NEWS NEW MODEL FOCUS
Toyota revamps its Hilux ute. We look at the changes being made to this commercial vehicle icon.
TOYOTA HAS REVAMPED ITS-TOP SELLING MODEL, THE HILUX ute, shuffling the model line-up, tweaking specifications and working to address its Achilles’ heel, the ride quality.
The revised range includes more automatic gearbox variants, a common 3.5-tonne tow rating across all Prerunner and 4WD powertrains, and a differential lock added to the Prerunner range.
Toyota New Zealand says that all of the changes are in response to market feedback.
“Customers will tell you everything you need to know about satisfying their needs and we are delighted to be able to respond with these enhancements,” says Toyota executive, Spencer Morris.
“We’ve also spent considerable time working with the factory to ensure the ride quality delivers greater levels of comfort.”
The five new automatic transmission variants include a 2WD Prerunner SR Extra Cab and four SR 4WDS.
They come in Single Cab Chassis, Extra Cab chassis, Extra Cab ute and Double Cab chassis configurations.
Falling costumer demand has seen Toyota drop V6 petrol engine variants from the range, along with the manual gearbox 4WD Extra Cab ute.
“Light truck customers are looking for more automatic transmission options while the demand for the petrol utes has fallen away,” says Toyota NZ’S outgoing general manager of sales, Steve Prangnell.
“We’re selling more Hilux than ever before in Toyota New Zealand’s history.
“Hilux is Toyota’s top-selling model, a situation we could not have imagined five years ago when the Corolla led sales.
“The market swing to utes is unrelenting,” Prangnell adds.
In other changes, Hilux S and SR models have black, rather than chrome exterior door handles. They also gain variable intermittent-speed windscreen wipers.
In response to the tough environments they typically work in all S and SR variants come with easily cleanable PVC floor covering instead of carpet.
Toyota has added a reversing camera to all cab/chassis models, making this safety and convenience item standard across the Hilux range.
The front foglights on SR5S have been upgraded to LED , and air vents have been added to the centre console for rear seat passengers.
A key-lock mechanism has been added to the tailgate of all Extra Cab ute and SR5 variants to improve security.
All 4WD SR Double Cab automatic models have added Downhill Assist Control to their suite of driver aids.
Standard equipment on all Hilux S models includes cruise control, five-speed manual transmission, Day Time Running Lamps (DRL), and Vehicle Stability Control.
They also get Hill start Assist Control, Trailer Sway Control, Emergency Stop Signal, seven airbags, air-conditioning, and eco/power drive modes.
The SR variants add a six-speed manual or automatic transmission, rear differential lock and black alloy side steps. The 2WD variants gain Prerunner ride height.
Features on the SR5 include Intelligent-manual Transmission (I-MT) for manual transmissions, 17-inch alloy wheels, smart key entry and start, satellite navigation, and LED headlights, foglights and Day Time Running Lights.
They also get leather-wrapped steering wheels and gearshift knobs, climate-control air-conditioning, an alarm and carpet floor covering.
Let’s hope that the 2018 Toyota ute is a more credible all-rounder than its immediate predecessor.
Because the new-generation Hilux, introduced at the end of 2015, proved to be a mixed bag.
On the one hand there was a superb new engine and excellent six-speed manual and automatic gearboxes.
It was a clear advance on its predecessor in terms of mechanical and cabin refinement and on-road dynamics. It handled well, and had good responsive steering.
The protruding nose frontal styling polarised some as did Toyota’s choice to go with black-painted steel wheels on some variants.
Some felt the former made it a little odd-looking; the latter made it look like a less premium product.
But the real problem was the ride quality or – more correctly – lack of it.
Subjectively, aside for the SR5 variants, the new Hilux was unexpectedly harsh and out of synch in an era when pick-up trucks are expected to do double-duty as workhorses and urban family transport.
You could argue that those are diametrically-opposed requirements and I wouldn’t argue with you.
But that’s what the market expects, and the Hilux didn’t deliver.
Where others, notably Ford with the smooth (by ute terms) riding Ranger wowed urban cowboys, Toyota’s mindset seemed to still be with the rural or fleet user.
And that was at a time when the ute was morphing from being primarily a workhorse into a vehicle that could double as a family car for urban dwellers.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-toyota. I still have a beloved 1993 Corona EX1800 that converted me to the brand, but sadly has to go the automotive knacker’s yard.
It was a brilliant car, if not 100 percent reliable (yes, Toyotas can have their problems too), a car with commonsense design, a little conservative maybe, but an absolute joy to drive.
Handling was adequate, roadholding unshakable, the controls intuitive, the steering wheel just about the best I’ve ever encountered. The rim thickness was spot-on just as the diameter was.
Clearly the designers had thought about the end-user. Here was a car in-synch with its potential buyers.
Which was what astounded me about the 2015 revamp of the Hilux. The designers didn’t seem to be cognisant of the change in buyers’ expectations of a ute. And Toyota missed the boat with the 2016 Hilux.
It should have been able to meet the Ranger on equal terms – Toyota NZ did its best to do that, plugging gaps in the range where the Ford had an edge.
But Toyota’s truck with its lumpy ride just wasn’t equipped to stick it to the Blue Oval’s truck, even though in all other respects it was an on-the-ball challenger.
During the launch and subsequent home environment testing, I drove Hiluxes maybe 2000 kilometres.
The low point came when I tested one and took it over an apparently-innocuous suburban street on my regular commute.
This piece of tarsealed road is the best test of ride quality
that I’ve ever found, and on it the Hilux failed miserably.
So much so that I contemplated leaving it at home and using my Corolla company car instead.
As a Toyota fan – yes, I truly am – I just hope that with the suspension re-tune, Toyota has finally brought the Hilux into the modern ute era.
I can’t wait to drive it.
Toyota says it has worked to improve the Hilux’s ride quality. Better ride is key to greater success with urban buyers but all of Toyota’s press kit photographs showed the revamped model posing or romping off-road.
Above right: Toyota says it’s now selling more Hiluxes than ever and the truck is its biggest seller.
Above left: All Prerunner 2WD and all 4WD Hiluxes now have a maximum tow rating of 3500kg.
Right: Much of the sales action may be with fleets and urban buyers looking for dual-purpose transport, but Toyota is clearly determined to show it won’t be abandoning the farming sector by softening up the Hilux (right).
Above right: Reversing cameras are now standard on all Hiluxes, including cab/chassis like this one.
Above: Toyota has dropped petrol engines from the Hilux range, saying there’s simply no demand.