Toyota HiLux update aims to fend off the competition

By: Tim Robson


This is an important update for the HiLux as its rivals close in. Has Toyota done enough?

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The Toyota HiLux is, by some odd twists of fate, one of Australia’s best-selling vehicles, despite the fact that it’s far from the perfect family vehicle. Built tough to endure mine sites and construction jobs, the HiLux’s most popular variant is the 4x4 dual-cab ute.

Formerly residing firmly at the top of the heap, the four-door, five-seat HiLux is now kept honest by the likes of the Ford Ranger, while upstarts like the Mitsubishi Triton and Isuzu D-MAX now nip at its heels.

The eighth generation HiLux launched in 2015 with new engines and technology, and the 2020 facelift addresses key areas like ride, handling and power output, where its rivals have been, one by one, stealing the march on the former king of the hill.

We put 750km on a new SR5+ in two days over a variety of terrain, even adding a heavy load to the tray for a brief test. How does the 2020 Toyota HiLux stack up?

PRICE AND VALUE

As pictured, the SR5+, equipped with a 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel and a six-speed automatic transmission, costs $62,420 plus on-road costs.

That’s a pretty sizable jump over the equivalent previous version of the HiLux; more than $9000 in real terms, in fact.

Dual-range 4x4 with hill descent control, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, road sign ID and AEB with cyclist detection during the day, LED headlights and taillights, 17-inch alloys with highway-spec tyres, a new 8.0-inch multimedia system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and a small digital dash screen are standard, along with a 60/40 split base rear seat.

It does miss out on a few basics that would be reasonable to expect at this price point, including some sort of liner for the tray (be it spray-on or plastic) and vents and USB charging points for second-row passengers. Does the Toyota HiLux have ISOFIX baby seat mounts? Sure does – two of them, in fact.

The SR5+ is two grand dearer than the SR5 by dint of its leather-faced heated seats (powered operation for the driver’s seat), and just over $10,000 dearer than the first 2.8-litre-powered double-cab, the SR.

By way of comparison, Ford’s 2.0-litre twin-turbo Ranger XLT costs $60,940 in auto guise, with the Wildtrak coming in four grand more expensive.

STYLING HIGHLIGHTS

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The biggest thing to mention about the updated Hilux’s design is the involvement of Toyota Australia’s Melbourne-based team. Charged with designing and implementing the changes for the HiLux worldwide, the Aussies built a full-size clay model of the car to send to Tokyo HQ, which signed off on the revised grille and front end, new headlight inserts and taillight arrays and other minor exterior touches.

You’ll have to know your HiLuxes to spot the changes; side by side the restructure of the grille and realignment of the lower bar is obvious… but Toyota saved its upgrade budget for bigger-ticket items to great affect.

LIVING WITH THE TOYOTA HILUX

There hasn’t been much in the way of change when it comes to the interior of the HiLux. A new dash binnacle insert offers up redesigned speedo and tacho dials, but does include – hallelujah! – a digital speedometer for the first time in a HiLux. It also offers more data info for the driver, but not to the extent of things like engine oil pressure or temperature.

The other big change is the addition of a larger 8.0-inch screen to the centre console. The new system is compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, along with something known as myToyota. This will allow owners to use other apps like Stitcher and AccuWeather, which aren’t supported by either phone interface.


How news of the HiLux update broke earlier in the year, here


The screen can be used via capacitive touch, with larger icons making it an easy job. Each function can be accessed via buttons, and many owners will be pleased to hear that the volume knob has returned.

The seats are comfortable and supportive, and the steering wheel, while firm underhand, is comfortable over a longer journey. Rear seaters do sit quite vertically, but there is plenty of headroom, toe room and shoulder room.

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A big tick for the flip-down hook on the back of the front seat to hang that plastic bag of pad thai and kung pow chicken from, too, Toyota.

Storage in the doors and in the centre console is adequate (just), but the rock-hard plastic that’s used to make the small trays and the two cupholders means that rattling is a real drama on rough stuff – we found ourselves stuffing napkins down the side of our regular metallic coffee cup for fear of going insane.

The tray of a dual-cab isn’t the best place to store stuff, and the HiLux is very bare-bones out back, with no power outlets, lights or lining of any kind. The tailgate also lack any form of soft-open mechanism, slamming down with a loud clank when unlatched.

