What is it?
The Toyota Hilux is nothing short of a motoring icon. Over the past 50 or so years, it has garnered a reputation for being pretty much indestructible, and a true go-anywhere and everywhere vehicle.
Some 18 million versions have found homes across seven generations, and it is Europe’s most popular pick-up truck. And now there is a new version, which is on sale now ahead of the first UK deliveries in July.
There’s plenty of interest here away from the commercial vehicle market, for Toyota is seeking to broaden the appeal of the Hilux with this new model by making it more suited to road use, offering a plusher and higher quality interior, and making the engine more economical. Whisper it, but it could even tempt a few out of their SUVs.
Worry not though; the Hilux has not gone soft. Indeed, Toyota claims it is tougher than ever. At the heart of this toughness is the new ladder chassis, which is claimed to be 20% stiffer than the previous Hilux’s. There are more spot welds in the body, too, to ensure that’s as stiff as it can be and to improve body control and the steering. The suspension has also been overhauled for greater wheel travel, which is said to improve ride comfort and also boost off-road performance.
Powering the Hilux is a new 2.4-litre diesel engine with more torque (295lb ft) and greater economy (from 41.5mpg) than the 3.0-litre unit in the previous Hilux’s range. The 2.4-litre engine is the only choice (the 2.5-litre and 3.0-litre units from before have discontinued) and there’s a choice of a six-speed manual or an automatic gearbox, as well as the ability to switch between two and four-wheel drive depending on the conditions.
What's it like?
It’s the Hilux’s sheer toughness that has always made it famous. Yet, despite the wider brief of the new model, none of that toughness has been lost. In fact, the Hilux feels tougher and more indestructible than ever. Its competitive 1055kg max load and 3200kg braked towing weights are also confirmation that Hilux hasn't gone soft.
Our African test route was about as hardcore as they come, taking in everything from sand dunes, rutted gravel roads, and extended periods in off-road conditions including rocks, ridges, and steep ascents and descents. Predictably, the Hilux conquered all the conditions.
It has a full suite of off-road trickery to help it, including a low-range gearbox, diff locks, and hill descent control. The Hilux is easy to control off-road and is confidence-inspiring; the increased wheel travel allows for greater dips and lopsided pathways to be tackled, and with calm control of the pedals the electronic gizmos can bring out the explorer in you. You also feel yourself rocking around less in the cabin than in, say, a Land Rover Discovery.
That’ll all please the purists, and of course is key to the Hilux’s enduring appeal, but it’s the pick-up's performance away from the mucky stuff that’s of most interest here. It’s good to know that as Toyota has chosen to widen the Hilux's appeal, the vehicle’s core attributes are not lost.
But it’s perhaps the new engine that’s the most commercial vehicle-like in the Hilux. It’s noisy at start-up, and, although generally responsive, particularly in the mid-range thanks to a healthy spread of torque, it lacks the hushed smoothness you find in most large modern diesels. It’s good, but still not as convincing as a traditional SUV alternative despite the improved noise, vibration and harshness levels.
Both transmission options drive well. The manual shift is slick and precise for a pick-up, and the clutch light and easy to control. The automatic gearbox is vastly improved over the old Hilux’s, shifting quickly and smoothly and with an intelligent kickdown mode to aid swifter progress when needed. Most buyers in the UK go for the auto, but there’s nothing intimidating in the way the manual option works.
What really stands out is the way the Hilux drives. Although the ride is bumpy at lower speeds, at higher speeds it’s smooth and composed. It’s not the last word in sophistication, but it's certainly one of the best pick-ups in this area. The steering has plenty of weight, even if it is artificial-feeling, but again it’s enough to convince you that you’re not in a commercial vehicle.
We didn’t have much of a chance to see how it handles, as our test route largely comprised of straight roads, but the Hilux seemed to turn in keenly enough, and if you fancy a bit of a drive with nothing loaded over the rear axle there’s a chance of a wiggle from the tail.
The interior also scores points. Toyota offers the Hilux in three bodystyles: two-seat Single Cab, four-seat Extra Cab and five-seat Double Cab. The latter takes almost all UK sales, hence why it’s offered in all four trims, including the plush Invincible and Invincible X trims, which also appeal most to UK buyers who are increasingly using their Hilux’s as a sole vehicle for business, pleasure and family life.
The cabin is a nice compromise of workmanlike functionality and everyday usability. The driving position is good: nice and high with excellent usability. Our Invincible model's leather seats were comfy, and offer good support. You certainly don’t feel like you’re sat in a van.
To the touch, the interior is a mix of nice tactile controls and an infotainment system that wouldn’t look out of place in any mainstream family Toyota. However, the harder-wearing plastics on the dashboard and door cards remind you that this is still a working vehicle.
Should I buy one?
At this early stage, we'd say the Hilux is one of the best models in its class to drive both on and off road. If you want to buy a pick-up, this has to be on your test-drive list, not least as Toyota now claims the overall cost of ownership is lower than its rivals with the long five-year/100,000-mile warranty, improved economy, and competitive pricing next to rivals.
What’s more, with no Land Rover Defender on the scene - for another few years at least - few other pick-ups at this price can claim to offer the full off-roader, go-anywhere experience quite like the Hilux does. It even marginally betters Nissan's recently revived Navara.
Whether you’d ever swap your SUV for one is another matter. The Hilux will never offer the SUV-buyer the full security of a luggage compartment built into the main vehicle (Toyota offers a whole host of different cover options for the pick-up compartment).
However, the financial advantages to running one through work are clear, and we can see more and more people who previously had dedicated work and family vehicles consolidating that into one Hilux-shaped model in the future.
Toyota Hilux Invincible Double Cab
Location Namibia; On sale Now (July deliveries); Price: £24,923 (excluding VAT, commercial vehicle price); Engine: 4cyls, 2393cc, turbodiesel; Power: 148bhp at 3400rpm; Torque: 295lb ft at 1600-2000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 2100kg; Top speed 106mph; 0-62mph: 13.2sec; Economy 40.4mpg; CO2: 185g/km