The What Van? Road Test: Toyota Hilux
Wednesday, February 15, 2012
Gun-toting Somali warlords and hard-working British builders have one thing in common – they cannot do without Toyota’s Hilux.
Capable of shifting everything from rocket-propelled grenades to bags of cement, it can be found hard at work in just about every country on the planet. Admittedly some of the examples in service in the Horn of Africa may be covered in dents, have badly cracked windscreens, and probably sport the odd bullet hole or two, but the fact that they are still rolling is a tribute to the pick-up’s extraordinary durability.
On one occasion the Top Gear team set fire to a Hilux and even let it float out to sea. Once rescued, and after a few minor repairs, the ill-treated truck came back to life and could be driven away ready for a further battering.
For 2012 the legendary workhorse has received a makeover. Everything from the A-pillars forward has been restyled, giving the Hilux a new bonnet, radiator grille, headlamps and bumper. The interior has been revamped too, with a redesigned dashboard and instrument panel; the latter is clear and easy to understand.
Customers can still opt for either 144hp 2.5-litre or 171hp 3.0-litre diesel engines, with the latter available with the choice of either manual or automatic transmission. Both engines have been modified so that they comply with the Euro5 exhaust emission standard, and a particulate filter has been fitted in each case.
Sold solely with four-wheel drive, the Hilux is up for grabs with the choice of a two-door Single Cab, an extended two-door Extra Cab or a four-door five-seater Double Cab. Customers can pick from three different levels of trim: HL2, HL3 or top-of-the-range Invincible.
Never ones to stint ourselves when it comes to creature comforts, we opted for the second most-expensive model in the line-up: the Double Cab 3.0-litre Invincible manual with a five-speed gearbox.
Top payload is 1050kg, which means registered businesses should in most cases be able to recover the VAT. Maximum towing capacity is 2500kg, but if you are going to make full use of it then remember that you may have to fit a tachograph and comply with the heavy truck Drivers’ Hours regulations.
Few drivers will complain about the cab interior, with no real issues concerning head, leg or shoulder room likely to affect whoever is behind the wheel. Stowage facilities for everything from bags of crisps to books of receipts include a lockable glove box, a lidded bin plus trays between the seats, bins and cup-holders in each of the front doors, and a pair of deep cubby-holes in a dashboard that also embraces two pop-out cup-holders.
Look up and you will spy a place for your sunglasses just above the windscreen.
Back-seat passengers may have slightly more to moan about, however. Leg room is restricted, and while all three rear travellers are protected by headrests, the middle seat’s occupant is held in place solely by a lap strap rather than the lap-and-diagonal belt provided for everybody else in the cab.
The rear doors have bins and cup-holders, with two flip-down cup-holders positioned on the floor in front of the centre passenger. Fold the rear seat cushion back and attach the restraint strap provided to the rear bulkhead to stop it dropping back down again, and you can gain access to a pair of concealed compartments, one of which contains the jack.
It’s good to see grab-handles on the A-pillars. They give you something to hang on to when heaving yourself into the cab, and something for the front passenger to grab hold of if the off-road going gets rough.
To make front and rear cab access even easier, the new chrome sill bars fitted incorporate steps.
Some limits are imposed on the Double Cab’s cargo box, which sits on a hefty ladder-frame chassis, when it comes to carrying cargo.
Access is by means of a strongly constructed lockable drop-down tailgate. While it can be fixed horizontally, which can be useful if over-length items are being transported, it cannot be dropped down completely thanks to the presence of a beefy rear bumper, and that can sometimes make loading problematic. The chrome bumper incorporates a step.
There’s no ladder rack behind the cab and while four load tie-down points are provided,
they are positioned in each of the upper corners of the load box rather than on the floor. That limits their usefulness, but at least they will not risk being fouled by grit and sand.
Limited by the presence of a four-door cab, the maximum load length is 1545mm. Maximum width is 1515mm narrowing to 1100mm between the wheel boxes while maximum height is 450mm. Four-wheel drive and the accompanying ground clearance means that the rear loading height is a steep 850mm.
Toyota’s four-cylinder in-line 16-valve D-4D common-rail 3.0-litre engine pumps out maximum power of 171hp at 3600rpm. In the manual’s case, top torque of 343Nm – 17Nm less than the automatic version can muster – makes its presence felt across a usefully wide 1400-3400rpm plateau, ensuring flexibility and plenty of low-down grunt when you really need it.
CO2 output is 203g/km, down from 219g/km, and the official combined fuel consumption figure is now 36.7mpg, an improvement on the 34.0mpg previously on offer.
To engage four-wheel drive – you can shift on-the-fly if required – you use a lever next to the gear stick.
