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New 2018 Toyota HiLux to get Tonka tough

The new sports-focused HiLux variant could be inspired by the locally developed Tonka Concept from last year.

Toyota Australia has confirmed plans for a new high-end variant of its best-selling HiLux, which would look to capitalise on growing interest in luxury- and sports-focused utes when it launches this year, and will set its sights on similar upcoming pick-up variants from competitors Holden and Ford.

The Thai-made one-tonne ute was announced yesterday as Australia’s top-selling model for the second consecutive year after tallying a record 47,093 sales in 2017 – improving by 11.8 per cent over its 2016 result – finishing ahead of Ford’s second-placed Ranger (42,728) in the annual race.

HiLux sales jumped by nearly 4000 units last year, making the pick-up responsible for a significant slice of the 10,983 additional registrations across the overall 2017 Australian new-vehicle market which saw 1,1189,116 examples find homes, up 0.9 per cent on 2016's total.

Specifically, Toyota Australia revealed that the range-topping 4x4 SR5 dual-cab variant accounted for 37 per cent of all HiLux sales last year, despite its pricetag of $54,440 before on-road costs.

Toyota Australia predicts the HiLux will again be its best seller this year.

This mirrors the shifting buyer preference towards highly specified utes for both business and leisure instead of traditional passenger cars.

Holden and Ford have already confirmed their plans to launch new flagship variants of their respective pick-ups this year, with the Red Lion pairing with Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) to develop the sports-oriented Colorado SportsCat, while the Blue Oval is set to produce an off-road-focused Ranger Raptor.

Alongside the announcement of Toyota’s dominant 2017 sales yesterday, Toyota Australia president Matthew Callachor suggested that the Japanese marque would become a player in this emerging ute segment, with its offering to arrive in the first half of this year.

Mr Callachor was not willing to provide extra information on the new HiLux variant yet, adding only: “Watch this space.”

It is understood that the impending HiLux variant will feature more than a TRD-branded sports package with other changes to include notable chassis upgrades and styling tweaks, while carrying over the existing 2.8-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder powertrain.

This vehicle will likely be developed by Toyota Australia's design and engineering team, and may even take inspiration from the rugged HiLux Tonka Concept outed in March last year.

The design studio has 30 employees and is located alongside the local arm's product planning division in Port Melbourne, Victoria.

Mr Callachor said the design team remained a priority for Toyota Australia following the closure of its Altona plant in October 2017 with the company to make announcements regarding this soon.

Toyota Australia predicts the HiLux will again be its best seller this year, with the model to play an important role in the automotive brand's push towards market leadership for 16 successive years.

Furthermore, the full-line importer leads the market in all Australian states, while its HiLux model has occupied first position nationally for the past two years running, including an 11-year reign in Queensland.

The SR5 dual-cab was responsible for 50 per cent of HiLux 4x4 sales, while automatic transmissions – previously the least-preferred option – now account for 60 per cent of registrations.

Should Toyota build a production version of the HiLux Tonka Concept? Tell us what you think in the comments below.