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Toyota HiLux 2021 review: Rugged X off-road test

Toyota’s HiLux has had a passionate legion of fans for a long time – but it has also attracted a fair few naysayers through the years. 

The brand’s ongoing woes with DPF (diesel particulate filter) strife have only emboldened those negative voices, but those same woes don't seem to have impacted the sales volume of any of its wagon and ute stable all that much. Meanwhile, Toyota has trucked along nicely, seemingly doing, as always, only the bare minimum to keep its customers, if not happy, at least coming back for more.

Toyota has now introduced more driver-assist tech into the HiLux, an upgraded engine with power and torque increases, an increase in towing capacity, as well as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and even a styling tweak.

But prices have increased as well – the SR5-based Rugged X, which I’m testing here, is now automatic only and its starting price has risen $5500.

Will the updates further cement the HiLux’s standing as a high achiever in the ute market sales stakes? Read on.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

The Rugged X is the top-spec HiLux. It has an MSRP (manufacturer suggested retail price) of $69,990, plus on-road costs. As mentioned earlier, that’s $5500 more than the previous-gen Rugged X. And you can’t now opt for a manual variant because there are none on offer.

The dual-cab Rugged X has the line-up’s 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine (150kW/500Nm) and six-speed automatic transmission. Braked towing capacity is now 3500kg, 300kg more than before. 

It has a part-time four-wheel drive system and a rear diff lock.

As per the 2021 range, it has the Toyota Safety Sense suite of driver-assist tech including high-speed active cruise control, pre-collision safety system with pedestrian detection (AEB), lane departure alert and road sign assist.

What differentiates the Rugged X from the rest of the ’Lux pack is the fact it comes equipped with a stack of extras aimed at making this HiLux even more ready for an off-road adventure than its stablemates. I’m talking about gear that the buyer would otherwise have to seek out in the aftermarket realm. Just think of this ute as an SR5 that Toyota has thrown the ‘off-road-readiness’ book at – so it’s more practical than poseur. 

Standard Rugged X features include a hoopless steel bullbar, substantial Toyota-branded bash plate, front lighting bar, snorkel, heavy-duty front springs, steel side steps with built-in rock-sliders (rock rails), 17-inch black alloy wheels and a heavy-duty steel rear bumper with a step-up.

The Rugged X wears 17-inch black alloy wheels. The Rugged X wears 17-inch black alloy wheels.

Don’t forget the recovery points, front and rear.

It also has wheel arch mouldings, tow bar, tow ball and tongue, trailer wiring harness (seven-pin flat), and an in-cabin electric brake controller.

  • The sports bar can hold 200kg on top of it. The sports bar can hold 200kg on top of it.
  • The Rugged X is fitted with a tow ball. The Rugged X is fitted with a tow ball.
  • There's a front and rear recovery point. There's a front and rear recovery point.

Having all of that gear onboard from the get-go is a definite bonus for those who want the convenience of buying a ute that is kitted out and ready for an off-road adventure, but it may not hold so much appeal for those who’d prefer to do their own research and source their own aftermarket gear. 

Beyond those off-road-suited extras, the Rugged X gets an 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, and a nine-speaker JBL sound system. It also has a “black functional sports bar with recreational attachment points”, according to Toyota – it’s a sports bar that can cop a claimed 200kg on top.

Inside is an 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen. Inside is an 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

It certainly looks like a go-anywhere machine.

And it’s rather a successful blend of, er, rugged looks with a real practical presence as well – that bullbar and bashplate are substantial; the rock-sliders are fair-dinkum rock sliders; and the flared wheel arches simply add to the overall sense that, when bush comes to shove, this ute is a capable 4WD.

The ‘Rugged X’ branding looks pretty cool. The ‘Rugged X’ branding looks pretty cool.

And I guess the ‘Rugged X’ branding, strategically positioned on the bonnet and near the rear, look pretty cool too, albeit it’s not my cup of tea at all. But what do I know about looks? I’m a middle-aged white bloke with a rapidly receding hairline and a tub gut.

Check out the photos and decide for yourself if the styling is your cup o’ tea.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

The Rugged X has the upgraded 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, which produces 150kW at 3400rpm and 500Nm at 1600-2800rpm – increases of 20KW and 50Nm. It’s again paired to a six-speed auto. This is a low-stress pairing without ever being a real heart-stopper of a combo.

The 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine produces 150kW/500Nm. The 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine produces 150kW/500Nm.

Perfectly adequate in my books.

It has a part-time 4WD system, electronic traction control and a rear diff-lock.

How practical is the space inside?

It’s a nice leather-accented space without ever straying too far into the territory of the posh.

As I often note with Toyota off-roaders, the interior always has a comfortably familiar feel about it, especially in terms of dash layout and overall cabin functionality. Everything is easy to locate and use. Some people may find that predictability a bit boring, but I reckon it’s a good thing.

The interior is a nice leather-accented space. The interior is a nice leather-accented space.

