The Toyota HiLux has been Australia’s top-selling workhorse for more than three decades. Some months, it leads the entire new-car market. In the past two years it has finished second and third in the sales race -- and was the first of four pick-ups in the Top 10 in 2013.
Scoff at the HiLux and its rivals all you like, but it’s not just mining companies driving sales. At the risk of sounding like we’re regurgitating the hype, the modern ute really is two vehicles in one these days: a work truck through the week and a family car on weekends, thanks to added creature comforts and safety features.
Which is why Toyota has given the Hilux its fourth update in eight years (some more subtle than others). An all-new model is still at least two years away and, surrounded by newer competition, Toyota had to respond.
The 2014 model-year HiLuxes just beginning to arrive in dealerships are now rated with a five-star ANCAP score, and a rear view camera is now standard on several models. The HiLux had been written off by some as being past its used by date. But, having been reacquainted, we were pleasantly surprised by how well it’s holding its age.
The Toyota HiLux is among the dearest of the workhorse pick-ups, although not as dear as the Ford Ranger and Volkswagen Amarok. Its premium price looks even more out of whack when you see the drastically discounted prices from the aging Mitsubishi Triton and Nissan Navara utes, and the weaker selling Holden Colorado, all of which have limboed into the low-to-mid-$30,000 price bracket in recent months.
But, now, even the HiLux has been brought into the price war. In the lead-up to the end of the year, the 2013-model-year top-line HiLux SR5 crew cab (ute speak for four-door) diesel manual was $46,990 drive-away, about $8000 off the full RRP. The top-line HiLux has never been so cheap (publicly, at least).
That was to clear the last of the four-star safety-rated SR5 models. Prices are set to return to normal once the new model arrives. But we know from experience that Toyota had been trimming prices before the $46,990 drive-away deals. Transaction prices between $48,000 and $50,000 drive-away were not uncommon for an SR5 crew-cab (full retail is $52,000 plus on-road costs, which is closer to $55,000 drive-away).
Somewhere in the high-$40,000 range would be our target price for a manual SR5 crew-cab and a neat $50,000 drive-away for an auto should still leave enough profit for the dealer to put dinner on the table that night. We tested the two-door extra-cab SR5 which starts at $47,990 plus on-road costs. Aim for this price but drive-away, no more to pay. The dealer will wince a bit but it’s doable.
Other 4WD utes have the option of full-time all-wheel-drive on tarmac (Mitsubishi Triton) or crawl functions for steep off-road work (VW Amarok). The HiLux lacks these useful features and is still a fairly basic, albeit durable, design.
The major advancements include a better built-in navigation system with a standard rear-view camera (mounted crudely but effectively on the tailgate), and six airbags (which have been part of the safety story for a couple of years now).
Nothing much has changed here since the last design update about 18 months ago, which saw an all-new nose and redesigned tail-lights. Don’t expect any radical styling changes now until an all-new model arrives in about two years.
Inside, the grey seat trim and door panels have been changed to black. It’s incredible what a big difference such a small change has made to the interior. Thankfully, the HiLux’s many storage cubbies remain. Here’s hoping Toyota doesn’t go backwards with the new model.
Six airbags and a five-star ANCAP safety rating -- thanks to the addition of a seatbelt warning light, a lap-sash belt in the centre rear seat on the SR5 crew cab, and extra padding near the driver’s knee on all models. There are no bodywork or structural changes between the 2013 and 2014 HiLuxes, but these modifications were enough to elevate the ANCAP safety score to five stars.
The Toyota HiLux is not the best of its type for on-road driving; the Ford Ranger and Volkswagen Amarok are still the class leaders in that regard. But the Toyota HiLux is by no means bottom of the class, and is a better all-round package than some of the newer competition including the Mazda BT-50 (too bouncy), Holden Colorado (too vague) and Mitsubishi Triton (like driving in the dark ages).
Toyota has also made improvements to the calibration of the stability control, which discreetly prevents a skid in corners by applying the brakes to the wheel that’s losing traction. Earlier versions of Toyota’s stability control were quite abrupt; you can barely feel the new one at work. That said, we hope Toyota continues to improve this, and uses the Ford Ranger and VW Amarok as dynamic benchmarks.
The HiLux’s aging 3.0-litre turbo diesel isn’t the most powerful or refined among its peers but it has tonnes of grunt at low revs and was relatively fuel-efficient during our time with it (9L/100km average). It would benefit from a six-speed manual however, instead of the standard five-speed. At least a five-speed auto is optional (up from a four-speed).