Car reviews - Toyota - Hilux - Rugged X
Heightened off-road credentials, neatly integrated new components, awesome lighting improvements, seven airbags fitted standard
Room for improvement
Blunted engine performance, higher-than-expected fuel consumption, shortfalls in cabin equipment and technology
Rugged by name and nature, Toyota’s X-rated ute climbs higher than any other HiLux
23 Jul 2018
By TERRY MARTIN
TOYOTA’S Rugged X now sits at the pinnacle of Australia’s best-selling model range bar none.
While combined 4x2 and 4x4 utility sales place HiLux well ahead of the pack, the new X-rated model reflects a response by the market leader to an increasingly competitive class in which it finds itself in the unusual position of having to fight to maintain bragging rights as the car company with the nation’s number-one 4x4 ute.
HiLux is now evenly matched in 4x4 sales terms with Ford’s Ranger, and at the very top end of the market, where buyers are looking for a premium experience, high levels of safety and technology, strong performance, and solid on- and off-road credentials in a dual-cab ute, there are several contenders – from Ford, HSV, VW and Mercedes-Benz, for example – deservedly attracting a lot of attention.
For now at least, Rugged X, as the peak model in a triumvirate that also includes the Rogue and a lower-spec Rugged variant, shows that Toyota is at least digging in to the rapidly shifting sands in the market.
It has X factor, for sure, and truly lives up to the ‘rugged’ moniker with its body modifications and upscaled off-road performance. But as a total package, a ute with the lot, we have to hesitate at base camp before heading up to the highest peak.
Price and equipment
Based on the SR5, the Rugged X is priced from $61,690 plus on-road costs, or from $63,690 with the automatic transmission as tested here, and commands attention with a striking exterior makeover that includes a huge variety of mainly functional equipment.
Apart from the snorkel, the most notable new element is the substantial front bumper bar that is made from heavy-duty steel, is winch-compatible, allows for higher clearances and is fully integrated with a high-tensile alloy bash plate, steel recovery hooks (with large cross-bracing structure) and a centrally mounted LED light bar with two spread-beam outboard driving lights.
LED light bars are often seen as aftermarket equipment, but these offer the benefit of being fitted as original equipment – bringing design, engineering and warranty benefits – and let us say, right from the outset, that they provide simply awesome illumination at night.
They are on the point of being almost too effective when reaching a big cluster of reflective signs, occasionally making road names tricky to read, but overall they make the regular SR5’s lighting feel more like a single candle burning in a teenager’s bedroom in the midnight hours while the LEDs light up back country roads like a UFO landing scene in a Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster.
Along the flanks are chassis-mounted tubular steel rock rails that take the place of traditional side steps, and a bit more protection with revised black plastic wheelarch and body side mouldings housing 17-inch alloy wheels with high-profile 265/65 Dunlop Grandtrek AT tyres.
More steelwork is applied at the rear with a heavy-duty bumper with integrated step that is, like at the front, well integrated with the towbar assembly and another two heavily reinforced recovery points. A towball and tongue are provided, along with a seven-pin flat trailer wiring harness.
The tub has a thick plastic lining screwed into the floor and a four-piece steel sports bar that is likewise bolted down and is designed to be a load-bearing structure, supporting vertical loads of up to 75kg or, with the help of multiple tie-down points, securing up to 200kg of gear on the floor.
Probably all it really lacks is a tonneau cover and, as seen on some rival high-end utes, a soft-close function for the tailgate.
Toyota insists the new hero model isn’t simply an accessorised SR5, but a proper addition to the range that spent three years in development – in both Australia and in consultation with the engineering team in Thailand, where the vehicle is built.
Of a more cosmetic nature is a revised grille design and black finish on the wheelarch and body side mouldings, wing mirror caps, doorhandles and tail-lamp surround.
As a top-shelf SR5-based HiLux, the Rugged X’s cabin comes with the convenience of climate-control air-conditioning, variable intermittent wipers, two 12V accessory sockets, a separate 220V socket, fully adjustable multifunction steering wheel (with phone and voice recognition) and an infotainment system that includes a 7.0-inch touchscreen, smartphone-compatible Toyota Link app suite, satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity, USB/auxiliary inputs, a CD player and six speakers.
