Pick up the pace

Aus­tralian test­ing primes Toy­ota Hi Lux to take on the world

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING EDITOR

SO­LAR eclipses come around more of­ten than an all-new Toy­ota HiLux. So when the first fresh-from-the-ground-up model in 10 years ar­rives, it’s big news.

The HiLux has been Aus­tralia’s favourite work­horse for more than three decades and is now a reg­u­lar Top Three fin­isher in out­right sales.

For the past seven years, it has been the best­seller bar none in Queens­land and Western Aus­tralia — and for 14 years in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory.

That’s why Aus­tralia was the metaphor­i­cal driv­ing force of the new model. For the first time ever, the HiLux was de­vel­oped by lo­cals for lo­cals.

Toy­ota has more than 150 engi­neers in Aus­tralia — the same num­ber as Holden — de­vel­op­ing fu­ture mod­els.

“There are now two HiLuxes for planet Earth, one for rugged mar­kets like Aus­tralia and another for the rest of the world,” says Toy­ota Aus­tralia head of de­vel­op­ment Max Gil­lard. “At Toy­ota we say if it can sur­vive in Aus­tralia it can sur­vive any­where.”

The new HiLux was bashed and belted over 650,000 bru­tal

kilo­me­tres across Aus­tralia over the past four years. That’s more test­ing than the latest Com­modore had.

“Aus­tralia has the tough­est reg­u­la­tions and the harsh­est con­di­tions, so if we get the HiLux right here it will meet cus­tomer needs ev­ery­where else,” says Gil­lard.

But be­fore the new HiLux got to this point, it had a tougher jour­ney. In 2011, Toy­ota se­cretly tore up its plans and started again on the new HiLux just six months into de­vel­op­ment — the VW Amarok and Ford Ranger had re­set the ute bench­mark for car-like driv­ing.

Toy­ota CEO Akio Toy­oda, a de­scen­dant of the found­ing fam­ily, then made a bold but wise de­ci­sion. He ap­pointed Hiroki Naka­jima as the chief engi­neer for the eighth­gen­er­a­tion HiLux.

Naka­jima’s pre­vi­ous as­sign­ment? The Toy­ota IQ, a Smart car ri­val in Europe and Ja­pan — one of the world’s small­est ve­hi­cles, it even­tu­ally car­ried an As­ton Martin badge. “No one was more sur­prised than me when I was ap­pointed to the role of chief engi­neer for this ve­hi­cle,” he says. “It’s quite a leap from a car like IQ.”

Naka­jima did not ac­cept the rea­sons given as to why the HiLux couldn’t drive as well as its newer ute peers. He soon re­alised his ex­pe­ri­ence with pas­sen­ger cars would be im­por­tant.

“Af­ter years of en­joy­ing pas­sen­ger cars, a com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle seemed rather noisy and un­com­fort­able by com­par­i­son. I knew this had to change.”

He per­suaded Toy­oda to de­velop a new HiLux from the ground up, rather than fit a new body on a de­riv­a­tive of ex­ist­ing un­der­pin­nings (which Nissan and Mit­subishi had done with their most re­cent utes).

In the end, the “Toy­ota” sticker on the tailgate is the only item car­ried over from the old model.

The tough-as-guts, hairychested ute for blokes has gone to fin­ish­ing school. It now comes with such lux­u­ries as a tablet-style touch­screen in the dash, airconditioning, power win­dows and mir­rors, cruise con­trol and a class-lead­ing seven airbags in all mod­els. There’s even a cool box in the dash that keeps drinks chilled by us­ing duct­ing from the air­con.

HiLux vari­ants with four doors have 12 cup hold­ers — but only five seats.

All but the most ba­sic ver­sions have a rear-view cam­era as stan­dard, while the flag­ship comes with an alarm in a bid to get the HiLux off Aus­tralia’s most wanted list among car thieves.

The new HiLux hasn’t lost all

its macho touches: Toy­ota boasts there is still no van­ity mir­ror for the driver.

Toy­ota says in ad­di­tion to the mod-cons, it has also greatly im­proved rugged­ness and ca­pa­bil­ity.

Diesel 2.8 4WD man­ual mod­els now tow 3500kg (auto ver­sions are lim­ited to 3200kg), well up on the pre­vi­ous HiLux’s ca­pac­ity of 2500kg.

The HiLux can clam­ber over steeper ter­rain thanks to the all­new chas­sis and sus­pen­sion. There is more un­der­body pro­tec­tion to pre­vent dam­age off-road and thicker steel in the ute tray can han­dle more pun­ish­ment.

You’ll pay for the stronger chas­sis and ex­tra equip­ment. The base model has risen from $18,990 to $20,990, while the flag­ship four-door HiLux SR5 (which ac­counts for most sales) has risen by $2250 to $53,990 plus on-road costs.

ON THE ROAD

Let’s cut to the chase: the HiLux is demon­stra­bly bet­ter in ev­ery re­gard than the pre­de­ces­sor, which can’t be said for some other re­cent ute ar­rivals. Is it bet­ter than the up­dated Ford Ranger? We’ll do a back-to­back test in a few weeks.

There are 31 vari­ants. We fo­cused on the SR5, which serves more as a dual pur­pose ve­hi­cle.

The new HiLux feels much more planted on the road and is no longer up­set by mid-cor­ner bumps. The steer­ing is well weighted and the larger brakes feel sharp and re­spon­sive.

The 2.8-litre turbo diesel doesn’t have quite the grunt of the Ford Ranger’s 3.2-litre five­cylin­der but it’s a rel­a­tively quiet and smooth op­er­a­tor. (The 2.4 turbo diesel in lower grade mod­els is nois­ier, in part due to less sound in­su­la­tion be­hind the dash­board).

Work­ing smoothly and in­tel­li­gently, the six-speed auto avoids the in­de­ci­sion that oth­ers with so many ra­tios can ex­hibit. The six-speed man­ual has a long shift throw but is light and pre­cise.

The HiLux’s big­gest rev­e­la­tion is the cabin, which re­ally lifts the bar for the en­tire ute class. More than just look­ing at­trac­tive, the in­te­rior is highly func­tional with am­ple stor­age in the doors, con­sole and glove­box (the hid­den cup hold­ers near the air vents re­main, with a new de­sign).

First im­pres­sions are good over­all. We look for­ward to get­ting reac­quainted with the HiLux and its ri­vals on more fa­mil­iar roads.

VER­DICT

This is the HiLux Toy­ota had to build. Any­thing less would have put it be­hind the game.

It’s gone to fin­ish­ing school: Top-spec HiLux SR5 dou­ble cab

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