Toyota is polishing up the HiLux team, readying for a fierce season as new and improved players take to the ute field.
The HiLux, as a two and four-wheel drive, remains the country's favourite ute but faces renewed attack with the imminent arrival of all-new Ford Rangers, Mazda BT-50s and Holden Colorado. Then there's Nissan's Navara, the Mitsubishi Triton and Volkswagen's Amarok already kicking goals while Great Wall and Ssangyong utes pick up points at the cheaper end of the paddock.
So with Toyota's seventh-generation HiLux now six years old and an all-new range at least three years away it's time for a refresh with price cuts, new sheet metal, a repositioning of models, recalibrated two-wheel drive suspension, ABS standard across the range and upgraded trim.
And with Australians looking more to utes as dual-purpose family vehicles, the spotlight here falls on the HiLux heroes — four-wheel drive Double and Xtra cabs.
So for HiLux there's now an entry-level, Workmate four-wheel drive dual cab under $40,000 (almost $6000 cheaper than the previous lowest-priced diesel Double cab) and price cuts up to $3650 across the dual cab line-up. The four-wheel drive SR5 Xtra cab has dropped $5650 and the dearest HiLux is now the auto diesel, four-wheel drive SR5 Double Cab at $53,490, just $250 dearer than the equivalent Nissan Navara and $100 more than the equivalent new Ford Ranger in October. Prices rise by up to $900 on two-wheel drive HiLux models which start at $18,990.
Seven new turbo-diesel models are added while four, low-demand, V6 petrol variants disappear; leaving 35 variants compared to the previous 32. There remains the 2.7 litre and 4 litre V6 petrol engines plus the 126kW, 3 litre turbo-diesel and choice of manual or automatic transmissions.
All arrive with new front style — a tidier bonnet, front guards, headlights and grille. There's new audio systems and towing capacity on four-wheel drives is 2.5 tonnes, up from 2250kg.
But it's the flagship four-wheel drive SR5 models which score the most bling, ranging from dusk-sensing headlights to LCD touch screen and satellite navigation, Bluetooth streaming and silver highlights across the dashboard.
The SR5 Double Cab adds privacy side and rear glass, 17-inch alloy wheels and a restyled sports bar.
With the new sheet metal up front, plus fender flares for SR models, the HiLux style is fresher and a little less gawky than its predecessor.
On and off the road the HiLux continues to offer the usual comforts and capabilities. Extra touches, including steering-wheel mounted audio and telephone controls plus satellite navigation for SR5s, further the more carlike interior this time around.
The interior changes across the range refresh a pretty practical ute cabin without breaking too much new ground. Bigger drivers will still like a little more room height adjustment on the steering wheel, or a little less height to the seat squab.
The HiLux steers, rides and brakes with confidence (as before) although it would be hard to match the dynamics of the Volkswagen Amarok in this class. The Toyota launch machines — with 180kg in the tray — were quick and comfortable down the highway, as confident as ever in the scrub.
But for serious work consideration needs to be given to more substantial underbody protection up front.
And while the 126kW turbo diesel and four-speed auto are a sweet combination with excellent mid-range response, low-low is still a bit quick on some downhill bush tracks. But here highway fuel consumption can run into the low 8 litres per 100km.
The V6 petrol pushes out a handy 175kW, the 2.7 litre four has 116kW at 5200rpm and there remains the choice of Single, Xtra and Double Cab, three equipment grades, two and four-wheel drive plus manual and automatic transmissions.
So while much of the HiLux story remains the same it is the price repositioning, and value-added pieces, which Toyota hopes to counter the growing opposition in one of the market's brightest segments.
Nissan Navara D40 ST-X- compare this car
Price: from $50,990
Engine: 2.5-litre, 4-cyl petrol, turbodiesel, 140kW/450Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic, four-wheel drive
Body: 4-door utility
Thirst: 8.5/100km (auto 9), CO2 224g/km (auto 238)
Ford Ranger- compare this car
Price: from $57,390
Engine: 3.2-litre, 5-cyl turbodiesel, 147kW/470Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual or automatic, four-wheel drive
Body: 4-door utility
Thirst: 9.4l/100km (auto 9.6), CO2 238g/km (auto 256)
Volkswagen Amarok- compare this car
Price: from $58,490
Engine: 2-litre, 4-cyl twin-turbodiesel, 120kW/400Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Body: 4-door utility
Thirst: 7.9l/100km, CO2 209g/km