Car reviews - Toyota - Hilux - range
Improved refinement, handling, stability, ride quality, safety and performance, five-speed auto, increased tray size, larger interior, noise supression,k wider bodystyle/specification choice, improved value
Room for improvement
No ABS option on base models, cheap door armrest plastic, American styling, overly long manual gear lever
24 Mar 2005
TOYOTA describes its seventh HiLux as a quantum leap over its highly successful predecessor. And, for once, the marketing rhetoric is no exaggeration.
Stepping up a whole class in size, the new HiLux 4x2 single-cab workhorse has grown 345mm to become a whole 5130mm long, and is also 60mm wider and 75mm taller.
Its greater physical dimensions accommodate an additional 155mm of load length (165mm for the double-cab - with the extra length going into the Xtra-cab’s body, which is now 1840mm long).
But even more significant is the new HiLux’s 235mm-longer wheelbase (now 3085mm) and substantially wider wheel tracks.
Now measuring 1510mm front and rear (115mm wider up front, 100mm wider at rear), the extra track width gives HiLux a considerably bigger footprint, which improves handling, stability and active safety.
The size increase is just as apparent from the outside (where the new HiLux’s oh-so-Amercian styling, upon which a Chevrolet badge would look right at home, appears tough and imposing but just a little slab-sided and small-wheeled) as it is from inside its slick new cabin.
The more spacious cockpit will be welcomed by the six-foot-tall drivers around which Toyota designed the new cab, as well as by those who must share the (now roomier) twin front passenger seat in single-cab base models.
Here, there’s a feeling of quality that’s unrivalled in the light commercial world, with a simple, logical layout of controls that are light to operate and easy on the eye. More expensive variants score neat "Lexus-style" Optitron instruments but all examples offer a more upmarket ambience, blighted only by hard and cheap-feeling door armrest plastics.
Similar to that found in the new HiAce released earlier this month, the new HiLux dash is functional and stylish, the seating position comfortable (though still lacking in lateral support) and commanding, and the interior generally inviting and easy to enter and exit.
Only the overly long manual gearshift lever appears dated and out of place.
On the road, the massive stride in refinement smacks you in the face. Apart from fairly intrusive engine noise and vibration – particularly in the diesel – it’d be hard to pick this HiLux from many new (small) passenger cars on the road.
A commendable lack of wind, road and suspension noise is a breath of fresh air in the world of commercial utes, as is the overall "togetherness" of this body-on-frame design. Never has a full-chassis pickup truck handled with such aplomb and the new (double wishbone) front suspension does a memorable job in combining a sharp response and good resistance to bodyroll with excellent ride quality on all surfaces.
The leaf-sprung rear suspension represents a big advance too, with impressive compliance evident over the type of mid-corner bumps that would have most HiLux rivals – including Commodore and Falcon utes – skipping about disconcertingly out back.
It must be said, however, that all launch vehicles carried 200kg of ballast in their trays, and Toyota freely admits to concentrating on improving ride/handling quality especially with a load on.
Toyota launched HiLux in Darwin – where the original version played a vital relief role in the aftermath of Cyclone Tracy – with on and off-road stints at Hidden Valley raceway.
Not even full-throttle sessions on the V8 Supercar circuit, including fully-loaded laps with Neal Bates at the helm, could unruffle the new ute, which offered consistently well-balanced handling, unquestionable stability and amazing grip levels (its light commercial tyres notwithstanding!) both in tight turns and at speed.
Aside from a couple of punctures on the deep-water course, not one of the HiLux variants missed a beat – despite searing heat and humidity - and only a minor inner-door rattle affected two versions we drove.
As refined and large as the new HiLux is, however, the most lasting impression remains that of performance.
At base level, the 2.7-litre four – exclusive to Work Mate – is smoother and far more tractable from low revs than before, thanks to variable inlet valve timing. Combined with a smooth-shifting, sensibly-geared five-speed manual, it’s a delight to peddle at any speed.
Low range is easier to engage than before in all versions, too, thanks to shift-on-the-fly technology. And don’t even think about getting out of the vehicle to dis/engage free-wheeling hubs!
Even more impressive is the turbo-diesel, which offers a whole new world of performance, driveability and fuel economy. Combined with a smooth-shifting and fairly intuitive five-speed auto (except for a sometimes-abrupt first-to-second gearchange), it will crawl effortlessly over all manner of obstacles and inclines in low range as well as offering satisfying overtaking acceleration on the highway.
Pick of the bunch, however, is the 4.0-litre quad-cam V6 which is lifted directly from the Prado SUV exclusively for Australia. Delivering seamless, muscular urge in the Prado, it’s even better in HiLux.
Combined with a five-speed auto, it offers unbeatable flexibility and easy of use and beside its V6 light commercial rivals is easily best in class.
Throw in the availability of an auto transmission with four-wheel drive versions and HiLux will appeal to a far wider audience, including purely recreational users.
But we lament the fact ABS (which in our opinion is more valuable in terms of active safety than the now-standard twin front airbags) is standard only in top-spec SR5 guise an unavailable in base models.
However, Toyota’s reputation for reliability, an improved value equation and a wider choice of bodystyle and grade variants and the bigger, quieter and more powerful new HiLux is easily the light commercial benchmark to which others must aspire.
No commercial utility has a right to be as good as the new HiLux.
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