Pick up the pace
Australian testing primes Toyota Hi Lux to take on the world
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.
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