The origins of Australia’s favourite workhorse date back to 1968 when the original N10 generation Toyota HiLux made its debut in Japan, replacing the Toyopet Light Stout.
Since those early days, the HiLux has gone through eight generations. It’s conquered the world too, sold in 180 countries.
Even those pick-up lovin’ Yanks embraced the HiLux through several generations before Toyota released the US-market Tacoma, spelling the end of the HiLux in the US.
With the new Toyota HiLux about to hit our roads, what better time to look back through the generations that came before.
First Generation 1968-72
The original HiLux made its debut in Japan in March 1968 and was designed and developed by Toyota subsidiary, Hino Motors, at its plant in Hamura in Tokyo.
The original short wheelbase HiLux featured Toyota’s 2R 1.5-litre, inline four-cylinder engine with 57kW. Power was sent to the rear wheels via a four-speed manual transmission and when hooked up on the Tōmei Expressway, Toyota claimed a top speed of 130km/h.
Three people could ride in the single-cab HiLux while payload was rated at 1000kg. The tub measured 1850mm long.
A long wheelbase version followed in 1969 while in 1971, the venerable 2R engine made way for a slightly larger 1.6-litre inline four (12R) with 66kW.
Exports began almost immediately and in a pointer to the future, in 1968 Australia became the first country outside of Japan to receive the HiLux.
Second Generation 1972-78
Hitting Japanese showrooms in May, 1972, the second-gen (N20) HiLux retained the N10’s underpinnings, including the 1.6-litre 12R four-pot. With a revised face, the tubs of both the short wheelbase and long wheelbase models were extended by 10mm and 45mm respectively, although payload remained at 1000kg.
Inside, greater comfort greeted the three occupants while a ‘Highway’ model with its 2.0-litre inline four (code 18R) offered around 78kW for smoother driving on expressways. Additionally, a three-speed automatic was optional alongside the standard four-speed manual.
In the US, a larger and more powerful 2.2-litre inline four (20R) was available as was a more luxurious SR5 trim level. The US also had the option of a five-speed manual transmission. And while the HiLux remained on sale in the US until well into the 1990s, the ‘HiLux’ name was dropped in favour of the unimaginative ‘Toyota Truck’ in 1973.
Third generation 1978-83
Toyota ramped up the HiLux with its third-generation model, which started rolling off the production line in September, 1978. Joining the regular rear-wheel drive models for the first time was a 4WD variant and diesel-powered motivation.
As well as a revised face, the new-gen HiLux scored some massaging under the skin, including a wider front and rear track. The front suspension was uprated too, retaining its double-wishbone layout but dropping coil springs in favour of a torsion bar.
Several variants were available, three short- and four long wheelbase utilising a variety of powertrains form the incumbent 1.6-litre inline four to a beefier 2.4-litre inline four-cylinder (22R) with 72kW. Additionally, a four-cylinder 2.4-litre diesel (L) was offered or the first time, with 53kW and 127Nm. Transmission choices remained at four- or five-speed manual or a three-speed automatic.
Four-wheel drive variants received the beefier suspension set up of the Toyota LandCruiser, with a live front axle and leaf springs.
All Australian-delivered HiLuxes featured the longer body and were powered by either a 1.6-litre petrol (rear-wheel drive) or a 2.0-litre petrol (4WD). They were available as either a ute or cab-chassis body styles.
In Thailand, the third-gen HiLux answered to the name of Toyota HiLux Super Star.
Fourth Generation 1983-88
Making its debut in gen-four HiLux was the extended cabin bodystyle, allowing for an extra 15cm length of storage behind the seats. Inside, Toyota spruced up the cabin, offering even more comfort, while the choice of powertrains expanded dramatically.
Rear-wheel drive and four-wheel drive versions were available with a choice of seven petrol or three diesel engines.
Underneath, the solid front axle of 4WD models was upgraded, now featuring an independent front suspension with torsion bar. Additionally, for the first time, 4WD models were offered with an optional automatic diff disconnect for the front differential.
And, for the first time in its history, the HiLux was available with turbocharging, either a 2.4-litre inline four-cylinder petrol (101kW / 234Nm) or a 2.4-litre turbo-diesel four with 67kW and 188Nm.
And a 3.0-litre V6 petrol made its debut in the range with outputs of 112kW and 244Nm.
Reflecting the beginnings of changing consumer tastes, the HiLux spawned its first ‘lifestyle’ model, the HiLux-based Toyota 4Runner entering the range, including in Australia. In its native Japan, the 4Runner was called the HiLux Surf.
Production of the fourth-gen HiLux wound up in 1988, although remained on the production line at Toyota’s South African plant until 1997, skipping the fifth-generation.
Meanwhile, in Thailand, everybody’s favourite ute was called the Toyota HiLux Hero.
Fifth Generation 1988-97
The HiLux had a growth spurt for its fifth-generation, launched in September 1988. It also underwent further ‘lifestyle’ focused makeovers, with an even more refined cabin.
The regular wheelbase variant (2616mm) was joined in the line-up by an even longer version, measuring in at 3099mm while multiple engine – both petrol and diesel – choices greeted customers.
