Anyone looking for a pick-up is spoilt for choice at the moment, with all the major models renewed or revised in the last 12 months. Latest to join the fray is the all-new Toyota Hilux, and we drive it in the UK to see how it rates against that competition
Auto Trader verdict:
We have no doubt that this is the best Hilux ever, and anyone who’s owned a Hilux before or wants to a tool to do a job of work will absolutely love it and appreciate the strides that Toyota has made. However, it’s not without its compromises, and because it’s that little bit rough around the edges, it’s not as big an advance on the competition as it is on its predecessors. Put it on your shortlist, by all means, but before you sign up, we’d recommend you look at some of its rivals as well.
Need to know:
Eighth generation of Toyota’s pick-up, larger than previous version
Smaller, but stronger and more economical engine; now with a five-year, 100,000-mile warranty
Available now in three bodystyles, priced from £19,177 (exc VAT)
What is it?
This is the latest – and, would you believe, eighth – generation of Toyota’s world-famous pick-up. Since the first Hilux was launched almost 50 years ago, more than 18 million have been sold around the globe, all providing customers with a super-reliable, go-nearly-anywhere workhorse.
In that sense, not much has changed with this latest version, but there’s plenty that is all-new. There’s the engine, for a start – a new 2.4-litre unit that replaces the previous model’s 3.0-litre powerplant – while the new chassis is claimed to be 20% stiffer than the previous model’s. In terms of the drive, comfort, safety and equipment, the new Hilux is said to be much more SUV-like than any of its ancestors. Last, but not least, the new Hilux also comes with the same five-year warranty that you get with any of Toyota’s passenger cars.
These changes are much needed, as the new Hilux comes into a market that has seen something of a revolution lately. Within the last 12 months or so, most of its major rivals – including the Nissan Navara, VW Amarok, Mitsubishi L200 and Ford Ranger – have all been renewed or revised.
What hasn’t changed is that the new Hilux comes with the same choice of bodies as the previous car: two-seat Single Cab, four-seat Extra Cab and five-seat Double Cab. And, for our first experience of the new car, we’re trying what is expected to be the biggest-selling model, the Double Cab, paired with the optional six-speed automatic transmission.
What's it like?
Well, entirely unsurprisingly, your first impression of the new Hilux is that this is one big old beast. Indeed, not only is it bigger than its predecessor, this new Hilux is also longer and taller than a Range Rover. And, it’s all the more imposing in the Invincible trim of our test car, which comes with lashings of chrome trim all over the body, as well as 18-inch alloy wheels and scuff plates.
Inside, it’s clear how far Toyota has gone to try and make the new Hilux more civilised. Go for this near-top of the range Invincible trim, for example, and you get the very latest touch-screen infotainment system that you find in up-to-the-minute passenger cars like the Prius or RAV4.
Admittedly, there’s no getting away from some of the more, err, ‘durable’ materials that betray the Hilux’s role as a commercial vehicle, but there’s more than enough upmarket trim (a bit of chrome here, a dash of piano black trim there) to give the cabin a feel more akin to what you’d fine in a similarly priced SUV.
There’s plenty of space, too. Not only will a couple of six-foot adults fit in the front seats in complete comfort, another couple will fit in the back seats. It wouldn’t be too hard to fit a third adult in the centre seat, either, as the transmission tunnel in the floor barely limits the space for feet. The wide-opening doors make for easy access, too, and the only issue is that, with the rear seats set noticeably higher than those in the front, you might need to think about packing the crampons to help the kids clamber up into them.
So far, so pseudo-SUV, but that impression ends as soon as you fire up the new turbodiesel engine. Trouble is, it’s nowhere near as refined as those you’d find in similarly priced SUVs, with vibrations felt through the pedals and steering wheel.
Then, once you pull away, that noise just gets louder and more unpleasant. Truth be told, it’s nothing worse than what generations of pick up-owners have put up with for years, but for someone more used to a decent SUV, all that churning away in the mid-range might well be enough to start alarm bells ringing in their heads.
To make matters worse, it’s not as if the Hilux can claim that all this noise at least produces excellent performance or economy. In fact, not only is the Toyota slower to 62mph than recently launched rivals from Nissan and Volkswagen, it’s also less economical.
Now, we’ll be the first to admit that this benchmark sprint is as relevant to buyers as an England football shirt is to Billy Connolly, but even so, the Hilux feels rather too laboured too much of the time. It piles on speed at a pretty pedestrian rate, with the engine slow to pick up revs. The long gearing doesn't help, either. And, bear in mind that we say all this having only driven the Hilux unladen. Fill up your flatbed with freight, and things will only get slower.
The ride is another bugbear, although again, our comment comes having only driven the Hilux with one person on board; the suspension is designed to work best when carrying a lot of weight, and always works better with some mass on board. However, particularly at low speed, the Hilux makes much too much of ruts and ridges for our liking.
On the other hand, things smooth out a bit once you get a bit of speed through the wheels. That, combined with reasonable suppression of wind- and road noise, and the fact that you don’t need to work the engine hard to maintain speed on the motorway, means that you can tackle long-distance, high-speed drives without any fear; and without any ear-defenders.
There’s no getting away from the sheer size of the vehicle of course, and you soon learn to turn off the lane-departure warning system when you're not on the motorway. Leave it on, and any trip down a narrow road soon sets the warning beeper screaming away like a poor 1990s rave track, as you can’t help but clip the white line every so often.
However, in other respects, the Hilux is a perfectly easy thing to drive. Thanks to the light steering, you don’t need to work too hard to manoeuvre the car (space permitting), while it sits very securely on the road. Naturally, there’s a fair bit of body roll around corners in an unladen Hilux, but the movements are reasonably well controlled, and only a swift succession of keenly driven corners will have your passengers reaching for the sea-sick pills.
To cap it all, that reasonable on-road performance is backed up by excellent ability away from Tarmac. The Hilux benefits not only from Toyota’s considerable experience building off-roaders, but also from the company’s latest electronic aids. All that means that Toyota can proudly claim that the Hilux is almost as good off-road as the Land Cruiser.
It’s no idle boast, either, as a brief foray into the wilderness proved. We drove a standard road car (ie without all-terrain tyres) and were very impressed with the way it coped with rutted tracks, slippery climbs, fords and – traditionally the off-roader’s worst enemy – wet grass. Suffice to say, if your job or hobby demands you occasionally get some way off the beaten track, the Hilux will barely break into a sweat getting you there and back.
Should I get one?
As so often when considering a pick-up, the answer to this question depends very much on where you’re coming from. Anyone who’s been driving an older pick-up for a few years will love the new Hilux, but if you’re an SUV-owner who fancies something that little bit different, be warned that the new Hilux is just that: different. Very different to what you’re used to, in fact.
Yes, the Hilux will undoubtedly appeal to die-hard Toyota fans, and it’s not bad by the standards of modern pick-ups. But, if you’re tempted by one, we’d recommend you have a look at a Nissan Navara or hold on for the revised Volkswagen Amarok, which is due to arrive later this year.
Model: Toyota Hilux Invincible Double Cab 2.4 D-4D auto