Do me a favour and read the next couple of paragraphs in your best David Attenborough voice. It will add context, trust me.
As we have watched the gradual progression of the working utility vehicle, from a hard-edged and simple tool of trade to an almost luxurious item of leisure, the strongest journey has been that of the styleside, or regular tub-body ute.
This has left the more traditional cab-chassis pickup on the outer, still obviously retaining its working skill set, but leaving it largely outside the migration toward a high-specification leisure vehicle, with a customisable load area.
The 2021 Toyota HiLux SR5 Cab Chassis is, therefore, in a class of two, with only the Ford Ranger XLT giving it a challenge in the up-spec trayback stakes.
I assume you’ve dropped your BBC voice now, but hope you also find it curious that none of the other big players (Isuzu, Nissan, Mazda, Mitsubishi) offers a cab-chassis beyond a basic spec, as the HiLux shows it can be done, albeit in this case with a few little issues.
Priced from $58,420 before options and on-road costs ($1500 less than an equivalent double-cab SR5 styleside), the cab-chassis is available exclusively with four doors, a six-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive.
|2021 Toyota HiLux SR5 Cab Chassis|
|Engine configuration||2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel|
|Power||150kW @ 3400rpm|
|Torque||500Nm @ 1600–2800rpm|
|Drive type||Part-time four-wheel drive with low-range (and rear differential lock)|
|Power to weight ratio||73kW/t|
|Fuel claim (combined)||7.9L/100km|
|Fuel use (combined)||10.0L/100km|
|Main competitors||Ford Ranger XLT Cab Chassis | Second-hand 70-Series|
From the tip of the bonnet to the back of the cab itself, there are no major differences between this and a tub-body SR5.
Stylish 18-inch alloy wheels (with a full-size spare) and a big chrome grille surround are standard, as are chrome-clad power (heated) wing mirrors and LED head-, running- and fog-lamps. Strangely, though, the front parking sensors that are normally included on an SR5 have been deleted from the cab-chassis.
Inside the cabin, features include keyless entry and start, climate-control air-conditioning, an 8.0-inch touchscreen media system with integrated satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio and support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The system is still not a standout in usability, especially if you want to browse and store any of the myriad digital radio stations. But once your phone is connected via Bluetooth or with smartphone projection, things work well enough.
It’s quick to load up Apple CarPlay and the telephony quality is always good, which to be honest is really all you can ask for.
You can spruce things up with a $2500 premium interior package that adds partial leather seats (which are heated in the front), height and lumbar adjustment for the passenger and electric adjustment for the driver.
Our Eclipse Black test car ($675 option, one of six choices) does without this, but the premium fabric seats are comfortable and supportive enough.
There is a handy 220-volt ‘mains style’ outlet in the centre console cubby and a pair of 12-volt plugs on the lower dashboard, but only one USB port, which is a bit of an oversight in this day and age.
The steering wheel adjusts for height and reach, which enables you to get in to a good and comfortable driving position, and there's plenty of handy storage where you need it, including pull-out cupholders in front of the dash vents, and a secondary glovebox with piped 'chilled' air.
Rear passenger room is fine, but not a standout, although there is a central armrest with cupholders, air vents, and coat hooks for a bit of extra convenience. You sit up with a reasonably straight back in a HiLux, and provided you can spread out a bit (riding a maximum of four up) it’s not too bad on a longer run.
|2021 Toyota HiLux SR5 Cab Chassis|
|Length||5475mm (with Toyota genuine tray)|
|Height||1935mm (with Toyota genuine tray)|
|Weight (kerb)||2205kg (with Toyota genuine steel tray)|
|Tray||1842mm wide x 1800mm long|
But all this is standard fare for the venerable Toyota. It’s not the last word in modern style, but everything is laid out in a clean and ergonomic way, and the materials and build quality are there to last.
So, on to the main reason we’re here. The tray.
Your $58K entry price doesn’t include one of four ‘off the shelf’ tray options from Toyota. There is a choice of steel or aluminium, with or without a 1500mm trundle drawer. You can paint it to match the cab for a bit extra too.
Alternatively, you can venture to the aftermarket and fit up a purpose-built full or half canopy, under-tray storage or even top-mount rigging for a boat or other equipment to perfectly customise your work or lifestyle machine.