Interior highlights specific to the Rugged X include comfortable black perforated leather-accented seats (with contrast stitching), other dark-coloured plastic and fabric trim around the cabin, thick and heavy all-weather floor mats, and a neatly presented redesigned instrument cluster with white illumination and orange needles.
The 4.2-inch central display from the SR5 carries over, and while providing plenty of useful information is crying out for a digital speedo to improve the driving experience, while lower down on the dash stack the fan adjustment dial for the climate control is at far left-hand-side, requiring an inconvenient reach for the driver. Otherwise, the major switchgear and controls are quick to master and come easily to hand.
The front seats have heating – but only a single temperature setting – and the driver’s seat has electric adjustment but no means to alter lumbar and no position memory.
There is no electric adjustment of any description for the front passenger, just the basic fore/aft and seatback backrest angle movements, which flies in the face of this being a premium $64K-plus proposition.
We accept that this is a commercial vehicle at heart, and one with a particularly ‘rugged’ nature, so harder plastics and the like are a given. The cabin feels comfortable and generously equipped, but not as high end as we had anticipated.
As well as better seating arrangements (including full leather upholstery), we had anticipated more attention to detail: a vanity mirror for the driver, an illuminated mirror for the front passenger, leather on the handbrake lever, and so on, to say nothing of more modern conveniences like wireless smartphone charging.
Taller occupants – such as this journalist, at 188cm tall – may be disconcerted by the overhead grabhandle which protrudes from the headlining above each window, in the both the front and rear compartments.
This is of particular concern in the back where passengers are perched up higher than the front-seat occupants. The rear seat area has air vents, enough storage facilities and just enough room, although three big bodies across the bench might be pushing things a little too far.
Engine and transmission
The Rugged X has the same mechanical specification as the SR5, but, tipping the scales at 2252kg, is carrying an extra 200kg with all the extra components that really only come into play a long way from the urban sprawl.
This puts an additional burden on the stock-standard 1GD-FTV 2.8-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine, which produces 130kW of power at 3400rpm and, with the six-speed automatic, 450Nm of torque from 1600-2400rpm.
The six-speed manual produces 30Nm less torque, pulling 420Nm over a broader 1400-2600rpm spread.
The numbers are instructive, but leaving the spec sheet and the humdrum of city life behind, we soon find the flagship HiLux chugging along runway-smooth arterial roads in light traffic conditions with minimum fuss.
There’s some induction noise to be heard through the snorkel, but nothing untoward and, if anything, is part of the attraction as we make our way towards the beach, a shallow inlet and some tall timber.
It is, alas, only a short-lived idyll. Heavier traffic, intersections and, really, the vast majority of driving conditions soon have us wishing the Rugged X – unladen, with just the one occupant – had a bigger dose of pulling power and refinement.
While the transmission shifts cleanly and is responsive to driver demands, the engine is undeniably noisy when revved and soon runs out of breath, such as when a strong response is needed for quick overtaking moves.
Whether on fast-flowing open roads, undulating ranges or slow-speed trails, the engine feels at least 50Nm short of the mark for such a heavy vehicle, taking the shine off our initial impressions and making us wonder why Toyota didn’t take the opportunity, over a three-year-long engineering program, to boost its performance up to a level that at least matches some of its competitors.
Fuel consumption suffers as a result, with our wide-ranging test seeing the Rugged X return 10.6 litres per 100km on average – well up on the official 8.6L/100km printed on the spec sheet back at home.
A separate off-road stint saw our real-world figure push higher, but with only a limited amount of time spent in the city, we would expect mid-to-high-teens in the longer term when based in the suburbs and greater use of the payload (which tops out at just 748kg on this model) and/or the braked towing capacity (3200kg auto/3500kg manual) is made.
Ride and handling
Rugged, by any definition, means rough, uneven, craggy, harsh, unpolished, and despite being the new top-end model of the HiLux range, the extra investment is directed into features that give it a harder – rather than sportier – edge compared to its rivals.
The front suspension has uprated springs to support the weight of the hardcore steel components at the bow, but no changes at the stern, and the smart design of the front bumper was soon noticed on off-road trails where we have taken regular one-tonne utes and encountered clearance issues. Not this time.
