The wait is over! Toyota's new Hilux has arrived at dealers and we've already spent time with this very important newcomer. Here's what the flagship Hilux is like to drive...
The Toyota Hilux first arrived in South Africa in 1969 when a small, short-wheelbase, 1.5-litre powered model went on sale locally. Given the fact that the market was then dominated by big six- and eight-cylinder powered vehicles, this compact bakkie immediately made waves thanks to its low running costs and abilities. But even so, few would have guessed that it would end up being the icon it has become.
Fast forward to 2016 and there’s a new Toyota Hilux in town. It's been a long-time coming. Given the fact that the previous-generation Hilux was launched as far back as 2004, and that it has since had more facelifts than Cher, minor upgrades were no longer good enough to fight off the improving competition (here's looking at you, Ford Ranger). Now in its eighth generation, the Hilux has been completely overhauled to meet demanding customers’ needs.
And it certainly is all-new... Ironically (given its roots) the newcomer is now one of the biggest bakkies on the market, and is, in fact, longer than the imposing Ford Ranger. The model we spent the most time in during the launch event was the 2.8-litre turbodiesel double-cab Raider, a derivative that should get the country's more leisure-oriented buyers as excited as the previous - and massively popular - 3.0 D-4D managed to do for years. It retails for R529 900, which is a very aggressive price indeed! For the launch event, Toyota entrenched itself at the Porsche-owned Kyalami race track. While the idea of driving around the completely new Kyalami in a vehicle not designed for track antics was at best amusing, there was an all-new 4x4/offroad course to sample and this was a perfect starting point to highlight the new Toyota Hilux’s off-road prowess.
Off the beaten track
Hilux customers are, of course, likely to reach for the prominent second "gearknob" which in the past activated the four-wheel drive modes, but the new model does away with that and in its place is a rotary dial which allows the driver to seamlessly switch between four-wheel drive high range, four-wheel drive low range and rear-wheel drive on the fly. This means that you can switch modes at speeds of up to 50 kph. No more need for stopping, putting the car into neutral, engaging the drive, then setting off.
There are some handy electronic aids that make their debut in the new Toyota Hilux. The Downhill Assist Control (DAC) is useful as it controls the brakes and prevents wheel lockup when descending the steepest declines. Hill Assist stops the vehicle from rolling backwards on an incline and finally there’s a revised traction control system which will allow some slip, but will ultimately rein you in if it detects the vehicle is out of control.
While there are new manual and automatic transmissions, we feel the manual gearbox is worth further detailing as the improvements are significant. Now fitted with Intelligent Manual Transmission (iMT), this gearbox makes use of rev-matching technology to ensure the smoothest changes, even if your action is lazy and poor. Why this is activated with a button and not an automatic setting is a little strange as it makes the vehicle smoother to drive. The action of the gearbox itself is solid, reassuring and pleasant – a big improvement on its predecessor.
The introduction of the new Hilux heralds the arrival of some new engines, too. The previous 2.5-litre and 3.0-litre diesels have made way for more efficient and very powerful 2.4-litre and 2.8-litre turbodiesels. The 2.7-litre and 4.0-litre V6 petrols from before continue, however, with some minor improvements. We drove the 2.8-litre GD-6 motor which packs 130 kW and 420 Nm when matched with the six-speed manual transmission - engines paired with the new six-speed automatic transmission offer even more torque (450 Nm). The engine/manual transmission combo offers a tow rating of 3 500kg for a braked trailer, good news for the many thousands of buyers who will end up using their vehicles as leisure tools. More good news is the standard fitment of Trailer Sway Control.
This motor is certainly strong and has plenty of grunt, but it’s not just about power though as it’s also meant to be thrifty at the pumps. Toyota claims 8.51L/100km, which is rather good for a bakkie of this type. There are some drive modes as well which allows the driver to adjust the ECU mapping as required. You can either opt for "eco" prioritises efficiency at the cost of some driveability, or "power drive", which does the opposite. You can feel the Hilux becoming a little more urgent in its responses when in the latter of the two modes - throttle response, especially, becomes noticeably sharper. It's a very good engine, and appreciably refined.
The cabin represents the biggest step forward from a design point of view, and endows the big bakkie with a pleasantly car-like driving environment. The dominant feature is a new tablet-like infotainment system which lends the cabin a near-premium feel. The overarching theme here is robustness and build quality. Everything is solid, and everything feels like it will last... yet there are definitely hints of premium and luxury here, despite the Hilux’s working class role. The Hilux is also one of the few bakkies to offer a steering wheel that is also reach adjustable, to the great benefit of driver comfort.
Safety has been another area of focus for Toyota. Driver-side knee airbags make their debut and along with anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, as well as driver/passenger airbags, the Toyota Hilux looks like it’ll prove pretty safe in the event of a collision. Isofix child seat anchors are also provided in the rear.
Ride and handling on different terrain
The launch route was terrific as it combined multiple terrains for us to traverse. Admittedly we did take the 4.0-litre V6 around the exceptionally smooth new surface of Kyalami for a giggle, but the real test took place outside the confines of the circuit. We experienced sand, gravel and tarmac, and one particular section was a river crossing. While the water was only about 15 cm deep, the fact that you’re in a Hilux gives you a bit more confidence as opposed to a normal passenger hatchback or sedan. The Hilux has a claimed wading depth of 700 mm, as well as good ground clearance (286 mm claimed).
On the gravel sections we effortlessly shifted from two-wheel drive to four-wheel drive for additional traction and stability and despite the exceedingly poor surfaces, the Hilux felt right at home. Tarmac proved to be an interesting test as bakkies don’t exactly hold a stellar reputation for ride and comfort, but the refinement upgrades in the new Toyota Hilux are very obvious. While it’s not ever going to be as smooth as a German sedan, it arguably establishes a new benchmark in terms of outright comfort, especially for those seated in front. Rear passengers, on the other hand, may still feel that they’re sitting too upright but even here the Hilux has moved forward. The newcomer convincingly banishes the perception of the Hilux as a rugged, but utilitarian and hard-riding workhorse to the history books.
The new Toyota Hilux moves the goalposts and will undoubtedly give its rivals something to think about, especially at the very competitive pricing. Manufactured at the company's Prospecton plant in Durban, Kwa-Zulu Natal it forms part of a huge investment by the brand. While the actual monetary figure is yet to be confirmed, Toyota admits that it’s by far the largest investment in its history. It is a very, very important product...
So, while the Ford Ranger has done really well for itself in terms of sales of late thanks to its tech, punchy engines and macho looks, the new Toyota Hilux, based on this short first evaluation, will prove equal to the task. Bring on the comparative test!
View a video that highlights 5 need-to-know facts about the 2016 Toyota Hilux: