Electronic stability control is a significant on-road safety bonus and traction control makes a huge difference off-road.
Overlander magazine's Fraser Stronach road tests the updated Toyota Hilux.
It took a while but Toyota has finally added electronic traction and stability control to its HiLux SR5 dual-cab diesel. There are additional changes to the SR5 as well, and some other upgrades down the model range, but the addition of the electronic chassis controls to the SR5 is really the main-event news.
You may not think that this isn't anything to get too excited about and, if this is the case, you probably need to think again. Electronic stability control is a significant on-road safety bonus while traction control can make a huge difference off-road.
In the case of a vehicle like the HiLux, the addition of these electronic controls are even more deeply felt due to the design compromises that are inherent with all utes.
Toyota, of course, is not the first to introduce these upgrades to mainstream Japanese utes as both Mitsubishi, with its Triton and Nissan with its Navara, beating Toyota to the punch.
Nissan's situation is much the same as Toyota with the electronic controls only available on its top-spec dual-cab 4WD diesel (the ST-X) whereas Mitsubishi has traction and stability control available right across its 4WD Triton range, either standard or as an option.
We drove the HiLux on some moderately difficult off-road tracks and while a HiLux without traction control would have probably made it through, the addition of traction control makes it that much easier for both the driver and vehicle.
The essential off-road limitation with all utes (at least when they are unladen) is a lack of weight on the rear wheels. Add in the fact that a leaf-sprung live axle, standard fare on the rear of all the utes in this class, doesn't have the travel of a good coil-sprung live axle, and you can quickly struggle for traction in more slippery or demanding terrain.
To overcome this, most drivers simply use a little more momentum to get up, over or through any tricky bit. In practice this generally works well but it does risk more damage to the vehicle. The beauty of traction control is that you can tackle the worst bits at a far easier pace and if one or more wheels start to lose traction and spin, the traction control will intervene as good as instantaneously to stop the wheel spinning without any interaction by the driver. In a word, the addition of traction control has pushed the HiLux right up to the front of the pack off road once again.
The only notable change for 2011 is the wheel and tyre package have been changed from the 255/70R15s used previously to 265/65R17s. The 15s were good in terms of off-road practicality, but the ever-diminishing choice of 15-inch tyres was a problem. The 17s also improve the on-road steering and handling, especially the turn-in precision.
As ever, the HiLux diesel offers an excellent spread of power, even though it may be down on claimed maximum power, and high levels of refinement. At this stage however, Toyota is yet to upgrade the towing capacity which, at 2250kg, is now well behind the class average.