A solar eclipse happens more often than an all-new Toyota HiLux gets minted, so when the first fresh-from-the-ground-up model in 10 years arrives it’s big news.

The HiLux has been Australia’s favourite workhorse for more than three decades, is now a regular Top Three finisher in outright sales - and the best-seller bar none in Queensland, West Australia and the Northern Territory for the past seven years.

To be pedantic, the HiLux has been Number One outright in the NT for 14 years - which is why Australia was at the heart of the new model. For the first time ever, it was developed by locals for locals.

Toyota now has more than 150 engineers based in Australia - the same number as Holden - developing future models.

"There are now two HiLuxes for planet earth, one for rugged markets like Australia and another for the rest of the world," said Max Gillard, the head of Toyota’s Australian development division. "At Toyota we say if it can survive in Australia it can survive anywhere."

The new HiLux was bashed and belted over 650,000 brutal kilometres across Australia over the past four years. That’s more testing than the latest Holden Commodore.

"Australia has the toughest regulations and the harshest conditions, so if we get the HiLux right here it will meet customer needs everywhere else," said Gillard.

But before the new HiLux got to this point, it had a tougher journey.

In 2011, Toyota secretly tore up its plans and started again on the new HiLux just six months into development - after the VW Amarok and Ford Ranger reset the ute benchmark for car-like driving.

Toyota CEO and descendent of the founding family, Akio Toyoda, then made a bold - but it turned out wise - decision.

The new HiLux was bashed and belted over 650,000 brutal kilometres across Australia

He appointed Hiroki Nakajima as the chief engineer for the eighth-generation HiLux, a move from left field.

Nakajima-san’s previous assignment? The tiny Toyota iQ, a Smart car rival sold in Europe and Japan, one of the world’s smallest vehicles - and which was also eventually shared with Aston Martin.

Nakajima-san’s appointment proved to be a prudent decision because he did not accept the reasons given for why the HiLux couldn’t drive as well as its newer ute peers.

"No-one was more surprised than me when I was appointed to the role chief engineer for this vehicle,” said Nakajima-san. "It’s quite a leap from a car like iQ."

But the chief engineer said he soon realised his experience with passenger cars would be important.

The tough-as-guts, hairy-chested ute for blokes has gone to finishing school

"After years of enjoying passenger cars, a commercial vehicle seemed rather noisy and uncomfortable by comparison," said Nakajima-san. “I knew this had to change.”

Nakajima-san persuaded Mr Toyoda to develop a new HiLux from the ground up, rather than fit a new body on a derivative of old underpinnings (which has been done by Nissan and Mitsubishi with their most recent ute offerings).

In the end, the ‘Toyota’ sticker on the tailgate is the only item carried over from the old to the new model.

The net result is that the tough-as-guts, hairy-chested ute for blokes has gone to finishing school - with such luxuries as a tablet-style touchscreen in the dash, air-conditioning, power windows and mirrors, cruise control and a class-leading seven airbags across all models.

There's even a cool box "esky" in the dash to keep (non-alcoholic) drinks chilled in summer by using ducting from the air-conditioning.

The cabin has really lifted the bar - not just for HiLux but for the ute class

Five-seat, four-door HiLux utes have 12 cup holders: more than two per person for when there's a hard-earned thirst.

All but the most basic versions come with a rear-view camera as standard, and the flagship model comes with an alarm in an attempt to get the HiLux off Australia’s most wanted list among car thieves.

The new HiLux hasn’t lost all its macho touches; Toyota boasts there is still no vanity mirror for the driver.

Buy a Volkswagen Amarok, Nissan Navara, Holden Colorado or Ford Ranger ute if you need to keep up appearances, princesses - you can check your make-up using their sun visors.

Toyota says that while it has added most mod-cons, it has also greatly improved ruggedness and capability.

Diesel manual models can now tow 3500kg, although automatic versions are limited to 3200kg - but both are an improvement on the previous HiLux towing capacity of 2500kg.

The new HiLux can clamber over steeper terrain thanks to the all-new chassis and suspension.

There is more underbody protection to prevent damage off-road and the steel in the ute tray is thicker, so it can handle more punishment.

But you need to pay for the privilege. The new HiLux has gone up in price to reflect the extra equipment and the stronger chassis - the base model has risen from $18,990 to $20,990, while the flagship four-door HiLux SR5 (which represents 70 per cent of sales) has risen by $2250 to $53,990 plus on-road costs.

On the road

Let’s cut to the chase: the new HiLux is demonstrably better in every regard over the old model. The same cannot be said for some other recent ute arrivals.

Is the new HiLux better than the updated Ford Ranger? We’ll find out when do a back-to-back test a few weeks from now.

There are 31 variants in the new range, but we focused on the flagship SR5, which serves more as a dual-purpose vehicle.

The main points from our note pad following a preview drive this week?

The new HiLux feels much more planted on the road and no longer gets upset by bumps in the middle of a corner.

Feels much more planted on the road; no longer gets upset by bumps in the middle of a corner

The steering is well weighted and the new, larger brakes feel sharp and responsive.

The new 2.8L turbo diesel doesn’t have quite the same grunt as the Ford Ranger’s 3.2L five-cylinder, but it’s a relatively quiet and smooth operator. (The new 2.4L turbo diesel we sampled in lower grade models was noisier, in part due to less sound insulation behind the dashboard).

The six-speed auto works smoothly and intelligently, and doesn’t find itself confused (as some other autos with so many ratios can be). The six-speed manual has a long shift throw, but is light and precise.

The biggest revelation is the cabin, which has really lifted the bar not just for HiLux but for the ute class.

The interior doesn’t just look pretty, it’s highly functional with ample storage in the doors, console and glovebox (the hidden cup holders near the air vents remain, albeit with a new design).

Overall, first impressions are good. We look forward to getting reacquainted with the HiLux and its rivals on more familiar roads.