The Toyota HiLux is Australia's top-selling new vehicle, which is pretty remarkable. This ubiquitous ute is as solid as ever, and might actually be at its all-round best in SR guise as tested here.
Peerless reputation and resale values, creature-of-habit customers, and Toyota's vast dealer network across our red country all play their role in making this the reality. What Ford's F-Series is to North America, the HiLux is to us.
We really need no other reason to keep writing up reviews on them. But it's worth noting that Toyota recently furnished its most important model with a buffer new grille design and a much-publicised DPF burn-off switch.
While the most popular HiLux is the SR5 4x4 dual cab, we're looking at the variant that sits one rung lower on the table: the SR. It wears an RRP of $48,640 before on-road costs, but is often on sale for $45,990 drive-away, and as such lines up rather well against the Ranger XL.
Looks tough, right? The new nose that premiered on the Rugged, Rugged X and Rogue models translates well, giving the ’Lux a slightly more American feel, like its Ford enemy.
While the SR5 is aimed at weekend warriors and tradies using their tax leverage, the SR is more a conventional workhorse for private buyers. The HiLux WorkMate? Leave that to big fleets and mining contractors, since unlike the SR/SR5 it gets a 2.4-litre diesel instead of the 2.8 used here.
Features the SR lacks compared to said SR5 include: 'premium' steering wheel and gear shifter wrapping, plush carpeted floors, digital climate control, rear vents, plus keyless entry and start. On the outside it lacks the SR5's LED headlights and DRLs, chrome door handles, and standard tow bar/ball. None of these features strike me as essential.
You still get niceties including side steps, fabric seats, an air-conditioned cooler box, chunky manual A/C controls, four electric windows, cruise control, steering wheel buttons, auto on/off headlights, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth/USB, reversing camera, six airbags and a locking rear diff.
The tester Toyota gave us was tarted up with a $2000 options package that pairs those six-spoke alloy wheels, in place of the standard mine-spec black steel units, and satellite-navigation. It's probably worth shelling out.
The HiLux's cabin has a no-nonsense vibe that's quite appealing. Unlike many utes you have telescopic adjustment on the steering column, there's plenty of storage (two gloveboxes, a decent console, an open bin on the transmission tunnel, two-litre bottle door pockets and a tray under the fascia, ahead of the two big cupholders), and it's all built with typical Toyota attention to detail.
Not everyone loves the tacked-on tablet screen, though, and Toyota Link is no match for Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring like you get in a Ranger (albeit XLT) or Triton. We'd also like to see a digital speedo, especially in Victoria where going 4km/h over the limit gets you a near-$200 fine and costs one demerit point.
The back seats have a decent amount of space for two adults with someone smaller between them (more than a Navara, less than a Colorado), and unlike the Volkswagen Amarok you have rear-side airbag protection. You also get sturdy grab handles on the B-pillar.
But there are no rear air vents at this spec level, and notice those fixed overhead grab handles that are too easy to smack your forehead on under braking. They need to be hinged. Like many other utes, those back seat-bases flip up to create a big covered storage area, with clever little storage bins nested in the floor, one of which houses the jack.
Powering the HiLux SR is the familiar 1GD-FTV 2.8-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine, which retains its middling outputs by class standards: 130kW of power at 3400rpm and 450Nm between 1600 and 2400rpm.
By comparison, the Ranger's 3.2-litre five-cylinder makes 147kW/470Nm, the Triton's 2.4 makes 133kW/430Nm, the D-Max's 3.0 makes 130kW/430Nm, the Colorado's 2.8 comes with 147kW/500Nm, and the new sub-$50K Amarok Core V6 makes 165kW/550Nm.
It's matched to a six-speed automatic here, with a manual override mode optimistically called Sport. If you like shifting your own gears, the six-speed manual necessitates an engine downgrade to 420Nm.
We'd advise pushing the button next to the gear shifter called Pwr (power) Mode, which sharpens up the throttle response and gives you notably improved driving characteristics off the line.
In most situations the engine is fine, though never as punchy as the (agrarian) Colorado or Amarok core. The maximum towing capacity is 3200kg compared to 3.5t for most rivals, but we don't advise anyone tow more than 3t in any of these utes, at least not on a regular basis. There's a trailer-sway control system built into the stability-control module.
