Toyota HiLux 2017 workmate (4x4)
Owner Review

2017 Toyota HiLux Workmate (4x4) review

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My Toyota HiLux WorkMate 4x4 dual-cab is best described as unexceptionally capable.

Now, I must qualify this review firstly, I didn't buy this car – it was chosen by the bean counters on price, reputation and perceived reliability. Of the previous fleet vehicles used by the business, the HiLuxes had the least issues, if any, compared to previous Mazdas, Fords and Nissans. I tended to agree, having previously taken a manual 2009 HiLux SR 4x4 to 290,000km with not a single issue. Oh, and the whole FBT-free thing due to it being a utility. It is branded to within an inch of its life, hence no photos, as I'm not sure it would be appreciated in this forum.

I used this HiLux Workmate for work and private use – carting me around during the week, and lugging the wife and two kidlets in car seats around on the weekends. My line of work doesn't require load lugging, but it does require traversing some fairly muddy paddocks in the colder months and generally rough terrain. This was a replacement for a petrol 2WD Workmate HiLux that was atrocious for a 2015 model.

My car was spec'd with an auto and a hard tonneau cover, which is actually pretty neat and is integrated with the remote central locking. It keeps items in the tray dry but is not dust-proof, which still whips up and in past the tailgate.

I have had the vehicle nearly 10 months and put 30,000km on it in that time from new. It is the base model of the 4x4 dual-cab HiLux range and is meant to be a workhorse rather than a blinged-up ute. The interior is spartan but functional with hard-wearing plastics everywhere, rubber floors, USB and audio jack in the centre stack. There is no centre display screen between the clear white dials, unlike the models higher up in the range, which is a disappointment given these will likely be used by those that drive for a living and would appreciate the feature.

What this car also misses out on is the comfier seats on the higher-spec models (Which I think are shared with the Camry). The seats fitted to the Workmate are hard – okay for short stints around town, but on longer drives on rougher roads they can get uncomfortable. Again, it’s a work ute built for a purpose.

The child seats fit in the rear okay – the passenger seat is moved a fair way forward due to the rear-facing seat and my taller workmates can be a bit cramped. The eldest is propped in the middle seat and she gets a great view out the front window. I will commend Toyota for moving the child seat fixing points from under the back seat to a top tether point. The previous model was endlessly frustrating to fit a child seat.

As is the trend now with modern utes, the rear window is tiny, and with the child seats fitted it's impossible to see out of. Thankfully, the HiLux has excellent, large, electrically adjustable wing mirrors along with a great rear-view camera with static guidelines. The camera is a necessity these days, and is mounted centrally on the tailgate with great peripheral vision to help when backing out from a row of SUVs/4WDs.

The multimedia screen is clear and crisp displaying the rear-vision camera. The software is getting a little dated these days and has not been updated from the previous HiLux. The buttons around the screen are all frustratingly capacitive touch type, including the volume controls, and a pet peeve of mine (and everyone else). I don’t understand why car manufacturers persist with this type of volume control. There are basic stereo and phone controls on the steering wheel, however as a big tease the voice-control button only brings up a message that it is not fitted to the vehicle. Thanks for nothing.

There are only speakers mounted in the front doors, and they are okay for a base-model car. The Bluetooth works well, however the clearer audio streaming from the phone was over USB. It connects quickly with little fuss to the phone upon start-up. As a side note, I do wish Toyota would just hurry up and install Apple CarPlay/Android Auto in its new vehicles. If sub-$20K econoboxes can get them, there is no excuse why this $40K-plus ute shouldn’t.

The Workmate is fitted with the 2.4-litre four-cylinder diesel. It is adequate for getting around town with little fuss and will cruise down the freeway fine. It won’t set the world on fire but will keep up with traffic, and as expected is pretty noisy on the move. The engine is mated to a six-speed auto, which is a pretty good ’box, and swiftly changes gears to keep in the torque band. However, I have found it is not as smooth as the old four-speed auto and can slur between gears at lower speeds.

There is an Eco and a Power button next to the transmission, which either dull or sharpen up the throttle response. I’m not sure why you would use Eco, and the Power button is handy for the odd quick getaway or to force the six-speed to hold a gear for longer.

There is a sports/manual mode for those inclined to shift through the gears, but it's not quick or very rewarding, and will always default to fourth gear regardless of the speed when switched to manual. That means if you wanted to lock it in a lower gear to climb up a hill, you first need to shuffle down to third or second after switching to manual. I do find it useful to manually select first and use this to crawl around the previously mentioned paddocks, because if left to itself in Drive, the car will cruise too fast with no throttle input.

The HiLux Workmate has traction control (which can be turned off), stability control (which cannot be turned off), anti-lock brakes, 2WD, high-range and low-range 4WD. Unfortunately, the Workmate misses out on locking differentials, which brings me to a bit of a problem with the 'work' ute of the range.

On-site in previously mentioned muddy paddocks, the overzealous non-switchable stability control combines to fight the driver in muddy tracks. When you would naturally use a little power oversteer and 4WD to pull through a muddy track – where maintaining forward momentum is key to not getting stuck – the stability control clamps down on the brakes in an attempt to straighten the rotating vehicle.

It's life-saving on a slippery road, but frustrating on a muddy track, as the HiLux slows to a crawl and then struggles fighting its own stability control. All while trying anxiously to prevent the HiLux from getting stuck, and hearing the grinding of the stability-controlled brakes clamping on and off.

On the road and away from the site, it is a step ahead of the previous model, however this is a ute made for carrying loads and driving on rough roads. It was never going to glide over bumps like a Range Rover, and I wouldn’t expect it to. For a utilitarian model, it's fine. It’s mostly comfortable on smooth blacktop, which I think can be partially credited to the massive tyres, and it is fairly maneuverable for a two-tonne machine.

Externally, I am a fan of the black rims/unpainted bumper combination. It’s tough, and let's face it, most of these will likely be replaced by if not the first, the second or third owner anyway. The tray is a good size, however the high sides of the tray make it hard to load big items without the tailgate down, but again, taller/bigger is the fashion these days in the ute arms race.

No side steps mounted to this car make getting in a decent leap for my 5ft 11in height, and on uneven ground requires use of the hand grips to get in. If you are thinking of buying one, tick this option box. Speaking of hand grips, they are big, chunky, and you bash your head on them in rough terrain. My taller work colleagues are not fans.

My HiLux has been reliable over the period I have been driving it, and overall I'm happy with the vehicle. It is built to serve a purpose, and it completes that purpose adequately, if not glamorously like its more expensive cousins.

A Note from the Editor: A stock image has been supplied with this review