For the record, the front approach angle is 28 degrees, approach corner angle 49 degrees, departure angle 21 degrees and ground clearance (unladen) 251mm.
We drove with confidence in low-range across muddy and sandy conditions, crawled with good control down steep descents with the electronic downhill assist control system engaged, and on several occasions praised out loud the inclusion of heavy-duty pipework at the side of the vehicle rather than regular side steps.
Toyota has clearly nailed the brief in terms of off-road ability, which is class-leading among the mid-size pick-up brigade, but the Rugged X’s performance on the road, where the vehicle will spend most of its life, always feels a step behind its major rivals in terms of ride, handling and refinement.
We don’t expect the HiLux to act like it belongs in the SuperUtes racing series, but, with the vehicle unladen, our regular back-road test route soon brought various unwelcome traits to the surface: shudder through the chassis over broken bitumen, a fidgety feel across small bumps and corrugations and howls of protest from the tyres when tackling tighter corners with a degree of enthusiasm. Throw some bumps into the tight cornering equation and it even gives rise to some unexpected kickback through the steering column.
The steering itself is quite vague at high speeds and heavier than some might expect when driving around town, reinforcing its status as a light truck rather than a passenger vehicle designed primarily for everyday suburban family duties.
Overall, this is not a rough and unrefined vehicle defined by its rugged nameplate, just one that lacks the sophistication now expected at this end of the market.
Safety and servicing
As per every 4x4 HiLux, the Rugged X has an anti-lock braking system with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist – major support lines for its standard front disc and rear drum braking package – along with electronic stability and traction control.
A reversing camera, emergency stop signal, trailer sway control, hill-start assist and downhill assist systems are provided, and the airbag count runs to seven – namely, dual front, driver’s knee, seat-mounted front side and head-protecting curtains that run along the windows to cover both the front and rear compartments.
A headrest and three-point seatbelt is provided for all five positions, with pretensioners at the front, and when independently tested by the Australasian New Car Assessment Authority in 2015 the HiLux received a maximum five-star safety rating.
That said, this top-spec HiLux is, in 2018, in need of more advanced driver-assist safety features such as autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with collision mitigation, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, driver fatigue monitoring, and so on – all features that are offered elsewhere in high-grade 4x4 utes.
A single child restraint top tether anchor point is provided in the centre-rear position, while less convincing fabric hoops are provided on outboard seats to guide the strap to the centre spot.
Toyota Australia’s ‘Service Advantage’ program sees diesel-powered HiLux servicing capped at $240 for the first six services over three years or 60,000km, which sounds a bargain but is based on the company’s defined intervals of every six months or 10,000km.
The new-vehicle warranty is limited to three years or 100,000km, and all the unique components fitted to the Rugged X are covered.
Toyota has succeeded in taking the HiLux to a new level with the Rugged X, tapping into the psyche of high-end ute buyers who typically spend thousands of dollars over and above the vehicle’s RRP on accessories.
That these new components – and key selling points of the vehicle – are well designed and, as our test has shown, highly effective – makes the X-rated variant a worthy addition to the range.
As the new flagship of the range, however, we hesitate in acclaiming this as the must-have HiLux unless regular off-road workouts are driving the purchase.
Ford Ranger Wildtrak from $59,590 plus on-road costs
Brilliantly executed and brimming with advanced tech, Ford’s Aussie-developed Ranger Wildtrak ticks the box in all key areas – including a newly introduced five-year/unlimited warranty.
HSV Colorado SportsCat from $60,790 plus on-road costs
Sportier by nature than the Rugged X, HSV’s high-end ute is not the high-performance model we might have expected but does benefit from some excellent local engineering work.
Volkswagen Amarok TDI550 Highline from $60,490 plus on-road costs
Well proven, highly specified and currently the most powerful one-tonne ute on the market, the 165kW/550Nm V6 diesel Amarok has only a few shortcomings and must be on the shortlist.
Mercedes-Benz X250d Power from $61,600 plus on-road costs
New entrant to class that uses the Nissan Navara as its basis and takes the one-tonne ute experience to a higher plain in areas such as specification and refinement.
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