Timing is everything and Toyota without doubt got it badly wrong when it launched the revised version of Hilux back in 2005. With Nissan eagerly promoting a double cab Navara with over 170hp on tap, all Hilux could offer was a meagre 101hp from its 2.5-litre diesel.
While those hundred horses were perfectly sufficient for many customers, especially those acquiring Toyota's latest offering as a working tool rather than as an alternative to a company car, many of them wanted more power; power that at that stage Hilux could not offer.
But times have changed. The addition of an intercooler among other tweaks has increased the 2.5-litre's output to a, rather healthier, 120hp and it's been joined by a 3.0-litre diesel borrowed from the Land Cruiser. With a variable geometry turbocharger plus an intercooler it generates a meaty 169hp.
Tempted though we were by the 3.0-litre, we elected to sample the more prosaic 120hp lump instead. In our case it's sitting under the bonnet of a Hilux four-door double cab in HL3 trim.
With maximum power making its presence felt at 3,600rpm, the four-cylinder in-line 16-valve common rail engine produces peak torque of 325Nm at a handily-low 2,000rpm. It's married to a five-speed manual gearbox. A stubby lever next to the gearstick allows the driver to engage four-wheel drive plus a set of low-ratio gears for off-road adventuring. A rear diff lock forms part of the package.
With the prospect of drivers of double cab pick-ups emitting what are deemed to be excessive levels of CO2 being charged extra if they want to enter the London congestion tax zone still under consideration at the time of writing, we're pleased to see that our Hilux produces 219g/km. That's below the proposed cut-off point.
The front suspension employs a double wishbone with coil springs set-up, while leaf springs help support the rear of the vehicle. Our demonstrator's 15in alloy wheels — standard on this derivative — are shod with Bridgestone Dueler H/T 255/70 R15C tyres. Ventilated disc brakes are fitted at the front, with drums installed at the back, and ABS is included in the deal. Power steering offers a 12.2m kerb-to-kerb turning circle rising to 13.0m wall-to-wall.
With a gross weight of 2,940kg Hilux is no shrimp. Gross payload capacity is 1,060kg and the HL3 Double Cab is capable of hauling a braked trailer grossing at 2,250kg.
Access to the cargo box is by means of a tailgate released by pulling a single, centrally mounted handle. The tailgate can be locked horizontally, but cannot be dropped down completely because the bulky bumper with its chrome finish gets in the way. The annoyance this may cause is mitigated by the presence of a full-width non-slip step on the bumper's upper surface.
Our South African built Hilux is fitted with a plastic load area liner for £146 — all prices quoted here exclude VAT — plus a Mountain Top Roll-N-Lock lockable cover made in Denmark for a wallet-paralysing £1,178. That's way too high a price to pay and buyers should be able to get just as good a cover a lot cheaper from an independent supplier.
While the presence of both liner and cover is to be welcomed — the former protects the load floor and sides from minor damage, the latter protects the cargo itself from the weather and thieves — less welcome is the absence of load tie-down points. That's not a problem if you're transporting bales of hay, but can cause difficulties if you need to lash down something that's likely to roll about; a petrol-powered lawn mower for instance. A long strap allows you to haul the cover shut.
Maximum load length is 1,520mm. Maximum width is 1,515mm narrowing to 1,100mm between the wheel boxes, while maximum sidewall height is 450mm. Bear in mind that the thickness and shape of the liner reduces all these figures slightly. Rear loading height is 850mm.
For rear seat passengers travelling in quite a few double cabs we can think of can be a miserable experience, with a distinct lack of leg room. Not so with Hilux. The back seat is a lot more comfortable than you might expect it to be, comparatively large doors — significantly bigger than those fitted to Ford's Ranger Double Cab for instance — make it easy to access and it is unlikely that you'll end up with your knees tucked under your chin.
Centre rear passengers in double cabs can have an especially grim time of it, held in place solely by a lap strap and with no head restraint to protect them should the driver slam on the anchors suddenly. While piggy-in-the-middles in Hilux still have to make do with an airline-style strap, at least they benefit from a height-adjustable headrest; smaller than the ones provided for the other passengers, true, but at least it's a step in the right direction.
Piggy-in-the-middle also gets the use of a couple of flip-down cup-holders, one of which is currently playing host to the removable (and disused) ashtray.
The good news continues at the front, with an attractively styled dashboard dominated by a MP3-compatible radio/CD player flanked by small cubby-holes. Other storage facilities include a lidded bin between the front seats, a lidded and lockable glovebox and bins in both doors — in all four doors come to think of it — with mouldings to hold a soft drink can or a small bottle of water. There are pull-out cup-holders at each end of the facia. The driver's seat is not height-adjustable, alas, but you can adjust the height of the steering column.
Good to see the Hilux is not saddled with one of those wretched umbrella-type parking brake releases positioned under the dashboard. The handbrake lever is where it should be; mounted on the floor next to a couple of trinket trays.
Standard features on HL3 models include air-conditioning, electric windows in all four doors, electric mirrors, a 12v power point and driver and front passenger air bags. A switch on the dashboard allows you to boost the heater's output in really cold weather. Remote central locking comes as standard as does an alarm, but you pay an extra £53 for the floor mats.
Although it's a little sluggish off the line on occasions Hilux soon gets into its stride, with strong mid-range acceleration and ample top-end performance. Its precise gearchange undoubtedly helps. It handles remarkably well for a 4x4 pick-up with a high centre of gravity, with none of the graceless wallowing that was a feature of such vehicles in years past. The unladen ride is a touch nervous at times, however, and there is way too much engine noise.
Off-road the extra power and torque are invaluable, allowing Hilux to surge up muddy slopes without breaking sweat. It can easily cope with ploughed fields and rutted building sites. It averaged fuel consumption of 34mpg during the test period.
With side-steps, an air scoop in the bonnet, colour-keyed wheelarch protectors, a colour-keyed front bumper and grille and chrome exterior mirror housings and door handles, there's no denying that our Hilux looks the business. Practical considerations are not ignored, however, with front fog lamps likely to prove useful in winter weather.
Pop open the bonnet and you'll spot not one, but two, easily accessible batteries. Nor will you encounter any problems getting at the dipstick, the oil filler point or the screenwash reservoir.
As is usual with Toyota we're talking about rock-solid build quality and, we suspect, total reliability. Hilux requires a minor service every 10,000 miles — too short an interval in this day and age — with a major service at 20,000 miles. It comes with a three year/60,000 mile warranty and that too could be more generous.
Toyota's decision to give Hilux some extra horses has clearly paid off. While they won't allow you to win too many traffic light Grand Prix, they certainly offer improved mid-range acceleration and top-end performance. Boasting a user-friendly gearchange the handsome Double Cab handles remarkably well too, and buyers should be impressed by the roomy, well-designed interior. On the downside the ride could be better controlled, engine noise could be better suppressed and we'd like to see longer service intervals and a more generous warranty package. These reservations don't, however, prevent Hilux from being a key contender in the pick-up sales stakes.