From £23,0908

Better to drive than its predecessor and amazingly capable off road, but Europe’s best-selling pick-up is still more work tool than SUV

Here is the newest version of the most popular pick-up in Europe, and one of the most iconic pick-ups across the globe.

The Hilux’s reputation is one of bombproof durability, but this latest model is tasked with appealing to a broader audience, in a segment that is already congested and set to only get worse.

Despite changes to appeal to SUV-minded buyers, the Hilux has lost none of its go-anywhere, over-anything, ability

The pick-up segment is gaining popularity, with plenty of rivals old and new vying for sales. Seasoned workhorses such as the Nissan Navara, Ford Ranger, Volkswagen Amarok and Mitsubishi L200 have had recent refreshes to increase their appeal, while the newcomers such as the Fiat Fullback mudding the waters, while the Renault Alaskan and the Mercedes-Benz X-Class will only complicate matters further.

To try and keep the stiff competition at bay, we are trying the new Hilux with a six-speed automatic transmission, which is expected to account for the majority of sales in the UK, rather than the six-speed manual alternative.

The Hilux is as tough as ever. Despite the changes to appeal to some SUV-minded buyers as well as the usual commercial market, the Hilux has lost none of its go-anywhere, over-anything, ability.

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The automatic gearbox is much better than the transmission it replaces. It does a respectable job of shifting smoothly through the gears, especially at low speeds, and isn't too jerky. However, plant your foot and the downshift often leaves the engine holding on to gears uncomfortably high up the rev range as it works through them, but progress is swift enough.

A 2.4-litre diesel engine is what you’ll find in all new Hiluxes, although the 2.8-litre unit that's available abroad could be offered at a later date. The 2.4 is more efficient than the 3.0-litre unit it replaces, and the 295lb ft of torque available in the new engine is more than the old one, too, but it doesn’t match that of the Navara and Mitsubishi L200. Even so, the Hilux out-tows an L200 with its 3500kg limit.

Paired with the automatic gearbox, it has a combined fuel economy figure of 36.2mpg, with CO2 emissions of 204g/km. The manual transmission betters those figures, at 40.4mpg and 185g/km respectively, and it’s cheaper by £1250.

Aside from a harsh diesel groan at its top end, refinement from the 2.4 is generally good, but it's no match for that of SUV alternatives. Engine clatter is loud when accelerating, but it settles down at a cruise, and it’s more refined than before.

Some wind noise is whipped up by the sizeable door mirrors at higher speeds, too. The benefit of those mirrors, though, is good visibility, helped by a high, comfortable driving position that gives a broad view of the road ahead. It’s a very spacious cabin, too, with plenty of room up front and in the back for adult passengers to sit comfortably.

The Hilux's steering has improved - it's weightier and more accurate than before - while ride comfort is better, too. That said, the Hilux still suffers from quite a bit of body bounce over bumps when unladen, especially at low speeds. As a result, it isn’t quite as smooth running as an SUV equivalent, but it comes closer than many other pick-ups do to matching SUV standards.

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The suspension has been reworked for this new model and is well tuned for off-roading. It’s packed with off-road tech, such as hill descent control and a rear diff lock, as well as a low-range gearbox and the choice of switching between two and four-wheel drive. As you would expect, it is supremely capable off the beaten track.

There’s also a couple of different drive modes to choose from. PWR mode is designed to sharpen the throttle response, while Eco smoothes it out and puts the air-con in an eco mode that alters the fan speed. There’s also a standard drive mode that sits in the middle. However, neither PWR nor Eco produces any noticeable difference in the car's behaviour.

The quality in the interior is a noticeable step up from the previous generation, though, and moves the car closer to its SUV rivals, although not quite close enough to genuinely compete.

There are three trim levels to choose from, with the entry-level Active models fitted with 17in steel wheels, automatic headlights, air conditioning, Bluetooth, front cool box, and heated and electrically adjustable wing mirrors as standard, with most opting for this trim using their Hilux mainly as a commercial workhorse.

Upgrade to the Icon, as our test pick-up is, and you’ll find a 4.2in touchscreen housing Toyota’s Touch 2 infotainment system complete with a reversing camera and DAB radio, on top of things like 17in alloys, cruise control, descent control and folding door mirrors.

Stepping up to the range-topping Invincible trim, which is expected to shift the highest number of units in the UK, and you’ll discover the Hilux gets luxuries such as 18in alloy wheels, LED headlights, climate control, keyless entry and Toyota’s Safety Sense active technology.

But should you trade in your SUV keys for this well-appointed pick-up? If your working day involves heavy-duty work, or you regularly encounter numerous rutted green lanes on the school run, the new Hilux is an excellent choice - especially with its five-year/100,000-mile warranty and very competitive commercial price, helping to save thousands of pounds in VAT (around £3000 for this model).

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The automatic is impressive, but the manual represents the best-value option, being cheaper and marginally more fuel-efficient. Icon trim is decent enough, but Invincible has a slightly nicer cabin and drives a bit better on those 18in wheels.

For the wider public on the fence about a step up from an SUV to a pick-up, the Hilux could still be a compromise too far, largely because of its size. At a smidgen over 5.3m in length, it is around a metre longer than a Nissan Qashqai, and many will probably prefer a conventional boot to a load bed.

But the latest Hilux continues the mighty legacy of its predecessors, and those with a professional need for a pick-up will find it more compelling than ever.

Toyota Hilux First drives