We’ll talk about how it drives in a minute, but the changes to the suspension have also improved the quietness inside the cabin of the HiLux, too. Off-throttle, the engine quietens down nicely and aside from wind noise around the wing mirrors, the HiLux isn’t a chore to drive over longer distances. A six-speaker stereo system helps here, too – funny to write that about a HiLux!

ENGINE, TRANSMISSION AND DRIVETRAIN

Under the bonnet of the HiLux, the 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine has been considerably overhauled.

A larger, ball-bearing-equipped turbocharger, a stiffer cylinder block, better exhaust gas management and improved cooling helping to boost outputs to 150kW (up 20kW) and 500Nm (up 50Nm) on the six-speed automatic version (though it’s still 420Nm for the six-speed manual version, despite what you might read elsewhere).

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It’s still a handful of killer wasps down on the Ford Ranger's 2.0-litre twin-turbo’s 157kW, but the torque is now a match.

Another improvement; the updated six-speed auto can now handle 3500kg of braked trailer, up 400kg over the previous version. Toyota says it's down to improved torque lock-up calibration.

The HiLux retains its dash dial-activated low-range 4x4 set-up, with the default drive mode being rear-wheel-drive. A hill control descent button and an old-school ‘idle-up’ button are the main electronic off-road aids.

THE DRIVE

Toyota has worked hard to bring new updates to the HiLux. Chief amongst these is the changes to the suspension, which has been tweaked to improve the HiLux’s busy, buzzy unladen ride quality.

Revised low-friction (read: more expensive) shocks, revised bushings and new, longer and softer leaf springs work with updated bushes between the body and the ladder-frame chassis to give the HiLux a much more mature, controlled and generally nicer ride quality when it’s not carrying anything in the tray.

Steering feel, too, has been improved. Toyota has kept the older-style hydraulic steering assistance for the HiLux because it claims it’s more reliable off-road. A variable ratio pump has been added to the system, which works harder at low speed to lighten the steering effort, conversely firming it at higher road speeds

Overall, the HiLux is now quieter, much more compliant over small bumps and breaks in the road and it generally feels much more refined – and it needed to, given the quality of its opposition in this area.

We also briefly tested the HiLux’s ability to carry load with the new suspension setting by adding a 650kg wheel unit from a mining shuttle car to the tray. The tray itself can’t carry a standard 1200mm wide pallet, though.

The HiLux can carry up to 1000kg of payload (which, don’t forget, includes driver, passenger and anything packed in the cabin, not just what you chuck in the back). In our case, total payload measured about 770kg, including the 650kg wheel unit and frame, the 110kg driver and 10kg of camera gear.

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The revised rear suspension visibly sagged under the load, which was located a little too far towards the rear of the tray over the axle. However, it worked well over corrugated roads and railway crossings and steered perfectly well, though braking performance was definitely compromised, with longer stopping distances and a softer brake pedal underfoot.

As mentioned, the towing capacity of the HiLux is now higher for 4x4 automatic models, with all 4x4s able to tow 3500kg of braked trailer.

SAFETY

There’s no change to the HiLux’s five-star ANCAP safety rating, which was a major goal during the development of the eighth-gen ute. Five star cars are far easier to sell to large mining and construction outfits.

However, the active safety equipment level of the HiLux (including high-speed AEB with daytime cyclist detection, trailer sway control, lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control) is being challenged by rivals like the new Isuzu D-MAX, which also offers rear cross-traffic detection and blind-spot warning.

SERVICE COSTS

Servicing intervals of six months or 10,000km are shorter than those on key rivals like the Ranger (15,000km/12 months) and are, consequently, more expensive when it comes to fixed-price service plans.

A capped price service plan over five years will cost $3537, with the first four services capped at $250 each.

The HiLux uses standard diesel and doesn’t need AdBlue to treat its exhaust system.

At a claimed combined fuel economy figure of 7.0 litres/100km, the Toyota HiLux’s 80-litre fuel tank allows a theoretical range of 1150km on one tank of diesel. Over 750km of testing, we burned 9.4L/100km over city and highway.

VERDICT

The HiLux is an important car for Toyota, but the brand has long been guilty of doing exactly enough to maintain its advantage and not a skerrick more. Now, though, the competition is stepping up its game, and Toyota has responded with a meaningful update to its powertrain and suspension. Can it keep its number one spot? Only time will tell.

