Toyota Hilux Double-Cab D-4D Raider 4x4 A/T (2009) Driving Impression

Toyota Hilux 2009

Given the importance of the Toyota Hilux for the brand's global fortunes, the company’s relentless efforts to enhance this product is to be expected. At first glance, the latest round of updates appear minor, but viewed within the context of current market trends, it would appear that Toyota has listened very closely to what its customers are saying.

Take, for example, something as subjective as styling. From the moment the current Toyota Hilux rolled into showrooms in 2006 there were complaints that the vehicle’s rounded styling was too effeminate for what was after all supposed to be a butch bakkie. What has Toyota done for the facelift? Well, without changing any of the sheetmetal, it has instead modified the grille and bumper to be more square-cut, more… manly. The new looks certainly give the Toyota Hilux a healthy dose of macho presence.

Inside, there were complaints about the lack of remote audio controls on the steering wheel and the fitment of rather old-fashioned ventilation system controls. With the upgraded model, Toyota has addressed both these issues. The new climate control panel is particularly attractive, featuring a wide digital display with the buttons neatly positioned around it.

The last bit of news concerns something far more serious than aesthetics. As further evidence of a trend that sees more and more customers use their double-cabs primarily for a leisure/quasi-SUV role, the flagship Toyota Hilux is now offered with an automatic transmission.

Toyota Hilux has some rough edges

While there have been small trim changes here and there in an effort to lift the interior ambience, it has to be said that the Hilux’s utilitarian roots still shine through in some  places. The quality of the plastic used for the upper section of the facia looks good and befitting the positioning of the vehicle, but the materials lower down are too shiny and simply too “plasticky”. Other irritations include a steering wheel that only adjusts for rake, a driver’s seat without height adjustment, and the continuing fitment of secondary lever to operate the low-range transfer case. It looks terribly out of place next to an automatic transmission lever and that glitzy climate control system.

All that said, the Hilux’s cabin is not an unpleasant place to be. There’s lots of space (even in the rear), and the standard specification is good, including four airbags, a good radio/CD system and electric mirrors/windows. Given the price for the Toyota Hilux, leather upholstery would have been appreciated. Another feature missed is park distance control, because at 5 255 mm in length, manoeuvring the Hilux is somewhat stressful.

Impressive refinement

While the fitment of an automatic transmission to a double-cab pick-up is not a new idea, the growth in demand for this combination has spurred a number of manufacturers into offering such derivatives. This Toyota Hilux sees the company’s impressive 3,0-litre D-4D turbodiesel engine mated with a somewhat old-fashioned four-speed transmission. The power and torque figures (120 kW and 343 Nm) are impressive for this segment, but then again the Toyota Hilux Double-Cab weighs nearly two tonnes, so performance is never going to be electrifying. Couple this with a four-speed ‘box, and initial progress seems lethargic. However, things improve markedly soon after, with the drivetrain feeling (and sounding) refined and the transmission intelligent enough to generally make the correct shifts at the right time. Of course, at around 9,5 litres/100 km, the Toyota Hilux D-4D Automatic can’t match the manual model for economy.

Once you get used to – and learn to compensate for – the initial slow pull-away, this is a lovely vehicle to drive. The D-4D engine has always been impressive, but the automatic transmission has erased some of its low-rev noises. It’s a far more relaxing drive as a result.

Go anywhere in the Toyota Hilux

What would a Toyota Hilux be without proper off-road ability? Even with an automatic ‘box this model is well-geared for the rough stuff, boasting not only low-range, but also a rear diff-lock activated at the push of a button, as well as a front diff-lock that is engaged as soon as the driver selects four-wheel drive. The ground clearance is excellent (more than 220 mm) and approach/departure and breakover angles all good – just watch the side steps (if fitted). In many ways the automatic transmission improves the Hilux’s off-road ability as it eliminates a lot of the clutch/throttle balancing act that will conspire to get novices, especially, stuck.

On the road, the Toyota Hilux is very much as before. The ride is firmer than most, but well-controlled, so it’s not bone-jarring. That firmness helps it carry a bigger load than most competitors.

Toyota Hilux - Verdict

This vehicle marks another step in the evolution of the Double-Cab. If you need one vehicle to fulfil all possible tasks, from transporting bicycles or dirty sporting gear, to a mom ferrying the kids to school, and to take the family on a holiday in far-flung nature, then you can’t really go wrong with this Toyota Hilux. It’s got a few rough edges, but for many that adds to the charm of picking a bakkie over a SUV in the first place.

We like:

  • Refinement
  • Working ethic
  • New climate control interface
  • Promise of reliability/back-up
  • Good off-road
We don’t like:
  • Utilitarian roots shine through in cabin
  • Some initial transmission lag
Fast facts

Engine: 3,0-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel

Power: 120 kW @ 3 400 rpm

Torque: 343 Nm @ 1 400-3 200 rpm

Transmission: Four-speed automatic

Wheels: 16-inch alloy

Top speed: 175 km/h

0-100 km/h: n/a seconds

Fuel economy: n/a litres/100 km (9,5 litres/100 km est.)


Also consider:

  • Isuzu KB300 Double-Cab D-Teq LX Automatic : Playing in the Isuzu’s favour is its more leisure-oriented ride and, some would say, better looks. Otherwise, the Toyota seems to have the edge, with better load-carrying ability and a more spacious cabin. The Toyota’s drivetrain also feels more refined.
  • Mitsubishi Triton Double-Cab 3,2 Di-D Automatic: Hasn’t found much love in the South African market, mostly due to its odd-ball looks. But underneath all the curves is a solid, capable vehicle that deserves to do better. Has a spacious, well-built cabin and is good off-road.
  • Ford Ranger Double-Cab 3,0 TDCI XLE Automatic: Rather expensive, and not as good overall as the Toyota, Mitsubishi or Isuzu. Its chassis feels old and rear passengers are not particularly well-catered for. Nice engine though, but it’s thirsty.