Chassis and steering
Leaf springs with double-tube shock absorbers help support the rear of the truck while independent double-wishbone suspension with coil springs supports the front. Our Hilux’s 17-inch alloy wheels were shod with Bridgestone Dueler H/T 265/65 R17 tyres.
The rack-and-pinion steering employs hydraulic power assistance with 3.6 turns lock-to-lock.
Although our Hilux was slightly slower away from rest than expected, it rapidly mended its ways and accelerated strongly, albeit somewhat noisily, through the gears. Hilly terrain held no terrors for it even with plenty of weight on board, and overtaking tractors and trailers on rural roads where safe to do so was a doddle.
Having a bit of weight on board helped the ride, which tended to be a little choppy once cargo was off-loaded. It probably helped the handling too, which for a large 4x4 with a high centre of gravity was surprisingly good.
The Toyota turned out to be a remarkably competent motorway cruiser, but in this role would have benefited from a sixth gear (we’d no quarrels with the gear change, incidentally). On the motorway or rural B-road, the vehicle’s commanding highway presence often came in handy, with pesky hatchbacks and jack-the-lad sales reps tending to keep well out of the way.
Rough, heavily rutted farm tracks and slippery boulder-strewn inclines are the Hilux’s natural habitat, and it is more than capable of coping with both. It happily sploshes through deep mud and fords, and is in its element in the sort of terrain that would bring a 4x2 pick-up to a humiliating halt.
No matter where you take a Hilux, rock-solid construction comes as standard. It is extraordinarily well-built, with no squeaks or rattles to be heard.
Opt for Invincible trim and you will certainly not feel short-changed so far as equipment is concerned.
We loved the new Toyota Touch full-colour touch-screen multimedia unit – you will find controls for the radio/CD player on the tilt-adjustable steering column – complete with a package that includes Bluetooth and a USB port, but the one item that really impressed us was the reversing camera. Slap the gear stick into reverse and you can see whatever is directly behind you on the aforementioned 6.1-inch screen via a camera mounted on the tailgate, something that is pretty much guaranteed to minimise the risk of accidents and damage to your vehicle. Praise should be heaped on Toyota for making it part of this model’s standard specification.
For your money you also get electric windows front and rear, electrically adjustable exterior mirrors, a 12V power point and climate control, not to mention darkened rear privacy glass.
Running and safety
While sensible if your Hilux takes a frequent battering off-road, and as a consequence needs regular workshop attention, at one year/10,000 miles the service interval will be deemed unnecessarily short by many operators.
The admittedly pan-European mechanical warranty is set at three years/60,000 miles, but Toyota should really increase it to three years/100,000 miles. It could also offer three years’ worth of roadside assistance cover at the same time rather than limiting it to a mere 12 months.
Other aspects of the package – the six-year anti-corrosion and perforation warranty and the three-year paintwork warranty – could stand to be a bit more generous too. Toyota’s rigorous approach to quality means that it can afford to give a little without losing too much.
So far as fuel consumption was concerned we averaged 36.0mpg – not bad at all for a big, heavy (3080kg gross) off-roader, and not too far off the official combined fuel economy figure either.
Disc brakes are fitted at the front, drums at the rear and ABS and Vehicle Stability Control are both in place to minimise any risk of the vehicle getting into trouble and proving to be not quite so invincible after all. If disaster does strike, then driver and front passenger airbags, front side airbags and curtain airbags should help to protect the cab’s occupants.
Front fog lights and very effective headlamp washers ensure drivers can see where they are going in bad weather, while an immobiliser plus a Thatcham Category 1 alarm should help frustrate thieves. Remote central locking secures all the doors.
Happily, Toyota has had the good sense to fit a conventional handbrake lever rather than one of those wretched umbrella-shaped under-the-dashboard parking brake releases beloved of so many pick-up makers over the years.
Now in its sixth incarnation, the Hilux made its UK debut, in 1972, but its roots lie in the mid-’60s. Back in 1966 when Toyota and Hino got together as part of a wholesale reorganisation of Japan’s fast-expanding motor industry.
One of the earliest projects they got to grips with was the remodelling of Hino’s Briska 1.0-tonne pick-up. The revamped Briska began appearing in dealerships in Japan in April 1967 sporting a Toyota badge and was an immediate hit.
Emboldened, Toyota rushed an all-new pick-up into production and called it Hilux. Fitted with a 1.5-litre petrol engine it went on sale in March 1968 and spawned a multi-million-registration global success story that just keeps rolling on.
Perhaps surprisingly, the first 4x4 Hilux didn’t appear until 1979, by which time the seemingly unbreakable load lugger was on sale in some 100 countries.
While it is by no means perfect, the Hilux remains a strong, well-equipped workhorse that is unlikely to let you down.