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Car reviews - Toyota - Hilux - SR5 Dual Cab

Our Opinion

We like
Spacious cabin, well-presented and practical, urban driveability, relaxed cruising, fuel efficiency, off-road skills
Room for improvement
No parking sensors, uncomfortable front seats, not the dynamic leap forward we hoped for

Toyota logo3 Feb 2016

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Price and equipment

WE TESTED the $55,990 (plus on-road costs) SR5+ 4X4 2.8TD Double Cab Pick-Up with six-speed manual gearbox. Apart from loading up on factory accessories like bull bars, side rails, winches, canopies, snorkels, roof-racks and tool cases the only way of spending more on a HiLux is to take the $2000 six-speed automatic transmission option.

All that differentiates the SR5+ from the $2000 less expensive SR5 is leather upholstery with electric driver’s seat adjustment. The rest of the spec-sheet is pure SR5 and pretty comprehensive save for the glaring omission of parking sensors, which must be fitted as an accessory.

Chrome-finished radiator grille, rear step, interior door handles and (power-retractable) exterior mirrors, a stainless-steel sports bar, rear privacy glass, silver cabin highlights, a premium instrument cluster with 4.2-inch colour trip computer display and 18-inch alloy wheels mark this out as the flagship of the HiLux range.

The 7.0-inch central touchscreen provides access to satellite navigation, DAB+ digital radio, Bluetooth audio streaming, Toyota Link apps and the reversing camera, while the climate-control air-conditioning panel sits below along with buttons and knobs for the rear differential lock and four-wheel-drive transfer case respectively.

Keyless entry, push-button start and anti-theft alarm are present and correct, as is tilt and reach adjustment for the multi-function steering wheel, behind which are controls for the auto-levelling LED headlights and adjustable intermittent wipers.

All four electric windows have auto up/down and there is a 220V electrical socket in the cabin.

LandCruiser 70 Series apart, paying more for a diesel-manual dual-cab requires visiting a Ford or Volkswagen dealership, with a manual Ranger Wildtrak costing $57,890 and a Volkswagen Amarok Ultimate (auto) at $63,990. However both come with features not available on a HiLux from the factory.

Interior

While lacking in soft-touch surfaces is as expected for a commercial vehicle, the dashboard presentation in the new HiLux is nevertheless an attractive and uncluttered departure from what went before. A faux stitched effect embossed into some surfaces is an amusing attempt to break the hard-plastic monotony, while leather-like elbow rests and areas of silver and piano-black trim add class. However the optional leather in our HiLux felt hard-wearing rather than luxurious.

The cabin feels pleasingly driver-oriented too, with the attractively integrated large central touchscreen subtly angled and big clear dials making us forgive the clear colour-screened multi-function trip computer’s lack of a digital speedometer readout.

Combined with the multi-function steering wheel, the majority of functions are slick and intuitive such as the clear, sharp reversing camera display and the accurate satellite navigation with its effective traffic congestion alerts and intelligent re-routing around roadworks and tailbacks.

Even the audio sound quality is fantastic, with enough bass to get the interior mirror shaking.

There is plenty of cabin storage too, including large upper and lower gloveboxes, cupholders at the far ends of the dashboard and in the centre console, generously sized door bins moulded to accept large drinks bottles, a large space for smartphones beneath the central stack and a big bin beneath the central armrest.

The rotary controlled single-zone climate control system is easy-to-use, and though there are no airvents for rear passengers, the system is powerful and the cabin airy enough for comfort back there.

However we found the front seats difficult to get comfortable in with squabs far too short and lacking thigh-support for tall occupants. Despite a week of fiddling with the controls, we never got over the feeling of being tilted forward and perched and the height adjuster must be cranked right up or there is little space between the driver’s posterior and the floorpan, a position incompatible with the position of the pedals.

The steering is reach-adjustable but we would have liked a larger range of motion to help long-legged drivers get more comfortable. The steering wheel is also made of a strange material that is stitched like leather but feels like rubber.

As is often the case with Toyota and Lexus products, the HiLux’s rear seats are more comfortable than the front. The backrest pleasantly angled and there is impressive legroom, with enough space for a six-foot passenger to sit behind a same-height driver. However the central position provides poor headroom for adults.

