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Car reviews - Toyota - Hilux - SR5 Diesel Xtra Cab

Our Opinion

We like
Toughness, 4x4 ability, diesel performance and economy, resale value, refinement, urban driveability, front seat comfort, Bluetooth interface, cabin layout
Room for improvement
No ESP, awkward styling, rear-seat comfort in Xtra Cab, big turning circle, pricey

18 Jun 2010

FORGET Kingswood Country.

If television decided to exhume a crude and formulaic sit-com about a bigoted old buffalo grappling insufferably with Australia’s evolving cultural landscape, the producers would now have to call it HiLux Country.

And that’s deeply ironic because protagonist and WW2 veteran Ted Bullpit would forever whinge that one of our most enduring motoring icons is as Aussie as Wagyu steak drizzled in wasabi mayo.

"No wonder the country's in a mess!"

Everybody knows that since the 1970s, HiLux has made a name for itself worldwide for strength, durability, reliability and versatility. Helping it along has been motoring’s own Bullpit artist, Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson. His unending praise has mythologized it beyond all proportion.

And here are more ironies. The HiLux dates back to 1968 … the year the Kingswood was launched, while the original TV show’s 1980 debut coincided with the big Holden’s demise as well as the 4x4 pick-up version’s Oz release.

"Strike me Catholic!"

Obviously then the Toyota is a survivor of Ironbark Tuckey magnitude.

But these days even the most hardened Aussie battler is partial to at least some of the 21st Century’s little luxuries – be it Nivea For Men Post Shave Balm (“It’s bloody moisturiser you silly wog poofter!”) or a Low GI index Dinner 4-1 microwave meal.

Plus, our newly metrosexualised nation of one-tonne truckers is about to get a much harder hit of motoring refinement in the intriguing shape of the upcoming Volkswagen Amarok.

(“Bloody Jerries – and don’t bloody tell me I can’t mention the bloody war!”)

Time then to assess exactly how the latest HiLux behaves things indeed are a’ changing.

Now well into middle age (b: AD2005), this seventh-generation HiLux is more powerful, refined and comfortable than any previous version.

A wider footprint and new double wishbone front coil suspension aided stability, handling, ride quality and active safety five years ago, while a bigger body and improved safety meant that its occupants could better withstand the call from Mr G. Reaper.

But Toyota had not messed with the all-important fundamentals … the HiLux still sits on a ladder-frame chassis, offering 32 combos of body, powertrain and equipment grades, including 4x2 and 4x4 petrol and TD turbo-diesel drivetrains and Single, "Xtra" and Double Cab styles – each with cab/chassis or pick-up tray options.

Now – even in the quite luxurious, Thai-made, Xtra Cab SR5 TD 4x4 tested here – there’s no getting away from the truckness of this vehicle.

Open the door and step up inside and the general ambience is one of a comfortable and inviting workhorse – but a workhorse nonetheless.

The front seats are wide and immediately comfortable for most people of average size and stature, with only those with a growth spurt in excess of 200cm having just reason to complain about the limited levels of front legroom.

Some passenger cars would be disgraced by the cohesive and functional design and layout of the HiLux’s dashboard, which for all intents and purpose looks like it could have been lifted from a Camry.

Hard and sturdy plastics dominate, yet it is well finished and pleasing to the eye even after half a decade on. The elegant adjustable steering wheel, mega-clear dials, commanding driving position and super-effective ventilation are notable big ticks that this Toyota’s interior scores.

We also applaud the standardisation of the simple and extremely useful Bluetooth telephony system, integrated seamlessly into the adequately performing audio set-up. If only more manufacturers follow this vehicle’s lead.

Being a dedicated tool of trade, the HiLux challenges critics to find fault with its storage solutions, reflecting the firm’s history and experience in the field. In fact, the first Toyota ute dates back to the 1930s.

The Xtra Cab configuration is offered for folk who need to balance load-carrying ability with occasional-only rear-seat occupant transportation, so the pair of seats are strictly short-haul only. The cushions are barely more than padded lids for small storage boxes underneath despite the fitment of matching inertia reel seatbelts, (bolt upright) backrests, and head restraints, with meagre levels of knee, head and foot room for adults. You would never call it comfortable.

