All-new Hiluxes don’t come along very often – the outgoing model has been with us for more than a decade, and the one before that lasted a good eight years. Still, Toyota must have done something right, because their ten year old offering still maintained its dominant position at the top of our sales charts, even in the face of strong, ever-improving competition from all quarters.

 The outgoing Hilux did start to feel a bit creaky in the face of its newer opponents in its twilight years however, especially in the comfort and performance stakes, but that clearly didn’t matter to the buyers looking for practical workhorses with low running costs. Hilux has, thanks to its well-deserved reputation for toughness, pretty much become South Africa’s national vehicle, and there’s no reason to suspect that the latest generation will experience any disruption in its hold on the bakkie market. Hilux - Grey

 The new Hilux sticks to the same formula of a rugged construction with a strong utilitarian slant, yet with enough comfort to make long hours behind the wheel bearable, but it updates the design in every possible way. It’s larger, stronger, more comfortable, more powerful yet uses less fuel, but at the same time it’s more off-road capable and can tow heavier loads than ever. Bar the two petrol 4-cylinder engines (which are merely upgraded), everything about the new Hilux is indeed all new, finally bringing it right up to date with the modern era.

 The first nod to modernity comes from the engine bay, where the diesel engines are downsized slightly yet deliver more power and torque. They’re more refined too, boasting significantly lower noise levels and wider power bands than before. New gearboxes (in both manual- and automatic flavours) feature up to six ratios, finally joining the rest of the world in the 21st century, and are strengthened to handle the extra torque on offer from the engine room whilst offering a slicker, easier gearchange.HILUX_0138

 The result of this fettling to the oily bits are quite profound. While the 2.8 GD-6 only gains 10 kW compared to the old 3.0 D-4D to produce 130 kW, torque receives a serious shot in the arm, with the peak jumping from 343 Nm to 420 Nm when paired to a 6-speed manual gearbox. In a plot twist, the 6-speed auto version gets an additional torque hike, taking its total up to 450 Nm.

 The new manual gearbox is a pleasure to use, with its short throws and accurate shift action, which makes it easy to keep the flexible engine operating in its wide torque plateau. Our only exposure to the new automatic transmission came in the form of a 4.0 V6 double cab, where it seemed sharp-shifting and well-programmed enough, and certainly a substantial all-round improvement on the old 4-speed unit.HILUX_0151

 Other engines include two 2.4-litre diesels (both with 110 kW) to replace the old 2.5 D-4D, again identified by their Global Diesel (GD) moniker: the 2.4 GD (with 343 Nm, same as the old 3-litre) is mated to a 5-speed manual gearbox and restricted to the lower trim levels. The slightly more upscale 2.4 GD-6 receives the new 6-speed manual gearbox to go with its torque boost, up to a solid 400 Nm. About that gearbox: the extra gear gives it a much wider ratio spread, which allows for a shorter first gear (to the benefit of low-speed work) and a taller top gear (which improves fuel economy).

 The chassis is upgraded in similar vein: while there’s still a ladder frame underneath, it’s significantly stiffer than before, with wider side rails and extra crossmembers. In its turn, the cabin itself is also stiffer, and as a result safer and quieter, thanks to the increased use of high-strength steel and 45% more spotwelds. The front axle still features double wishbone independent suspension and there’s still a leaf-sprung live axle at the rear, but design changes relating to spring location and axle mountings have brought about a fairly dramatic improvement in the new Hilux’s road manners.HILUX_0163

 It rides a lot more comfortably than before, absorbing bumps instead of sending them straight to your spine, and it’s much more sure-footed on the road, whether on gravel or on tarmac. Increased comfort doesn’t mean reduced capability though, for the Hilux can now tow up to 3500 kg and carry at least 925 kg in 2.8 GD-6 4×4 format. The rear axle also features extra suspension travel, further improving the Hilux’s off-road ability.

 This impression of unassuming competence carries through to the cabin, where much-improved sound insulation and new seats create a surprisingly restful place to spend time. The nicely updated trim helps, of course, with a soft-touch dashboard and fancy colour screens everywhere. There’s a large, high-resolution colour touch-screen central display on high-level variants, which services the needs of both infotainment and rear-view camera, along with a colour TFT display unit between the speedometer and rev counter, looking much like the unit you’ll find on a Lexus. Classy stuff, and yet another a big step up from the old Hilux.HILUX_0168

 Modern technology finds its way into the four wheel drive system as well, where the old 4WD/HI/LO lever finally disappears, to be replaced by a rotary switch mounted on the dashboard. Other tricks include stability- and traction control, hill descent control and a nifty gadget which comes with the 6-speed manual gearbox: it’s called iMT, and it will automatically either speed up or slow down the engine during gearchanges to ensure a smooth gearchange every time. This technology has been available on sports cars for a few years (where it’s known as rev-matching), but it is rather unusual to see it on a commercial vehicle.

 What isn’t unusual is the bewildering array of body styles, engines and drivetrain combinations available in the Hilux range. You can choose between single-, extended- and double cabs, in one of four trim levels, with six engines, three gearboxes and either rear- or selectable four wheel drive. Phew. The extended cab gains two small access doors to the rear compartment, but the absence of both seats and seat belts means that it’s still strictly a two-seater. Four wheel drive is available on the top four engines (2.7 VVTi, 2.4 GD-6, 2.8 GD-6 and 4.0 V6), but only the 2.8 GD-6 and V6 engines can be had with the automatic gearbox.HILUX_0037

 All trim lines are well-equipped, with even the entry-level Workhorse featuring a driver’s airbag, ABS brakes, power steering, remote central locking and electric windows. Air conditioning is optional. One step up, you’ll find the SRX, which gains air conditioning, tilt & telescopic steering adjustment, the TFT multi-information display, an extra 12-volt power outlet, a multifunction steering wheel, and a sound system with USB- and Auxiliary inputs. The SR is a special safety derivative based on the SRX, and features stability control and side- and curtain airbags.

 The top-spec Raider starts with SR equipment and then adds automatic climate control, the full colour multi-information display and its touch screen, a 6-speaker multimedia system, automatic headlights, daytime running lights (DRL), 17-inch alloy wheels, metallic interior trim and chrome exterior accents. There’s obviously a host of optional extras available as well, with the stainless steel bull bar and roll over hoops being particularly eye-catching.HILUX_0032

 But even with all its extra features and concessions to comfort, the new Hilux still radiates that underlying image of toughness. Its styling might take a while to grow on you, with its somewhat boat-shaped visage and squinting headlights, but it’s still a Hilux at heart, albeit one for the modern era: a solid, trustworthy and capable choice. It’s continued place at the front of our sales race is practically guaranteed.

  • Martin Pretorius

 Hilux engines and gearbox combinations:

2.0 VVTi                     Petrol, 5-speed manual                        100 kW/182 Nm

2.7 VVTi                     Petrol, 5-speed manual                        122 kW/245 Nm

2.4GD                         Turbo diesel, 5-speed manual             110 kW/343 Nm

2.4GD-6                      Turbo diesel, 6-speed manual             110 kW/400 Nm

2.8GD-6 (M)               Turbo diesel, 6-speed manual             130 kW/420 Nm

2.8GD-6 (A)                Turbo diesel, 6-speed auto                  130 kW/450 Nm

4.0 V6                         Petrol, 6-speed auto                            175 kW/367 Nm

* Four wheel drive is available in all body styles in various trim specifications, and with all engines except the 2.0 VVTi and 2.4GD.

Hilux range prices:

Single cab:

From R228 900 to R 435 900

Xtra cab:

From R333 900 to R470 900

Double cab:

From R 377 900 to R593 900