Sells as well as it works
It’s safe, solid, reliable and economical — and that’s why the HiLux dominates the sales charts
TOYOTA’s HiLux was Australia’s top-selling vehicle, in any class, in 2016, the first time a ute has taken pole position in the sales race.
In the top 10 sellers for the year, the Ford Ranger took fourth place, while Mitsubishi’s Triton came in ninth.
Toyota went in hard at the end of 2016 to secure the overall win with a $52,990 drive-away deal on SR5 — not so long ago, a discount on a HiLux was a pigs-might-fly proposition but Ford’s Ranger has given Toyota a big fright.
Look at the top end of the ute market and the Ranger 4WD (including cab chassis, single and double-cab) fell just 196 sales short of knocking HiLux 4WD off last year’s top spot.
So the HiLux is still Australia’s best selling ute. Whether it’s Australia’s best ute is a much trickier question.
At base Workmate 4WD level, the double-cab is wall-to-wall industrial-grade grey plastic, assembled with typical Toyota precision, with not a squeak, chirp, sizzle or rattle to be heard.
You get generous seat travel (but no height adjustment) and a reach-adjustable steering wheel, while the comfortable rear seat is wide enough to carry three blokes (as long they’re not all serious pieeaters) and has ample legroom.
Lots of handy storage, seven airbags, two Isofix anchors, seat belt indicators for all positions, a large infotainment touchscreen with easy-to-hit icons, voice control that works, audio and phone controls on the steering wheel and a camera are standard in the $43,990 double-cab Workmate.
That buys a 2.4-litre turbo diesel/six-speed manual/parttime dual-range 4WD drivetrain. A six-speed auto adds $2000.
We also tested the SR5, which costs $54,390 and runs a 2.8-litre turbo diesel. Ours was fitted with the optional leatherfaced, power adjustable driver’s seat ($2000, with leather on other seats and wheel, larger infotainment screen, satnav, digital radio, brighter dials and information displays).
The restrained use of fake alloy, chrome and gloss black plastic helps give the SR5 cabin a rich, luxurious feel. For a ute.
This impression disappears, though, when you head out into the traffic, where the ride, especially on SR5, is bloody awful. Toyota will argue that HiLux is a one-tonner so it needs firm suspension.
Fair enough — but most rivals have similar payloads as well as also providing a much more compliant, controlled ride. The HiLux fidgets and shakes incessantly; on messy surfaces it can become rough and very uncomfortable for occupants.
The 2.4 (110kW/400Nm) is a lazy, smooth slugger that doesn’t feel like 400Nm worth of grunt, especially in the upper mid-range, where it dies a slow death. The Triton’s 2.4 (133kW/ 430Nm) is a superior engine.
Similarly, the HiLux’s 2.8 (130kW/450Nm) has a stronger delivery overall and much better responsiveness but its torque also plateaus early.
It doesn’t pull as hard in the 2500rpm-4000rpm zone as the Ranger/Mazda BT-50's 3.2-litre five-cylinder, the Holden Colorado’s 2.8-litre four or VW Amarok’s 2.0-litre four.
Still, it has the legs to chug away easily enough in town, where the automatic returns 9.0L-11.0L/100km.
In ute-world, the Amarok’s 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel (165kW/550Nm), priced from $59,990 in the Highline, is in a class of its own for refinement, performance and fuel-efficiency.
In the HiLux, Toyota’s sixspeed automatic is a seamless fit with either engine and 4WD selection is via a simple dial on the dash. In the SR5 you get a rear diff lock and 18-inch alloys.
ON THE ROAD
Anybody who tells you that utes are now so good they drive just like cars is having a lend.
They’re cumbersome, unwieldy things on the open road. The very firmly sprung HiLux can still get nervous and jumpy, especially at the back end, when you hit a few bumps.
The Colorado, Triton, Ranger and Amarok are no sports cars but they are more secure, confident handlers at highway speeds.
Ticking over at 1500rpm at 100km/h in sixth gear, the HiLux’s 2.8 is smooth and quiet, returning about 8.0L/100km.
Thanks to the robust chassis and stiff suspension, you can fit accessories, carry heavy loads in the tub or use its 3200kg towing capability (SR5 auto; manual is 3500kg), with less rear-end sag than some rivals.
It’s a given that a HiLux will take serious punishment, too. High clearance (279mm) and a 700mm wading depth add to its capability out in the boonies.
The HiLux is far from the best ute on the road but, as with Isuzu’s D-Max, it’s a safe, solid, reliable,economical workhorse — exactly what a work ute is meant to be, so it’s no wonder HiLux is No. 1 on the charts.
That said, rivals have the edge in other areas. The Triton is killer value at regularly advertised mid-$30K driveaway prices, the Ranger/BT-50 and Colorado nail the gruntfeatures-size trifecta and the Amarok, by quite a margin, is the best drive.