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Car reviews - Toyota - Hilux - TRD dual-cab ute range

Our Opinion

We like
Performance, supercharger whine, off-road ability of 4000SL model with centre diff lock, ride comfort
Room for improvement
Lack of traction with part-time AWD, lack of stability control, wheel design and side stripes, overly subtle interior treatment, $60K-plus price

Toyota logo14 Apr 2008

By DAVID HASSALL

YOU might think that $60,000 for a truck is a big ask, but Toyota Australia does not expect that to be an impediment for the new TRD HiLux, claiming that it already sells more than 600 HiLux SR5s a month priced over $50K.

The entry-level TRD HiLux 4000S is priced at $59,990, which just happens to match HSV’s Maloo R8, the sleek Commodore-based ute that is powered by a 6.0-litre V8 and accelerates from 0-100km/h in little more than five seconds.

However, the HiLux is a rather different animal altogether and has no pretences of being purely a tarmac-burner. This is a genuine SUV, with the sort of off-road ability you associate with the HiLux name – at least with the more expensive 4000SL model.

Toyota’s TRD brand has hardly had a smooth birth and the front-drive Aurion has not set the world on fire in a market dominated by V8-engined rear-drive muscle cars, but its second model creates a clear niche in a market segment that is growing and appears to be increasingly affluent.

If utes are indeed what today’s youth aspire to, rather than sportscars, then a hot HiLux will surely make an impact for the TRD brand.

Some think it would have made sense for TRD to produce a 4x2 sports ute rather than going down the 4x4 route, but our first drive revealed that all that supercharged power going solely to the rear wheels – with the inbuilt limitations of a truck chassis and leaf springs, and without the benefit of electronic stability control or even traction control – would have been too much for such a vehicle.

As it is, the slowness of the HiLux part-time all-wheel drive system means that in the TRD model you have to deal with plenty of wheelspin and some lurid slides when you bury the throttle, especially on wet and off-road surfaces.

Even with 150kg of ballast in the tray to replicate a load during our test drive, it really was a handful and will easily catch out the unwary driver.

To properly harness the TRD HiLux’s 225kW and 453Nm of supercharged V6 power, you really need the 4000SL model, which brings to the party a switchable (on-the-fly) centre differential that provides instant drive through the front as well as the rear wheels and consequently keeps all that performance heading in the right direction.

With the centre diff engaged, there is really no need for ESC, but then you would not ideally want to be driving around all the time with all four wheels engaged because it uses more fuel and creates more wear. It’s a bit of a conundrum and highlights the inherent deficiencies of sports utes, especially truck-based ones.

Off-road, the 4000SL was extremely impressive and did not feel at all compromised by the sportier suspension set-up or road-biased rubber, offering plenty of grip, stability and even ride comfort.

In fact, it seemed prepared to go anywhere without fuss and even displayed uncompromised entry and departure angles, thanks to the designers resisting the temptation to create deeper front and rear air-dams.

While it feels taut and connected to the roughest off-road tracks, it is a different story on the highway, where it tends to float, even with a load holding down the back-end.

On the bitumen, the TRD HiLux is obviously tuned to understeer, which is quite prevalent and emphasises the amount of steering lock you have to pour on for any given corner. Otherwise, the steering provides good feel.

The brakes are said to be some 40 per cent lighter than a standard HiLux, but they have good feel and progression, which allowed us to monitor them easily so that lock-up did not occur even as we descended a particularly steep off-road track on which the vehicle was almost on its nose.

The engine itself is a 4.0-litre unit developed in conjunction with the US – with an Eaton M90 supercharger and the addition of a water-to-air intercooler fitted with a separate water pump (which looks a little, prone located just behind the plastic front bumper). The intercooler reduces the temperature of the air being forced into the engine and therefore enhances power.

This engine is not related to the TRD Aurion’s 3.5-litre V6, which was developed locally and uses an Eaton TVS supercharger without intercooler.

With a lot more torque than the TRD Aurion, but less peak power, the bigger V6 also has a very flat and wide torque curve and is well-suited to the HiLux application.

It has an intentionally high level of noise, although it is quiet when cruising, while the supercharger whine is an immediate barometer of how much throttle the driver has applied.

Apply full throttle from standstill and the TRD HiLux will accelerate to 100km/h in a claimed 7.2 seconds, which is a lot slower than a Maloo but is by no means sluggish and certainly in keeping for a 4x4 ute – especially when you consider that the fuel consumption (12.9L/100km) is about the same as the standard SR5.

Quoted power outputs are based on using 95 RON premium unleaded, but the engine will happily run on regular 91 RON unleaded if that’s all you can get. It is not recommended for extended use, though.

The standard five-speed automatic transmission is acceptable for a workhorse ute, with comfortable rather than fast changes, but is not sharp enough for a performance vehicle and there is no dash read-out to let you know what gear you are in when shifting manually.

Keeping in mind that HiLux owners are often tradies getting in and out of their vehicles regularly, TRD’s designers wisely avoided extreme sports seats with wide bolsters. Climbing aboard is therefore quite easy and there was no obvious lack of side support once on the move.

However, there is no sense of occasion sitting in the TRD HiLux, especially the 4000S. The trim does not feel special and the only obvious visual cues are the red leather highlights on the steering wheel and gearknob (the latter looking like something seeking to mate on the Discovery Channel).

It is only when you step up to the 4000SL that you get the full interior treatment, with black leather seats complimented by red highlights and embroidered TRD logo, as well as fancier carpet mats.

Exterior styling was apparently compromised by international logistics because, whereas the Aurion is built here, the HiLux is built in Japan and the styling has to be “compatible with global developments”.

There are no underbody or surface changes but the “clip-on front” gets the “TRD look”, with a mesh grille based on the R in TRD and a bigger opening to aid cooling.

The beefy-looking alloy rollover bar behind the cockpit loses much of its credibility by being twice as thick as the tray ridge on which it sits and therefore has so much overlap that it is clearly not a load-bearing component. It certainly looks more integrated with the hard tonneau cover that is optional on the 4000SL.

Styling is, of course, a very subjective matter but we found the design of the 17-inch alloy wheels (up from standard 15s) and the side stripes made the TRD HiLux look more like a dealer value pack than a properly engineered factory machine.

Overall, the TRD HiLux provides plenty of punch without losing economy and commendably retains its off-road ability, but is inevitably compromised as a performance road vehicle by its ute origins.

There is a limit to how impressive you can ultimately be when held back by having leaf springs, rear drum brakes, all-terrain tyres, no electronic stability control and have to have the ability to carry a significant load.

Having said that, the young men in the sports ute market segment seem to have already accepted most of these compromises and voted with their wallets, so TRD could still have a winner on its hands with its potent new 4x4 entry.

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