There are the usual amount of storage spots for a dual-cab ute – a lidded centre console bin, glove box etc – as well as cup-holders in the centre console, pop-out cupholders near the outboard air vents, and charging points with a USB port.

Rear-seat passengers get directional air vents, a fold-down centre arm-rest with cupholders, as well as bottle holders in the doors, and map pockets in the seat-backs.

In the back, passengers get directional air vents, and a fold-down centre arm-rest with cupholders. In the back, passengers get directional air vents, and a fold-down centre arm-rest with cupholders.

What's it like as a daily driver?

Though modern utes are much better than those of old, in terms of unladen ride and handling, they’re still not car-like, no matter how much we’d like to think they are.

The HiLux has generally been improved anyway but the heavier Rugged X variant is even better, benefitting from the added bulk of, among other things, a steel bullbar and heavier-duty coil springs at the front. The result? A more settled and composed attitude on the road no matter how irregular the surface becomes, whether it’s chopped-up backroad bitumen or corrugated dirt and gravel tracks.

Overall, the Rugged X offers up a comfortable driving experience: it’s quiet (for a HiLux anyway!) with subdued NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) levels; steering retains a predictable, sometimes floaty feel to it; the engine and auto work smoothly enough together, though the 2.8-litre could do with a bit more life about it; and the HiLux’s too-firm ride of the past has mostly been ironed out.

Note: as part of its response to Diesel Particulate Filter (DPF) strife, Toyota has reworked its DPF regeneration system to, in theory at least, better prevent any problems. The system will cycle through a regeneration (in layman’s terms, burning off trapped soot in the filter) if it’s due for one and you’re on the open road and driving faster than 80km/h.

What's it like for touring?

Pretty bloody good.

There’s no doubt about the HiLux’s off-road efficacy: all of the mechanicals in the Rugged X are SR5, and we’ve put that unit – and past Rugged X’s – through extensive testing off-road and no matter what the 4WD variant it’s always been comfortably capable. 

It has plenty of torque at low revs, good low-range gearing, decent wheel travel, and quietly effective off-road traction control. Bonus: you can always engage the rear diff-lock if the need arises.

The substantial rock sliders and bash-plates give you that little bit of extra peace of mind. The substantial rock sliders and bash-plates give you that little bit of extra peace of mind.

Besides, that off-road capability, at the very least, has always been able to be further enhanced with a decent set of all-terrain tyres, especially in this instance, over the standard Dunlop Grandtrek ATs (265/65R17).

So, the question is: do all of the Rugged X’s off-road-oriented extras make a discernible difference between it and the SR5 during actual 4WDing?

Well, considering the Rugged X is essentially an SR5 with solid steel bumper/bullbar, bash-plates, rock sliders and recovery points, then it follows that this is a 4WD that’s capable and it can be driven quite hard if needed. 

There’s no doubt about the HiLux’s off-road efficacy. There’s no doubt about the HiLux’s off-road efficacy.

The substantial rock sliders and bash-plates give you that little bit of extra peace of mind when, for example, the Rugged X is being driven up and down rocky hills, and bumping and grinding is par for the course.

And those solid recovery points will certainly come in handy if, when you’ve been driving the Rugged X so very hard, that you become bogged or otherwise stuck and you need to get unstuck.

For those of you interested, towing capacity is listed as 750kg (unbraked) and now 3500kg (braked), an increase of 300kg.

How much fuel does it consume?

It has a claimed fuel consumption of 8.4L/100km (combined). We recorded an actual fuel consumption on test of 12.2L, but that included a lot of low-range 4WDing. 

The HiLux has an 80-litre fuel tank. The HiLux has an 80-litre fuel tank.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 

The HiLux has the maximum ANCAP safety rating of five stars, as a result of testing in 2019. 

It has seven SRS airbags, high-speed active cruise control, pre-collision safety system with pedestrian detection (AEB), lane departure alert and road sign assist. There are ISOFIX and top-tether mounts in the rear seat.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

The Hilux is covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty and seven years/unlimited km powertrain warranty, as long as you stick to the servicing schedule. 

Servicing is set at six months/10,000km intervals. Average cost per service is $250.

Much more than a mere sticker pack, the Rugged X adds worthwhile accessories to the SR5 platform. 

It’s a nice mix of style and substance, without sacrificing much of either. It definitely looks the part and it’s more than capable of tackling hard 4WDing.

It’s not perfect by any means and many keen off-roaders would rather cherry-pick their own aftermarket accessories and custom-design their own vehicle to suit their own very particular needs, but for others the Rugged X will be a solid starting point for a lifetime of bush-and-beach adventures.

$69,990

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

3.8/5

Adventure score

3.8/5

adventureguide rank

  • Light

    Dry weather gravel roads and formed trails with no obstacles, very shallow water crossings.

  • Medium

    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.

  • Heavy

    Larger obstacles, steeper climbs and deeper water crossings; plus tracks marked as '4WD only'

Price Guide

$69,990

Based on new car retail price