Our car has the Toyota genuine steel unit without the drawer (RRP $3804.50), which weighs about 260kg or literally double that of an alloy tray. This makes it about 150kg heavier than a styleside SR5 (2055kg with the tub-body against the ‘naked’ cab-chassis at 1945kg and the 260kg tray).
|2021 Toyota HiLux SR5 Cab Chassis|
|Colour||Eclipse Black Mica|
|Options as tested||$675 (paint)|
|ANCAP safety rating||5-star (2019) ANCAP|
It’s worth noting that the ladder rests on the top of the window protector extend significantly higher (about 120mm) than the roof of the cab, and push the HiLux’s overall height past the factory 1815mm to around 1935mm.
It might not seem much, but it was enough to prevent me from entering a couple of carparks, including the one at the office.
The tray extends longer than a regular double-cab with a tub, too, reaching a good 125mm more overall. Again, not a huge deal, but when you consider this changes the amount of Toyota that pivots from the rear wheels when turning, from 1245mm to 1370mm, it makes those sharp tray ends hungry for bins, poles or even other cars when trying to reverse park in suburbia.
An activity that is made all the more tricky by not having a standard-fit rear-view camera.
Oh, you can add one, and sensors too, for extra dollars. And frankly, that’s pretty poor form.
I understand that by nature, a cab-chassis ute is designed to have the flexibility for mounting anything behind the cab and that this may or may not include a camera or other hardware, but surely the dealer-fit Toyota options should come with the vision at least.
The media screen can support it, and with the added risk of the longer and more view-obstructing tray, you’d think they’d just throw it in for pure safety’s sake.
Toyota didn’t, though, so kerb-side rubbish bins look out!
There’s plenty of other safety and assistance tech on board, though, with the Toyota Safety Sense suite including lane-departure warning, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, road sign detection and adaptive cruise control.
This, along with the refinements made to the 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel, makes the SR5 a very capable tourer on any surface.
As noted in previous reviews, the tweaked output of 150kW and 500Nm (up from 130kW and 470Nm) gives the HiLux a more refined nature, with smoother power delivery across the rev range. Peak torque is available in a wholly usable range between 1600 and 2600rpm, which gives the car just that little bit more response when you need it.
You can engage the ‘Power’ mode to further sweeten throttle response, but for running around town and when highway cruising, you don’t need it.
Toyota notes a slightly degraded combined cycle fuel economy figure for the CC, at 8.0L/100km against 7.9L/100km for a styleside double-cab auto, but our on-test figure of 10.0L/100km feels much more realistic for a largely urban-centric loop.
During our time with the HiLux, we ran about with either nothing or about 150kg worth load in the tray, and the difference is remarkable.
When empty, the rear of the ute typically jostles about with a mind of its own and feels largely at odds with the well-tuned compression and rebound nature of the front suspension.
However, the longitudinal floating sensation, where the car seems to oscillate back and forth over bumps and corrugations in the road, is all but removed with even a slight ballast to settle the rear suspension.
This is good news for cab-chassis buyers, too, as simply choosing this over a ute with a regular tub suggests you intend to carry or rig up for a specific load, and just having that mass over the rear axle makes this a better behaved vehicle from the outset.
Total mass (3085kg GVM and 5850kg GCM) is no different to any other double-cab HiLux, but with either a Toyota genuine tray or a custom unit from the likes of Norweld, the cab-chassis just offers a little bit more flexibility to make the HiLux a more complete rig, rather than a jack-of-all-trades multi-tool.
Owning one is pure HiLux too with, good or bad, six-month (10,000km) service intervals coming in at $1500 for three years ($250 a pop), and $3562.08 (considerably more expensive from the fourth year) for five.
And so here is why it doesn’t make sense that the high-end cab-chassis is such a rare bird, in a market that is clearly obsessed with utes.
Pairing all the comfort and technology from the crowd-favourite SR5 (bar the strange exclusion of parking sensors and camera), and allowing buyers to define what works best for them up the back, makes plenty of sense for an aftermarket-hungry audience.
The only drawback is the cost. You pay for the ute, then the tray, then the options and accessories... You can see why it makes the $1500 choice of a tub a much more wallet-friendly one.
But assuming you're aware of that, it allows the 2021 Toyota HiLux SR5 Cab Chassis to float to the top of a remarkably empty pool, leaving only the age-old Ford-v-Toyota battle to be fought by those looking for a well-equipped double-cab-chassis from the dealer.
As here, if you know exactly what you want, you get nearly all the benefits without any of the compromises. And isn't that what being the buyer is all about?