Toyota has made extensive changes to the market-leading Hilux to raise the standards in the ever-improving leisure bakkie segment. We spent a bit of time testing the facelifted model off-road in the Western Cape.
The Hilux recently regained the title of South Africa’s best-selling bakkie, but Toyota is seemingly not satisfied with that. In fact, the Prospecton-based company wants to ensure that its champion won't be seriously challenged again for some time to come.
Bakkie facelifts usually entail little more than changes to the bumpers, some new light clusters and perhaps an infotainment-system upgrade, but not for the late-2020 Hilux. Substantial upgrades have been made to the Japanese bakkie's powertrain, suspension and design, all of which make the Hilux feel like an all-new model, at least as far as its driving experience is concerned...
Toyota has admitted that this generation of Hilux had a bit of weird-looking face at the start of its product cycle and that’s why the Japanese firm has worked quickly to introduce visual updates with models like the Dakar and the Legend 50. That certainly helped sales, but all the while, behind the scenes the Japanese firm was working on a much bigger upgrade for the bakkie.
The engine upgrade was an easy target to hit; the Hilux was underperforming in this area compared to the top-of-the-range Ford Ranger, Volkswagen Amarok and other competitors despite having one of the largest-capacity turbodiesel engines in the game. An extra 20 kW and 50 Nm has sorted that right out. A bigger, heavy-duty turbo is mostly responsible for the gains in peak outputs, but there are also upgrades to the cooling, combustion chamber and intake manifold, all which serve to improve performance and economy while maintaining renowned Toyota reliability. A balance shaft has been installed on the Legend Auto to reduce noise and vibrations, which means the 2.8-litre motor is quieter, even at startup.
The front end features new LED lights and an all-together more aggressive facial arrangement.
Meanwhile, the Hilux's suspension has been totally redesigned with revised leaf springs, retuned spring rates and shock absorbers. Changes to suspension bushings and cabin mounts serve to reduce vibration and harsh feedback (choppiness) when driving on corrugated roads at speed.
The infotainment system has also been upgraded to incorporate modern screen technology and software, plus it’s finally Android Auto and Apple Carplay compatible. Toyota has also made an RS package package available for purchase for those who want an electric roller shutter cover for their bakkie's load tray. The kit also includes a rubberised tray lining, as well as a rear sportsbar.
What's it like to drive?
The rear suspension changes have improved the comfort levels on rough surfaces.
The mechanical changes really add up to a markedly different ride quality in the Hilux Legend. While we didn’t get to test newcomer's ride comfort in general road conditions we can attest to its gavel and off-road poise.
Simply put, the Toyota's rear-end is much more agreeably sprung and, for lack of a better word, comfortable. It doesn’t jolt or bounce nearly as much as it used to. In fact, the Hilux is much more SUV-like in terms of suspension feel than an agricultural bakkie. That’s certainly a sop to leisure buyers (more so than farmers or businesses) although it’s hard to think of a reason why this new, softer setup would benefit all buyers, actually.
The change has not affected the bakkie's off-roading capability either. We drove the new model and the outgoing Legend 50 over some reasonably technical gradients and the new version seemed to deal with them even better than the old one. Some of the driving instructors at the event even suggested the new model has a better traction and diff system than the outgoing model (although Toyota hasn’t listed those among the changes).
Buttons on the loadbay lip electrically slide the rear cover back and forth.
Our Legend models were equipped with the optional RS package, replete with electric roller shutter loadbay covers. It’s a neat addition that is operated by a button on the lip of the loadbay (don't worry, it only becomes operational once the vehicle is unlocked). It takes all the hassle out of pulling the tray cover manually by reaching into the depths of the load bay to pull it closed. The kit futher incorporates running boards, which unfortunately catch quite nastily at break-overs and a rollover sports bar, which is partly useful, but mostly just enhances the new, muscular look.
We will have to wait until we do a full review of the new Hilux Legend before we can truly comment on the updated power unit’s performance. Suffice to say, the manufacturer numbers suggest it’s certainly an improvement and will no doubt also help those who tow heavy loads, especially now that Hilux is rated with a Ranger equalling 3.5-tonne tow capacity (with a braked trailer).
What’s it like inside?
That's right, Android Auto in action in a Toyota Hilux – it's finally happened.
Inside, the effect of the facelift is only noticeable when you utilise the higher function of the new touchscreen infotainment system. The screen juts out a little further from the centre of the dashboard compared with the previous version, displays crisp hi-res graphics and is much quicker to flip through the menus. The buttons to the right side of the display area certainly quicken access to regularly-used menus options.
The Android Auto compatibility worked seamlessly when I plugged my smartphone into the sole USB port ahead of the transmission lever (I assume the same will apply for Apple Carplay). There is a pair of 12V ports (1 on either side of the USB port), but perhaps it would be more useful to have an additional USB port instead of an extra 12V outlet. There is a two-pin plug connection in the centre console for further charging.
The 9-speaker JBL audio system certainly deserves a mention too, because it packs quite a punch. It’s not quite up there with the premium systems like Bang & Olufsen or Harman Kardon, but it’s virtually a hundred times better than the old standard setup.
New safety kit
Ford always held the edge over Toyota in terms of advanced safety systems, especially on lifestyle-oriented derivatives such as the Wildtrak. Whereas Toyota stuck with basic minimum safety equipment, Ford has been offering modern active and safety features for years. However, all Legend 4x4s now get Toyota Safety Sense, which is a suite of safety systems starting with pre-collision detection. Further to that, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and road-sign detection are included. It’s certainly a positive step and puts Hilux on level footing with the Wildtrak.
Hilux is a thoroughly reworked product ready to take on the top-tier leisure bakkies now.
The facelifted Hilux is a concerted effort to lift Toyota's flag-bearer to the top tier of leisure bakkies. Based on our brief initial impression, the bakkie is comfortable and settled on gravel roads, but also more capable on trickier off-road courses. We still have to put the more powerful engine through its paces (and we will get the chance soon), but it felt like there was plenty of grunt and available torque over the 4x4 course we traversed.
Furthermore, the upgrades to the Hilux's infotainment and safety systems have clearly been introduced to meet the contemporary market’s demand for a more connected and safe bakkie, one that is now, more than ever, a lifestyle tool as much as a business one.