Rear passengers get a pair of big bottle-holding door bins, a central armrest with dual-cupholders, plenty of grab handles, hooks above the rear windscreen and the front seat-backs, map pockets and a central top-tether point for the two outboard Isofix child seat anchorages.

Driving into a head-wind we could hear some rustling around the windscreen but road noise, even on coarse-chip bitumen or ridged concrete, is admirably suppressed. Engine noise from the diesel unit is ever-present but not intrusive unless revved.

Visibility is excellent for a one-tonne ute, but with only a reversing camera and no factory parking sensors that’s just as well.

In the tray are four D-ring style tie-downs but no 12V outlet or light as fitted to some competitors. Maximum payload is 925kg. For comparison, a Ranger Wildtrak can take 1000kg and an Amarok Ultimate (on standard heavy duty suspension) 989kg.

Engine and transmission

The engine in the HiLux is the same all-new 2.8-litre turbo-diesel recently added to the LandCruiser Prado, producing an identical 130kW and 450Nm. However in manual HiLuxes such as the one tested here, the torque figure drops to 420Nm.

In the significantly heavier 2435kg Prado this engine can feel lethargic but in the 2075kg HiLux it feels lively and responsive, at least unladen, even with a 30Nm torque deficit forced by the use of a manual transmission. Conversely, the manual HiLux can tow 3500kg and the auto is limited to 3200kg (regardless of auto or manual an Amarok Ultimate can tow 3000kg and a Ranger Wildtrack can tow 3500kg).

Considering the HiLux is a commercial vehicle and the Prado is a luxury SUV, we found the HiLux engine to be quieter from both inside and outside the cabin. In that regard, it is about on-par with its best rivals for engine noise.

The six-speed manual transmission fitted to our test vehicle was a delight to use and one of the best commercial vehicle gearboxes around. However it is rather tall-geared, forcing us to use quite low gears for urban and suburban driving.

On the upside, it cruises quietly along at low revs (such as 1600rpm at 110km/h) and we recorded fuel consumption of 8.6 litres per 100 kilometres, a litre higher than the official combined figure. This impressed us, considering our week of mixed driving included spirited back-road blasts and off-road adventures with four-wheel-drive engaged. The same engine in the Prado averaged in the tens.

Beside the gearstick are buttons for normal, Eco and Power engine modes, with the latter livening up throttle response by a significant amount and revealing just how quickly this engine comes on-boost. Unladen and on-road, the touchy accelerator was a bit much and we preferred the linearity of normal or Eco.

Ride and handling

The HiLux does not feel over-compromised as a family hauler by the fact it is a truck and unlike the Ranger or BT-50 does not feel too big and unwieldy on urban roads and in car-parks. This is helped by good visibility, manoeuvrability and well-matched control weights that help the HiLux gel as a pleasant vehicle to drive.

But compared with class-leaders in this department such as the Navara, Ranger or Amarok, in the HiLux road ridges and peaks reveal that chassis shudder is still present, while on particularly pock-marked or rippled surfaces the unladen ride gets jiggly enough to add an amusing vibrato to conversations.

That said, it’s never uncomfortably harsh and is certainly better than an Isuzu D-Max, Holden Colorado or Mitsubishi Triton.

Around town the HiLux is pleasant to drive, with much of the typical top-heavy one-tonner pitching eliminated and the pleasantly weighed, accurate and direct steering making it a pleasure to thread through traffic. Its cruising ability is relaxed, too.

While it’s not as pleasant or fluid as an Amarok or Ranger on faster roads, overall we were impressed by the Toyota’s general obedience and predictability – especially unladen with little weight over the rear axle – as well as its imperious indifference to poor corner surfaces and mid-bend bumps or ridges.

Naturally there is some body-roll but the HiLux settles quickly and then digs in on fast, wide-radius sweeping bends. In tighter stuff, the rather aggressively treaded Dunlop Grandtrek tyres that help the HiLux feel unstoppable off-road emit a sorrowful howl when submitted corner-entry speeds that an Amarok would conquer with ease.

On a 100km/h stretch of twisty road the HiLux disappoints compared with its fluid-handling rivals, the directness and accuracy of its steering below 80km/h belying a vague high-speed sloppiness.

Even in the dry, heeding speed advisory signs typically placed before tighter corners is required more often than not. Otherwise grip runs out and the stability control intervenes in heavy-handed fashion that introduces a fair bit of jerkiness to proceedings, but one that gets the truck around the corner safely and without fighting the driver’s own corrections.

