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Car reviews - Toyota - Hilux - SR5 d/cab tdi 4x4 utility

Our Opinion

We like
Powerful, high-torque engine. Smooth gearbox with tall final drive ratio for quiet highway travel and fuel economy. Comfortable car-like interior with plenty of standard features and modern exterior styling
Room for improvement
Excessive vibration through the transfer case lever. Lack of adjustment in driver's seat. Tight shoulder room in the rear

12 Jul 2002

ACCORDING to Toyota, the Prado is the son of LandCruiser.

But long before the Prado was born, the HiLux was an alternative to a LandCruiser, offering everything that Toyota stood for in the way of ruggedness and reliability - but in a smaller, more modern package.

The first Toyota HiLux four-wheel drive hit Australian roads in 1979 after spending seven years as a two-wheel drive, and quickly became a popular choice in on-road/off-road transportation.

By comparison, all HiLux competitors began school late, with Holden offering its first four-wheel drive utility, the Rodeo, in 1981.

Nissan followed this with the Navara in 1986, Mazda and Ford with the B2600/Courier in 1987 and Mitsubishi with the Triton in 1988.

Toyota introduced the first HiLux SR5 in 1978 in two-wheel drive format - but it would take Toyota another eight years to bring the SR5 options to its then established "baby LandCruiser".

Building on a strong heritage, the 2001 model Toyota HiLux SR5 3.0-litre, turbo-diesel, dual cab four-wheel drive is a vehicle that can definitely claim to have benefitted from years of testing and customer feedback.

Body shape and styling are relatively unchanged from the model it replaces, which was first introduced in 1997 - Toyota couching the changes as a mid-life facelift.

In this facelift all HiLux models received an updated grille, bonnet, headlight surrounds, bumper and more powerful 70 amp alternator. The SR5 picked up additional chrome treatment to the grille, front and rear bumper, wing mirrors and door handles, as well as new tail-lights, tailgate and 15-inch alloy wheel rims.

Toyota also used this occasion to introduce its improved and optional 3.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbo-diesel, 85kW/315Nm engine.

This turbo-fed powerplant first appeared in the SR5 dual cab four-wheel drive in 1999 with output figures of 85kW for power and 295Nm for torque.

The turbo option now has outputs of 14kW of power and 95Nm of torque over the SR5 normally aspirated 3.0-litre diesel engine, due to Toyota's continued focus on improving its diesel engine technology.

Toyota may have made this improvement in anticipation of the 2002 releases of the 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engines in the Holden Rodeo and Nissan Navara.

There is no easy way to compare these 3.0-litre Tdi rivals other than to drive them.

Each engine has slightly different cylinder capacity, power and torque specs, cylinder head valve set up and, to add to the confusion, only some have intercoolers. (An intercooler boosts output by condensing the intake airflow, which improves combustion).

Vehicle kerb weights also vary greatly, robbing performance from the heavier vehicles.

The HiLux performs extremely well at all engine-related tasks.

And HiLux styling, form and function are among the best in its class.

This is evident when you see the attempts by Toyota's competitors to match the HiLux and its SR5 model for styling and appointment.

The box sided styling that was the basis for this type of vehicle through the 1970s and 1980s has for some time been replaced with a more subtle expression of ruggedness through rounded curves, sloping windscreens and front grilles, and deep styled press marks running at angles along the metal.

Plastic now plays a bigger part in the construction of what was once a mostly metal vehicle - both inside and out - and the SR5 gets its fair share.

A thick plastic chrome-look grille faced with black plastic uprights and centrepiece sits above the chrome steel bumper, which is mounted on top of a full-width, colour-coded plastic air dam.

SR5 wheel arches get large plastic flares that hang well above the wheels and are colour coded to match the rims, in contrast to the body colour.

The HiLux cabin is long - longer in fact than its competitors in relation to the vehicle's overall proportion.

This is most noticeable when you look at where the front of the rear wheel arches meet the back of the cabin, revealing sacrifices made in payload length.

A longer cabin dimension translates into more passenger legroom.

The HiLux has plenty of legroom front and rear, though noticeably less than the Prado or LandCruiser, but the narrow width of the vehicle creates a sensation of being cramped, compared to the larger four-wheel-drive wagons.

Despite some limitations in cabin breathing space, benefits of the smaller off-roaders like the HiLux are many.