Claimed combined-cycle fuel economy is 8.4L/100km, though we hovered in the mid nines. It's also worth noting that Toyota was forced to add a burn-off switch for the diesel particulate filter, because a number of people weren't getting the engine up to sufficient temperature to dispose of what the DPF was capturing. Read more about that particular saga here.
Dynamically, Toyota has stuck with hydraulically assisted steering instead of moving to an electrically assisted steering rack like a Ranger, but it's still relatively light and easy to manoeuvre around town. This was an area that Nissan had to revise as part of the Navara Series 3 updates, so it can go wrong.
The ride quality is very firm and 'jiggly' at low speeds when the tray is empty, with the leaf-sprung rear skipping around notably more than some rivals. Once you've got a few hundred kilos aboard, though, the HiLux settles down, with the dampers not allowing those leaves to store as much energy to rebound following the bump. It's a ute that improves when it's being worked.
I loaded up 800kg worth of water tanks that, alongside myself, put the car about bang-on its 3000kg GVM (it's got a 2045kg kerb weight). Impressively, the body stayed commendably level, with very little dipping at the rear corresponding with better tyre contact up front, and superior steering and braking performance.
If you regularly haul big loads, the HiLux handles better than most. Be sure to get a plastic tub-liner, though.
I also recall connecting a 2500kg boat to the HiLux on a previous comparison test to see how well it would cope with a weight that is slightly heavier than the car itself, and traversing a number of steep country hills that demanded a lot from the engine.
The drivetrain is no powerhouse, but thankfully the ’box 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 the HiLux 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.
With class-topping ground clearance and respectable departure/approach/break-over angles and a 700mm wading depth sans snorkel, the HiLux is right up there off the beaten path as well. It doesn't have a road-oriented AWD mode like a Triton, instead rocking a part-time 4x4 system with high- and low-ranges, while unlike the D-Max/Colorado it gets a rear locking diff in 4L.
The standard traction-control system does an excellent job of managing torque distribution in the four-wheel-drive high-range mode, where 50 per cent of torque is sent to the front and 50 per cent to the rear axle.
The engine's gearing allows you to easily crawl, in tractable fashion, over obstacles. On a side note, the progressive throttle tune also made backing a trailer up a hill a far less touchy exercise than in some other utes I've driven (the D23 Navara for one example).
If you want a ute that's comfortable when lightly laden and the most rapid off the line, the HiLux is not for you. If you want something that gets better carrying a load, and is in the top percentile for off-road driving performance, though, the Toyota really does live up to its reputation.
One area where the HiLux range fails is in the realm of active safety tech, though it has the crucial-for-fleets five-star ANCAP rating. Low-grade Tritons, and the humble SsangYong Musso, get tech such as autonomous emergency braking and lane-departure warning these days, but the HiLux does not. That's despite having AEB in the UK...
If you want to tart up your HiLux, Toyota has a ton of accessories such as a snorkel, alloy bullbar, hard tonneau cover, roof-racks and even a dash cam.
Thankfully, all Toyotas sold from January 1 this year come with a five-year warranty with no distance cap, in place of the stingy previous three-year term. If you service your car on time, the engine is covered for seven years.
Servicing intervals are a short six months/10,000km, but at least each visit is cheap: each of the first six is capped at $240 a pop, and Toyota's dealer network has the biggest reach of any brand.
All told, the HiLux is not the best ute out there in every area: a Ranger is comfier, a Colorado or Amarok Core V6 more powerful, and a Triton is better value and flush with more tech.
But the Toyota improves the harder you work it, stacks up relatively well value-wise compared to how it used to when Toyota had less competition, and in typical brand fashion just does most things pretty well (and some things brilliantly).
Moreover, at the time of writing this, Toyota was offering the HiLux SR 4x4 dual cab with a free automatic for $45,990 drive-away, $7000 less than the SR5. If you're not buying a ute as a style statement, there are plenty of reasons to buy the version we have here, even if you add the $2000 alloys and sat-nav. It's what I'd do.