a range of off-roading accessories included as standard that not only boost visual appeal, but also offer a degree of practicality for genuine 4x4 users.
Amongst the extra equipment over a regular SR5, the Rugged X comes kitted out with a steel bullbar, front underguard, LED light bar, rock rails, towbar, front and rear recovery points, a functional sports bar in the tub and a snorkel on the driver’s A-pillar.
Less concerned with off-road protection and more to do with the aesthetic appeal, there’s also a set of door mouldings, wheel arch mouldings, a black grille, and a decal pack applied to the bonnet and tailgate.
The thing is, while this model might be equipped to venture further off-road than any factory HiLux before it, plenty will spend their lives parked on paved driveways in housing estates across the country.
If you’d like to know what it’s like to drive in the rough stuff, check out Mike Costello’s HiLux Rugged review, but if you’re thinking you fancy the look more than the ability and you’d like a nicer interior than the more basic Rugged, perhaps this is the ute for you.
Hang on though… Isn’t the HiLux Rogue the city-centric ute in Toyota’s recently expanded range? Well, yes, and with shared mechanical specs, either the Rogue or Rugged X should be similarly capable off-road, but the Rogue just doesn’t look as angry. And besides, a heap of Rugged Xs are going to dominate school runs and shopping centre car parks across Australia's urban environment.
In case you were wondering, the Rugged X essentially starts life as an SR5 shipped from Thailand to Australia wearing its new 17-inch two-tone alloy wheels (and the same 265/65R17 tyres as a Rugged or SR).
From there, items like the winch-compatible bullbar (it’s hoopless, though, meaning no headlight-protecting frame), rock rail, underbody bash plating, and other add-on items are added. But rather than a purely bolt-on exercise, Toyota claims its genuine accessory add-ons are 100 per cent engineered alongside the vehicle itself, with most sourced from Australian suppliers.
On the inside, the Rugged X features instrument cluster graphics, but is otherwise pure SR5, including features like keyless entry and start, single-zone climate control, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with built-in navigation and DAB radio, but no smartphone mirroring.
Other standard features include otherwise optional (for SR5) leather seat trim, and heated front seats with electric adjustment for the driver. As part of a rolling update to the HiLux range, the new variants also include rear air vents, sure to be welcomed by anyone relegated to the back seat on a scorching summer day.
The price of admission is a not inconsiderable $61,690 plus on-road costs for the as-tested six-speed manual. Add a six-speed auto and you’ll need to hand over an extra $2000 and another $580 for metallic or pearl paint, like the Crystal Pearl of this particular example.
For perspective, the HiLux Rogue, which does without the exterior add-ons but is the same inside though auto-only, starts from $61,690, or a ‘regular’ SR5 from $54,440.
Cross the road to your local Ford dealer and you’ll find the list price of a Ranger Wildtrak kicks off at $59,590 (before the updated version arrived later this year), but that’s before adding a bullbar, light bar, or any of the Rugged X protection parts.
Alternatively, you could tough-truck your own HiLux with accessories from Old Man Emu, Opposite Lock, ARB, Iron Man or TJM. But at $7250 more than an SR5, the Rugged X starts to look like decent value, as you won’t buy too many accessories for that kind of spend if you go high-end aftermarket.
Arguably, though, with full warranty support and no downtime required to research or fit the parts, the Rugged X is a fine ready-to-go option, and though opinions differ, most people who clapped eyes on this particular Rugged X thought it looked just right.
Better still, the changes don’t fundamentally alter the way the Rugged X drives. At its core, the new variant is still 100 per cent HiLux right down to its 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine and 130kW/420Nm outputs. It's worth noting, too, the HiLux bumps peak torque to 450Nm when tied to a six-speed auto.
From behind the wheel, there’s a lot to like about the HiLux, not least of which is its lofty driving position that gives a commanding view of the road ahead.
That very HiLuxness also means you’re still getting a car that’s built as a work tool, rather than simply looking like one, so noise and vibration from the diesel engine aren’t suppressed the way you might expect of a more civil SUV.
That said, the HiLux is far from the worst of its ilk. In fact, everything from noise and comfort to driving dynamics and ride quality fall within mid-range amongst its dual-cab peers.
Despite being down slightly on peak torque, when tied to a manual transmission, the big ute feels freer than its auto counterpart and that helps balance the deficit slightly.
Not only that, but with a nice clutch feel and a gearshift that’s more accurate than the usual commercial vehicle fare, the manual is no chore to drive, even sitting trapped in peak-hour traffic. More’s the shame that the automatic is set to be the more popular variant.
Owing to its big bluff shape, the HiLux cuts through the air in a rather brick-like way, so on freeway stints you’ll notice wind noise. And even though it's a low-revver, the engine is a fairly constant companion.
Keep in mind that if you like to drive with the window down, you’ll have to endure sucking and gurgling noises from the snorkel too, which can be a little disconcerting until you get used to it.
At lower speeds, fat-walled tyres and more ground clearance than could ever be needed for an urban environment (officially 251mm according to Toyota) see the Rugged X make short work of speed bumps, pockmarked roads, and steep driveways.
Being primarily conceived for carrying and towing, the leaf spring rear end is prone to buck and skip slightly if you try to get the power down over uneven ground, and there’s plenty of fidget in the ride until you load some weight into the tray.
Up front, Toyota fits uprated springs to help deal with the weight of the steel bumper, maintaining ride height. Steering is nicely over-assisted, making the HiLux easy to handle in close quarters.
Essentially, all this makes the HiLux Rugged X a tradie's best friend and capable of crossing muddy worksites with the work crew on board.
Unfortunately, some of the tough additions pull back on urban practicality a little, namely the steel bumper that doesn’t feature front park sensors and creates a bit of a guessing game when trying to pull in and out of tight parking spaces.
There is at least a reversing camera that helps compensate for the low rearward visibility, but other safety spec’ falls short of family car expectations.
You do get seven airbags, ABS brakes, and stability control with trailer-sway assist, but miss out on high-tech aids like autonomous braking, forward collision alert or lane departure warning.
Toyota’s after-sales care also splits the pack – the warranty is what’s now considered at the low end, with a three-year/100,000km term and service intervals are a short six months or 10,000km apart, however service costs are capped at $240 per service for the first six visits as part of the Toyota Service Advantage capped-price program.
Ultimately, the HiLux Rugged X carries its split personality well. Although it may not match premium SUVs for interior comfort and convenience, the interior is a nice place to be. Certainly roomy enough to put into family rotation.
On the outside, though, the leather-and-climate-control fanciness gives way to a mostly practical suite of equipment with everything from underbody protection, recovery points, rock rails, and a steel front bar in place to offer a more robust suit of armour for Australia’s more wild areas.
Do your old mates at CarAdvice a favour, though. If you think the Rugged X is for you, don’t leave the poor thing chained up in town. Get out there and see Australia. Fantastic off-road ability and a reputation for toughness make this a perfect vehicle to expand your horizons in.