What is it?
It’s a Hilux. It’s a ute and it is the biggest selling car in Australia.
Toyota sold almost 48,000 of the vehicles here in 2019, although that figure is down almost 20 per cent on the preceding year — for 4×2 and 4×4 models combined.
So what’s the big attraction. Why is everybody so keen to own and drive what is essentially a small truck, with all the sacrifices that a truck entails?
What’s it cost?
Hilux comes in many shapes and forms, with some 34 models in total.
You get the choice of tub or tray, petrol or diesel, manual or auto, 4×2 or 4×4 transmission — priced from just $21,865 before onroads.
That’s for the 2.7-litre, petrol-powered Workmate single cab-chassis, with no rear seat.
There’s also nothing on the back to put stuff in, so you’ll need to factor in the cost of a tray — either factory or aftermarket.
We were going to describe Workmate as a tradie special, but in reality most tradies seem to drive top of the line 4×4 dual cab utes these days — just like our test vehicle the SR5.
Once king of the Hilux lineup, even the SR5 has been eclipsed with the recent addition of the Rugged, Rugged X and Rogue special editions.
Five-seat SR5 4×2 high rider is priced from $50,740 while the 4×4 model commands a $4500 premium at $55,240 plus onroads.
Metallic paint adds $550 to the price.
Your money buys you premium cloth trim and single zone climate air conditioning, with rear air vents for back seat passengers, and a cooled console box.
Top-of-the-line SR5 has digital audio, satellite navigation, active cruise control, full colour 4.2 inch multi-information display, keyless smart entry and start, automatic air conditioning, chrome door handles, premium steering wheel and shift knob, an alarm, auto-levelling LED headlamps, and silver interior highlights.
Hilux scores five stars for safety, with a reverse camera, front, side and curtain airbags plus a driver knee airbag as standard, along with Autonomous emergency braking (City, Interurban with pedestrian and daylight cyclist detection) as well as lane keep assist (LKA) with lane departure warning (LDW) and an advanced speed assistance system (SAS).
AEB provides forward collision warning and provides protection between 10 and 180km/h, but the side airbags don’t provide any protection for rear seat passengers.
Blind spot alert is not part of the safety package.
A tow bar is fitted, but it is not supplied with a tongue or tow ball nor a wiring harness.
What’s it go like?
The cabin is a much ritzier place to park your behind these days, with a steering wheel that is both height and reach adjustable, and comfortable car-like seats — power operated in the case of the driver’s seat.
Grab handles are thoughtfully provided to help you get up and into the cabin, with height adjustable seats belts to keep you there.
The flash looking dash is dominated by a large 7.0 inch tablet-style touchscreen, with digital radio and satellite navigation in this model — plus six-speaker audio.
Road sign assist recognises speed signs and displays the current speed limit in the instrument panel, changing to red when you exceed the limit.
The satnav warns of speed cameras, although you need to drill several levels down through the menu system to activate this feature.
The 2.8-litre turbo diesel in this model delivers 130kW of power at 3400rpm and a healthy 450Nm of torque at 1600-2400rpm.
Compared to its predecessor, the turbocharger is 30 per cent smaller with 50 per cent faster response, and the engine is able to deliver 80 per cent of maximum torque from just 1200rpm.
The engine is paired with a 6-speed auto, that permits the driver to change gears manually with the transmission lever — but misses out on steering wheel-mounted change paddles.
It also has Power and Eco drive modes.
The transmission incorporates artificial intelligence and other measures to boost economy and performance.
In sequential or manual shift mode, it even blips the throttle on down changes just like a sports car.
But here’s the rub — a sports car it ain’t.
The centre of gravity is high and the ride is overly firm and jiggly on anything but the smoothest roads.
The turbo diesel, while generally smooth and responsive — can be quite loud under load.
And we caught the transmission napping on more than one occasion, with a slight delay before it hooked up.
With a stiffer chassis and revised suspension, the dynamics are much improved, but don’t expect it to respond to the wheel or accelerator like a car.
And let’s not forget the brakes — like most utes the brakes are discs front and old-style drums for the rear.
These shortcomings become all too obvious when it comes to body roll, sudden change of direction, or if you’re carry too much speed into corners.
You can see examples of this every day on the roads, as ute drivers wander in lanes, fight for control during sudden lane changes, or struggle to rein in their steeds when they run wide in corners.
Sitting behind the wheel on the freeway, however, with the music playing and the engine ticking over at barely more than 1000 revs — it’s easy to forget these things.
With double wishbones at front and traditional leaf springs under the back, the locally developed suspension package is now standard for “tough” regions including Australia, South America, South Africa, the Middle East and Russia.
The leaf springs are 100mm longer and mounted 500mm wider for added comfort while the attachment point of the rear suspension to the frame has been moved 100mm forward and 25mm lower.
Rounding off the package are 18 inch alloys with 265/60 series rubber.
In terms of off-road capability, rear-wheel articulation has been increased by up to 20 per cent, with the addition of a rear diff lock on 4×4 SR and SR5.
Approach and departure angles have been improved while ground clearance is 279mm on 4×4 extra and double cabs.
Locally developed underbody protection is 40 per cent thicker and 30 per cent larger to provide three times greater resistance to deformation.
It makes Hilux more than competent off road, able to tackle some serious fire trails, with decent ground clearance and high and low range four-wheel drive — engaged via a rotary style knob that is located in the lower part of the centre console.
Hill descent control takes care of the brakes, letting you get on with the job of steering over difficult terrain, while a rear diff lock transfers torque between the rear wheels when one side loses traction.
SR5 has a 925kg load capacity and can tow a 3200kg load.
Tub measures 1569mm in length, 1645mm wide and 481mm deep, with a loading height of 861mm.
With an 80-litre fuel tank, fuel consumption is rated at 8.4L/100km.
We were getting 10.0L on the knocker after close to 500km, which is not that impressive considering Toyota’s claims it has been improved.
What we like?
- Toyota name
- Generally smooth engine
- Off road ability
- Rear air outlets
What we don’t like?
- No tonneau cover
- Doesn’t come with a tray liner
- Single zone climate air conditioning
- Limited rear legroom
- Jiggly ride quality
- No blind spot alert
The bottom line?
Personally, I find driving a ute becomes a little tiring after a while.
Despite improvements to trim and equipment levels, a utility remains essentially a commercial vehicle — designed for for work, not play.
Swapping from a ute to a proper passenger car, or even one of the more refined SUVs, is like coming home and sinking into your favourite lounge chair after a long day.
But if you must have a ute, the Hilux is one of the better options.
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Toyota Hilux SR5 4x4 Double Cab, priced from $55,240
- Looks - 7.5/107.5/10
- Performance - 7.5/107.5/10
- Safety - 7/107/10
- Thirst - 7/107/10
- Practicality - 7/107/10
- Comfort - 7/107/10
- Tech - 7/107/10
- Value - 7.5/107.5/10