The anti-lock brakes also seem to kick in quite early and under hard braking the HiLux does not pull up particularly quickly. However it does stop in a controlled manner, tracking straight and true once we slammed on the anchors.

Using a dashboard knob, high-range four-wheel-drive can be activated electronically on the fly at up to 100km/h, while low-range is a bit more involved, requiring a halt and neutral to be selected before it will engage via a push-and-twist action on the controller. Additional transmission grumble was present in these modes.

A trip through some muddy, rutted forest tracks with some deep puddles did little to challenge the HiLux for ground-clearance, traction or axle articulation. It was the kind of terrain we would never consider tackling in a typical all-wheel-drive SUV but in the HiLux we did not even need to use low-range or the standard rear differential lock.

In this environment the HiLux soaked up some big bumps admirably and stability on corrugated dirt roads was good. However a hidden mid-corner dirt-road dip really caused the unladen rear to step sideways, requiring the stability control to step in, which it did with Jedi-like reflexes and straightened things out before we knew what had happened.

The visibility and low-speed steering accuracy we enjoyed in town came to the fore in the bush, helping us know where the corners of the HiLux were and position the wheels on some very rutted surfaces to make sure we avoided getting lost in holes.

Safety and servicing

The HiLux is covered by a three-year, 100,000km warranty and service intervals are every six months or 10,000km.

Under Toyota’s capped price servicing scheme, the first six scheduled services cost $180 each when carried out within the first 3 years or 60,000km.

ANCAP awarded the 2015 HiLux a maximum five-star safety rating with 34.45 points out of a maximum 37. It scored 13.45 out of 16 in the frontal offset test and perfect scores of 16 out of 16 in the side impact test and 2 out of 2 in the pole test. Pedestrian protection and whiplash protection were judged ‘good’.

Standard safety gear includes dual front, side curtain and driver’s knee airbags, electronic stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, hill-start assist and emergency brake assist, trailer sway control, anti-whiplash front head restraints and all-round seatbelt monitoring.

Verdict

The HiLux may not be the ride-and-handling departure from tough-truck roughness everyone was hoping for. It is not as refined or comfortable as the class-leaders and does not have their road manners on twisty roads and poor surfaces.

But we liked that the HiLux was easy to live with in an urban environment – handy for families and tradies alike – and unless we lived in an area full of twisty, poorly surfaced roads that we liked to drive along full-tilt, we’d probably value that over the superior dynamics of its competitors.

Some may think Toyota has not gone far enough with the eighth-generation HiLux but in practice, the new model builds well on the strengths of its predecessor while adding much-improved interior ambience, technology and everyday usability that will appeal to tradies and families alike.

All things considered, Toyota has done enough by focussing on areas that matter most to the one-tonne ute driver and making meaningful, if comparatively small, improvements in all other areas.

Were we among the 3000 enthusiastic people who put down deposits before the new HiLux launched, we would not have been disappointed.

Rivals

Ford Ranger Wildtrak ($57,890 plus on-road costs)Building on the pre-facelift Ranger’s impressive ride, refinement and road manners, the updated version now also boasts one of the segment’s classiest cabins and market-leading technological toys. It just feels a bit big on the road, which could be a deal-breaker for some.

Volkswagen Amarok Highline from $52,490 plus on-road costs
So ambitiously priced, we selected a variant below the $60K Ultimate flagship.

In the face of strong new competition, the Amarok has managed to remain competitive because it set the bar so high in the first place. Hides its commercial vehicle origins incredibly well, but not at the expense of go-anywhere ability or do-anything utility.

Nissan Navara ST-X from $51,990 plus on-road costs
Goes out on a limb with coil-sprung suspension, succeeds with on-road comfort and off-road traction. The attractive, functional interior and grunty, frugal hi-tech new engine make it a real contender.

Mazda BT-50 GT from $51,790 plus on-road costs
It’s as though Ford’s deal with Mazda to co-develop the Ranger and BT-50 ensured the Blue Oval hogged the limelight, as the Japanese-branded version has not been treated to quite the level of attention for its mid-life update and has fallen behind somewhat as a result. But the pricing reflects that and the BT-50 therefore combines value-for-money with some serious credentials. Share’s the Ranger’s ‘bigness’ though.

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