Primarily, they are often cheaper to purchase and maintain than the larger four-wheel drive wagons and fuel consumption is generally lower due to smaller engines pushing a smaller vehicle mass.

The HiLux driving position is legs out-stretched - as you sit near to the floor. This seating position places a lot of pressure on the driver's behind and lower back.

The dual cab offers seating for five adults at a squeeze.

The front seats are comfortable, reclining buckets and the rear seat is a fixed bench with forward tilt only.

SR5 seats are vinyl backed with cloth trim inserts and have adjustable head restraints in the front and fixed head restraints in the rear for outboard passengers only. The front seat backs have storage pockets sown in.

Outboard passengers get retractable lap-sash seatbelts and the rear centre occupant a lap belt.

Several safety options are available on the HiLux SR5 including dual airbags, front seat belt pretension control and force limiters.

The light grey dash sits high up, curving down from the instrument panel to the passenger side A-pillar.

A narrow centre console comprising armrest, storage bin, cupholders, transfer case gear lever and gear stick butts up to the climate control and stereo panel that houses the single CD, cassette, AM/FM radio offered as standard.

Automatic transmission is not offered on the SR5 dual cab 4x4 and the centre console space of this model is filled with Toyota's R151F gearbox stick.

All gears are easy to find though for long-legged drivers the throw to fifth gear puts the gear stick close to the knee as they lift off the clutch.

The transfer case gear lever is positioned slightly left of centre behind the gear stick and moves forward and aft only, from high four (H4) through neutral to low four (L4), saving space in the cab.

A H2/H4 button on the transfer gear lever knob electrically operates a servo-motor that shifts the transfer drive coupling between high two (H2) and H4, replacing the sideways movement previously required.

Vibration through the transfer case gear lever is excessive and distracting at times, though strangely the main gear stick moves very little.

The clutch and brake pedals are hydraulic and hydraulic/vacuum-assisted - making them light and smooth to operate - providing accurate control of both functions.

Toyota clutches are legendary for being tough and, with the right treatment, should last the life of the engine - if not the vehicle.

SR5s get a limited-slip rear differential with a taller final drive ratio of 3.727:1 over the base model HiLux of 4.556:1.

HiLux suspension is hung from a traditional steel ladder chassis and though the set-up has changed progressively over time, the high ground clearance that HiLux is known for has not been lost.

Leaf springs mounted under a live rear axle push the traditionally commercial vehicle along while a smart and well-protected top-mounted torsion bar suspension of double wishbones with independent axles smooths out the ride up front and stabilises the vehicle at speed.

Early model HiLux lurched along on front and rear semi-elliptic leaf springs mounted under live axles - the high ground clearance only just making up for the erratic ride.

These days the HiLux ride is controlled and predictable though the steering seems a little too vague at highway speeds - perhaps due in part to the large surface area of the 255/70 R15 tyres fitted to the SR5.

Toyota still tempers the rear springs of the HiLux to best suit those with work in mind - so a light load in the rear will help slow the rebound action of the firm rear end, which can be uncomfortable when empty.

The HiLux is at home off-road with its nimble size making it easy to negotiate the toughest tracks while the turbo-diesel engine, with its endless torque, makes hill climbs very easy.

The higher differential ratio of the SR5 makes travelling on very rough ground or crossing rocky creeks or rivers a job for low range second or third, as H4 first gear is a bit tall and leads to over-use of the clutch.

And to make this type of four-wheel driving more difficult, Toyota has removed the hand throttle.

So if power take-off devices or even electric winch work is planned, consider the cost of putting the hand throttle back in.

On the highway the HiLux cruises effortlessly and overtakes safely with the turbo willingly providing boost in fifth gear while the engine sits at around 2500rpm - well within the torque curve of the motor.

Americans have long enjoyed their "pick-up" vehicles. In fact the Ford F-Series has been America's top selling vehicle for more than two decades.

Slowly, Australian arms of car companies are seeing the opportunity of additional sales from the versatile dual cab utility in the adventure/lifestyle, off-road segment and are dressing up their humble light commercials to new heights.

The HiLux SR5 3.0-litre, turbo-diesel four-wheel drive comes close to being today's best compromise of price, size, versatility and features that Toyota or any other manufacturer offers in a true 4x4.

We doubt that back in 1979 Toyota had planned the "baby LandCruiser" or HiLux to become such an attractive proposition to families and couples wanting to work and play in the same vehicle - but that is just what it has done.

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