It’s the rootin’est, tootin’est, off-roadiest ute in the range, and now the 2021 Toyota HiLux Rugged X has been mildly revised to receive the updates that have been delivered across the rest of the HiLux line-up.
But does the range-topping 'Chapel Street Cowboy' bring anything other than a well-ticked accessory catalogue to the otherwise standard and solid HiLux platform?
Let’s pull on a pair of brand-new RM Williams boots to find out!
Priced from $69,990 (before options and on-road costs), the Rugged X sits a hefty $10,070 above the standard SR5 on which it is based.
For that spend you do get a cool-looking truck, with a snorkel and a unique hoopless steel front bumper, which not only houses an LED light bar, and features space for a winch, but improves the X’s corner approach angle by 10 degrees (SR5 39 degrees, Rugged X 49 degrees).
There are snazzy red-painted rated recovery points front and rear, a bash plate, fender flares, a smart tubular black sports bar and rock sliders, new stickers, specific grille and trim elements, and 17-inch wheels with Dunlop Grandtrek All-Terrain tyres.
Given the car’s off-road focus, I would have thought wider or more aggressive tyres would have been a nice touch, but it perhaps speaks to the dress-up nature of the Rugged X, more than its outright function.
A tow hitch and wiring harness are standard, too, as is a full-size 17-inch Grandtrek spare.
|2021 Toyota HiLux Rugged X 4x4|
|Engine configuration||2.8-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder|
|Power||150kW @ 3400rpm|
|Torque||500Nm @ 1600–2600rpm|
|Drive type||Part-time four-wheel drive with low-range|
|Fuel claim, combined||8.4L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||8.7L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating (year tested)||Five stars (2019)|
|Warranty (years / km)||5 years / unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Volkswagen Amarok V6, Nissan Navara Warrior, Ford Ranger Wildtrak|
|Options as tested||$600 (paint)|
For the 2021 year, the Rugged X scores a choice of new colours (for nine in total) including our very flashy pearlescent Oxide Bronze, which we’ll simply refer to as Autosalon Camouflage.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I like the look of the Rugged X, stickers, paint and all. It’s perhaps a bit more ‘fun’ than a standard ute, although more of a hobby-farm off-roader than a hard-working desert basher.
Otherwise, being based on the SR5, the Rugged X comes will a full-house equipment list including leather-accented heated seats, with the driver’s featuring eight-way electric adjustment, a nine-speaker JBL sound system, and a host of driver-assistance systems including adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assistance.
The cabin exhibits typically well-built Toyota functionality, with handy pull-out cupholders and twin gloveboxes for added convenience. The 4.2-inch LCD display between the analogue instruments offers a digital speedometer, as well as a handy wheel-angle display for off-road guidance.
Rear passengers receive a central armrest with cupholders, as well as air vents and the typical Toyota bag hooks.
The MY21 updates include an 8.0-inch touchscreen LCD display in the centre of the dash, which now offers native support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as an improved resolution on the screen.
Worth noting that there is only one USB port in the dash, though, which for 2021 feels a bit light on.
Device projection is a welcome addition, as the Toyota system is still cumbersome to use in places. That said, once you’ve found your radio station or paired your phone, it is very reliable and phone conversations are clear – a case of set-and-forget if ever there were one!
But you aren’t buying a HiLux, especially this one, for the radio. I would argue that the HiLux is most at home off-road, and the new Rugged X is no exception.
Low-range gearing, a rear differential lock and a downhill assist function are standard, and through some basic rutted climbing trails, the car barely needs any of this as it is a fundamentally excellent off-roader right out of the box.
The All-Terrain tyres help, but you can simply sum up the HiLux’s trail performance in one word. Effortless.
Whether climbing, crawling or descending, the way the Toyota manages its drive and articulation without breaking a sweat is hugely impressive. It’s an easy car to drive in any situation, and on any surface, which is certainly important to buyers who like to adventure well outside of metropolitan areas.
The revised engine helps things, too. The improvements to the 2.8-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine are even more welcome than the updated infotainment, with the revised 150kW/500Nm output doing a good job to lift the driving profile of the Toyota.