And, for the first time, Toyota offered the HiLux with four-doors, aka as a dual-cab ute, further emphasising the increasing lifestyle focus of utility vehicles.
Transmission choices remained at four- and five-speed manuals, as well as a four-speed automatic.
The extended cabin of the Xtra Cab variant meant optional rear seats could be fitted for the first time too while the one-piece tub eliminated some of the rust problems found in previous generation’s seamed cargo areas.
Four-wheel drive variants grew wider as well, by 40mm over rear-wheel drive models due to the flared wheel arches of the former.
This was also the last HiLux (‘Toyota Truck’) sold in the United States, replaced in 1995 by the full-size Tacoma.
Volkswagen got in on the HiLux bandwagon, too, signing an agreement with Toyota allowing it to assemble the HiLux at its commercial vehicle plant in Hanover. The one-tonne ute was sold into the German market as the Volkswagen Taro. Production ran from 1988 to 1997, the Taro eventually making way for the first Volkswagen Amarok.
In Thailand, the fifth-gen pick-up bore the name HiLux Mighty-X.
Sixth Generation 1997-2004
Introduced in September, 1997, the new HiLux reflected the increasing desire by customers for a dual-purpose utility – workhorse during the week, family hauler on weekends. Comfort levels inside increased even more, including noise isolation inside the cabin.
Also reflecting customer demand, the number of available petrol engines shrunk to four while diesel powerplant options grew to six, including four turbocharged variants. There was a choice of just two transmissions, five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.
Surprisingly, this was the last generation available in its native Japan and also the last HiLux manufactured in Japan, with Thailand becoming the major export hub for the model, while plants in Colombia and Venezuela built HiLuxes for the lucrative South American market, although interestingly Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, and Peru continued to import Hiluxes from Japan.
In Thailand, the sixth-generation Toyota pick-up went by the alias of HiLux Tiger.
Seventh Generation 2004-15
The Hilux’s global domination continued with the seventh-generation, now sold into over 140 countries. Thailand carried the bulk of that production, although local plants in South America and South Africa continued to serve their regions.
A five-speed automatic was available for the first time, joining the incumbent five-speed manual and four-speed auto.
Both petrol and diesel powertrains remained available, including for the first time, Toyota’s 1GR-FE 4.0-litre V6 in both naturally-aspirated and supercharged form, the latter only available in Australia, powering the sportier TRD HiLux. Power for the supercharged V6 was rated at 225kW, a significant bump over the atmo V6 with its 170kW.
This generation HiLux underwent two facelifts over its model life – in 2008 and again in 2011.
In Thailand, the ‘Tiger’ made way for the HiLux Vigo while a 2012 minor update for the Thai market only, became known as the HiLux Vigo ‘Champ’. Onya, champ!
Eighth Generation 2015-present
The current generation HiLux made its debut in May 2015, and underscoring just how important the Australian market is for Toyota’s frontline utility, the launch took place simultaneously in Bangkok, Thailand and Sydney.
With a facelift that now incorporated Toyota’s ‘Keen Look’ design language, the eighth-gen HiLux was further refined to appeal to the now booming lifestyle ute segment.
With improved ride and comfort levels, as well as cabin refinements, the HiLux could now serve as a family car. Which they have done in droves, the HiLux remaining at the top of the sales charts in Australia.
Safety tech was added to line-up too, the HiLux now boasting autonomous emergency braking as part of its suite of active safety.
The HiLux also made a triumphant return to its native Japan in 2017, available in that market for the first time in 13 years, albeit imported from Thailand.
Despite the HiLux attracting higher Japanese taxes, over 2000 HiLuxes were sold in Japan in the first month.
In Thailand, the HiLux underwent another name change, this time dubbed the Toyota Hilux Revo. In 2017, a special-edition Thai only HiLux – with a black sports bar, 18-inch alloys shod with all-terrain tyres, and a gloss black grille as add-on highlights – earned the badge ‘Revo Rocco’.
- The HiLux name is derived from the words ‘high’ and ‘luxury’
- Toyota HiLux has been sold in 180 countries around the world over its lifetime
- Over 17.7 million of the venerable workhorse had been sold to 2018
- Six different countries manufacture the HiLux. By far the largest is Thailand with production of 310,000 utes annually. The others – in order of output – are Argentina, South Africa, Malaysia, Pakistan and Venezuela
- One of the HiLuxes smallest markets is… Japan, where the utility attracts high road taxes due to its size
- Conversely, the biggest market for HiLux is south-east Asia ahead of South America, the Middle East, Oceania (Australia and New Zealand), and Europe
- The HiLux (and for that matter, Toyota’s LandCruiser) has become ubiquitous in war-time regions, thanks largely for its reputation of reliability. Global terrorism analyst, Andrew Exum, once dubbed the Hilux "the vehicular equivalent of the AK-47”
- Underscoring the above, the 1980s conflict between Libya and Chad is now officially known as the ‘Toyota War’, so called because of the preponderance of HiLuxes (and LandCruisers) used by the armed forces of Chad in the war against the occupying forces of Libya