Specifications

Price: From $62,420 (6AT)

Engine/Transmission: 2.8-litre 4cyl turbo diesel

Fuel consumption/CO2/Tank size: 7.0L/100km, 212g/km, 80L

Safety: 5 stars

Seats: 5

Warranty / Service Interval: five years/160,000km, 10,000km/6 months

Spare Wheel (type): full size

Weight: 2050kg

HILUX 4X2 SR HI-RIDER

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The Toyota HiLux has always bumped around in an odd netherworld between bushy suburbia and the blue-collar universe. Starting life as a simple, rugged tool for the hard-hat and Akubra brigades, along the way it’s morphed into one of the most popular passenger vehicles in Australia. That dual identity brings with it a series of compromises that the HiLux’s original designers never really planned for.

The 2020 refresh of the eighth-generation HiLux, which launched in 2015, inches the needle over towards a passengers-first sentiment, presenting a more civil side to the HiLux without impacting its abilities on the construction site or back paddock.

Niceties like a digital speedometer and Apple CarPlay, and necessities like AEB and adaptive cruise control, are all part of the mix of this upgraded HiLux, along with powertrain tweaks and a light cosmetic makeover.

Make no mistake, though; the interior of the HiLux is still as tradie as it comes. Those hard plastics and durable surfaces are softened by stylised curves and radiused edges, while a new, larger 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with smartphone mirroring and app access make it more commuter-friendly.

Trademark HiLux touchstones are still present, including the dot matrix-style digital clock and the idle-up button to the right of the steering wheel, which nestles just above the diesel particulate filter regeneration button. Added in 2018, it’s a reactive fitment to try and stem the tide of discomfiture with the DPF issues that have thus far plagued the eight-gen ’Lux.

The HiLux’s 1GD-FTV 2.8-litre diesel turbo four has been made over, with a stiffer cylinder block, better exhaust gas management and improved cooling helping to boost outputs to 150kW (up 20kW) and 500Nm (up 50Nm) on the auto (though it’s still 420Nm for the manual). It’s still a handful of killer wasps down on the Ranger 2.0-litre twin-turbo’s 157kW, but the torque is a match.

Another improvement; the updated six-speed auto can now handle 3500kg of trailer, up 400kg over the previous version.

Outside, there’s a bigger one-piece grille, redesigned headlights (still halogen at the lower end of the spec scale) and a tidied-up rear, but little else in the way of sheetmetal changes.

A telescopic steering column and decently proportioned seats provide a familiar driver interface, and a digital speedo is a few years late but a welcome addition. The adaptive cruise control system is effective if conservative with distances, and can still be overridden to access old-school cruise if that’s your pleasure.

Has Toyota manage to improve the skittish unladen ride and handling for us city folk? Short answer is yes. Revised shocks combine with new front springs and longer rear leaves, revised bushings and new mounts between the cabin and the frame to bring the around-town ride quality closer to that of its competitors. It’s still a utility and it still can pack a tonne in the back, so it will always be compromised, but Toyota has clearly spent a bit of time and money to improve the everyday liveability of the HiLux.

Its primary ride is now on a par with - and possibly nicer through the front end than - its most vaunted rival, the Ford Ranger. The revised engine feels more cohesive and less industrial, too, with decent throttle mapping and a good relationship with the six gears.

We need more miles with the HiLux to see if it’s got the chutzpah to see off a brace of new and improved rivals, but at first blush, Toyota has certainly rounded off a few of the HiLux’s callouses.

Rival – Ford Ranger

An all-new version of the Ranger will hit us next year, so technically the Ford is an older nail than the HiLux. However, key tweaks for the 2020 year from the Blue Oval will keep the Japanese giant honest.

And it’s the little things on the Ranger, like a USB port behind the rear view mirror for dashcams and remote-controlled roller shutters for high-spec versions, that will help keep the fight alive between two of Australia’s top-selling vehicles. Next year, however, will be very interesting…

SPECS

Model: Toyota HiLux (4x2 SR Hi-Rider Extra cab tested)

Engine: 2,755cc, i4, 16v, turbo diesel

Max power: 150kW @ 3400rpm

Max torque: 500Nm@1600-2800rpm (auto), 420Nm@1400-3400rpm (man)

Transmission: 6-speed auto

Weight: 1920kg

0-100km/h: not provided

Economy: 7.5L/100km

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