The Rugged X is now available exclusively with a six-speed automatic transmission, with Power and Economy drive-mode options.
|2021 Toyota HiLux Rugged X 4x4|
|Tub dimensions (L/W/H)||1555mm x 1575mm x 480mm – 1109mm between arches|
|Wheels/tyres||17-inch – 265/65R17 Dunlop A/T|
It feels fresher off the mark, with peak torque available between 1600 and 2800rpm, and generally more responsive in all environments. Power delivery, peaking at 3400rpm, is smoother, and there’s a notable difference in performance at highway overtaking speeds.
Further, we saw a combined fuel consumption of 8.7L/100km on our test (against the 8.4L/100km claim), which is a five per cent improvement on our most recent test of the previous-generation car (9.2L/100km).
You still need six-month service intervals, which seem reasonable at $250 a visit for the first three years, but then rise sharply up to the five-year mark (year one: $500, year two: $500, year three: $500, year four: $1082.94, year five: $956.06).
The adjustments to the suspension tune have also made a decent difference to the car’s ride comfort, especially when touring. Around town, there are still the usual jitters felt in an unladen ute, but in general the car’s behaviour is much more comfortable and settled.
Running along gravel roads has always been a strength of the HiLux, and the Rugged X continues to eat up mile after mile with ease.
On the open road, too, the Rugged X feels really well sorted as a tourer. The adaptive cruise control and speed sign recognition systems work well together, allowing you to quickly match speeds both in and out of slower areas. It’s intuitive to use at speed, and it quickly becomes second nature to adjust the stalk without looking at it.
Another system that begins to make more sense over time is the yaw-control lane-keep assistant and the shortcut on/off button on the wheel.
Normally, it makes sense to leave the lane-keep assistant on, but on winding country roads, where you occasionally need to move across the broken centre line to avoid potholes, pass cyclists or simply to smoothly connect curves, the lane-keep function just isn’t practical.
Toyota’s system brakes the wheels on the opposite side of the car it needs to correct to bring it back into the lane, which is great on the freeway, but can be disconcerting on a country road when you are intentionally moving across the line.
Conveniently, the system can be activated and deactivated by a button on the steering wheel, meaning you can quickly toggle the function as required. It is again a very intuitive system to use, especially when many other functions like this are buried deep on touchscreen menus.
|2021 Toyota HiLux Rugged X 4x4|
|Colour||Oxide Bronze Mica|
|Options as tested||$600|
|ANCAP safety rating||5-star|
|Warranty||5 years / unlimited km|
So, yes, the Rugged X is a very capable and well-equipped package, but here is the kicker…
For that extra 10-grand over an SR5, you are getting some nice accessories, but in terms of the Rugged X being a truly more rugged off-road performer, there’s no real difference. Stickers and bright-red recovery points look cool, but they don’t change the car’s core characteristics.
Unlike the Ford Ranger Raptor, the hardware in this HiLux, from the gearbox to the transfer case to the suspension to the electronic and mechanical assistance systems, is essentially identical to every other model in the range.
In all reality, if you are buying the Rugged X because you want to travel further off the beaten track, you’re probably better off putting some better tyres on a regular HiLux and spending the change on suspension or other components that make a measurable difference.
Sure, the snorkel helps in dusty conditions and with water crossings, but we still wouldn’t suggest pushing a stock Rugged X through anything deeper than the standard HiLux wading depth of 700mm, so just enjoy the induction noises instead.
What you do get, though, is a smart-looking, well-featured and well-built truck. The work done across the board on the 2021 Toyota HiLux Rugged X has universally made a good car better.
It looks cool, it drives well, and it is tremendously capable off-road… It's just not particularly more capable than any other HiLux, and as such doesn’t justify such a big price premium as a better off-roader, just as a better-dressed one.
So perhaps before you pull up at the Botanical Hotel for lunch, scuff the HiLux and those box-fresh RM boots with a fresh coating of dust – so at least it looks like you walk the walk, as well as your car talks the talk.