Getting to the back requires a bit of clambering between the pillar and seats (this only has two doors), and the front seats do slide back to their original position but the backrest does not seem to do the same.

Nevertheless, for a pick-up truck with excellent load and towing abilities, the HiLux excels, so the Xtra Cab ably pulls off the work and balancing act.

Equipment levels are perhaps better than you might expect if the only one-tonner you know is a 1988 Ford Courier.

The SR5 features six airbags – including side airbags for the front seats and curtain-shield airbags – as well as ABS brakes.

Besides the aforementioned Bluetooth, the spec sheet also embraces cruise control, six-stack CD/radio/MP3 player with USB connection and colour LCD screen, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, power windows and remote central locking.

Unfortunately – unlike the Nissan Navara ST-X – stability control is not available. This simply is not good enough today.

When cold, the 3.0-litre DOHC inline four-cylinder intercooled turbo-diesel with common rail direct injection and twin balance shafts feels and sounds like most contemporary truck diesel engines – rattly and loud.

Once warmed up, though, it fades away into the background fast, leaving only the usual – and expected – ladder-frame chassis-related sound paths to permeate the peace, namely road, tyre and wind noise. But the HiLux doesn’t seem to suffer any more than any other one-tonne truck these days. It will be interesting to see if the VW will be able to reset the bar for refinement on our challenging roads.

Performance and ease of manoeuvrability are further HiLux highlights, with the big Prado-based four-pot TD delivering a healthy 126kW of power at 3600rpm and hefty 343Nm of torque from just 1400rpm.

This is a sturdy no-nonsense engine, pulling hard from low revs and punching strongly in the mid ranges for fairly effortless progress. We expected this to be the case, but the sheer ease of accessing this amount of performance took us by surprise. Far from being big and intimidating, our HiLux felt right at home in the inner capital city areas we used it in.

Fuel consumption in the low 10s (litres per 100km) further bolstered our admiration for the diesel powerplant, and that was after some spirited around-town driving.

And even the long-throw five-speed manual gearbox works fine in heavy traffic, swapping cogs quickly and cleanly. A sixth ratio would be even better though, especially to quell engine noise intrusion at speed.

Responsive brakes, that pull up instantly and in a measured manner, balance out the Toyota’s performance capabilities.

All HiLux 4x4s employ a shift-on-the-move two-speed transfer case, to help it become one of the most formidable off-road utes available on the market today. The Toyota’s 4WD credibility is not at question here.

But left in 2H rear-drive mode, its inner-urban steering and handling are just about as car-like as you would hope, thanks in no small part to well-weighted power steering that gives the driver an idea of where the truck is pointing.

Of course, the leaf-spring rear suspension prioritises loads, but the HiLux’s handling is neat and predictable, without feeling heavy or loose like some of its cheaper rivals. The ride quality is also more than sufficiently sorted out, with the inevitable bounciness only really surfacing if you factor higher speeds and no load into the equation.

In the wet, having 343Nm of twisting action going to a lightly laden rear axle will induce a hopping attitude on rough or uneven roads, and wet surfaces will equal progressively more tail slides as speeds increase.

But the Toyota is still controllable (and catchable if you start to oversteer), while pulling that stubborn little 4x4 lever into 4H will engage the front wheels for extra grip (and an extra wide turning circle it must be said).

And that pretty much sums up what the HiLux is all about.

Far from being the crude and unyielding workhorse the truck-like specification suggests, the Xtra Cab SR5 TD is a surprisingly deft driving machine with a powerful and refined diesel engine, most car-like creature comforts, good (but not D40 Navara ST-X great) safety features and a likeable go-anywhere/do anything charm.

But VW is hell-bent on dominating the world with the Amarok, and the HiLux already feels the heat from the almost-as-old Nissan D40 series as well as the capable Mitsubishi Triton, so it is far from perfect. Clearly, then, the influx of newcomers mean that evolution needs to continue if Toyota is to stay on top of the one-tonne truck market.

As Ted Bullpit might say: “Watch it, mate!”

For now though, as Australia’s love affair with it continues on unfettered, we are still very much living in HiLux Country, and understandably so too.

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