THE new HiLux has had a hard act to follow. The outgoing seventh-generation model - unchanged for 10 years, mind you - sold more than 38,000 units last year alone, so far in the lead that the rest of the pack were barely dots on the horizon.
The Toyota promise of durability and reliability, good after-sales service and excellent resale value has wowed all comers, private and fleet buyers alike, and the Japanese manufacturer is adamant this latest edition will further enhance that reputation.
This HiLux, they insist, is more car-like, a refined, comfortable drive, with great on- and off-road ability sporting a redesigned interior packed with creature comforts.
We put the SR5 dual cab - favourite among high-end tradies with families - to the test.
Hard-to-the-touch plastics, rugged switchgear and practicality before beauty is what you would expect from a HiLux, and this edition stays on script in that regard.
There are, however, allowances for, and evidences of, Toyota's decision to offer some of those niceties that appeal in an SUV - a seven-inch colour touchscreen above a revitalised centre stack proving one of those key features. Blue-lit instruments with digital speedo, a steering wheel adjustable for reach and rake and a climate-controlled upper glovebox also do their bit to jazz up a noticeably improved interior.
The front seats, upgraded to leather in our test car, are comfortable enough without being plush, while the slightly angled rear pew is serviceable, too, although surprisingly, it is a tighter fit back there for adults than you may first think.
On the road
Our SR5 was powered by the new 2.8-litre diesel engine, the same one, incidentally, to be found in the Fortuner and Prado. Paired with a six-speed manual transmission this engine made for an accomplished unit, moving the HiLux with ease on the road, with the ample low-down torque helping progress off the bitumen, too.
Kudos to the designers for the work done in quietening the cabin - the gear lever still shakes with the vibrations, but there is little diesel clatter to disturb earnest conversation. The steering is pretty direct, a nice surprise, and the gearbox smooth, with the clutch grabbing at a nice height even for lighter feet. The HiLux, despite its height and weight, is sensible around the corners, with more poise than sway, and it happily soaks up inconsistencies with little effort.
New rear leaf springs have resulted in an improved overall ride, but without a load in the back, the HiLux can feel a bit floaty, uncomfortable even, as it struggles to settle. We accept, of course, given its traditional use, it is unlikely the tray will be empty, but it is interesting the difference a couple of hundred kilograms makes.
Off the tarmac the HiLux is at its best, showing great strength and balance on our makeshift off-road course and plenty of oomph in evading a potential beach bog. In fact, like its predecessor, it is so comfortable on unwelcoming terrain that it forces you to opt for adventure.
What do you get?
Inclusions have definitely been pepped up.
Aside from the 7-inch touchscreen with sat-nav, reverse camera and Bluetooth connectivity, the SR5 also has a proximity key with push-button start, auto headlights and wipers, auto levelling LED headlamps and running lamps, cooled glovebox, premium instrument cluster with 4.2-inch colour multi-information display, 18-inch alloys, and 2 x 12v power sockets as well as a 220v power outlet.
The HiLux has seven airbags, more than its competitors, ABS brakes with brake assist and EBD, traction and stability, trailer sway control and emergency brake signal for a five-star ANCAP rating.
We found the HiLux a bit of a thirsty unit, using almost 13 litres per 100km (official figures are at 8.1l) during our week in the driver's seat, although to be honest we were not driving with economy in mind.
Toyota's warranty is for three years or 100,000km with servicing capped at $1080 for the first three years. Intervals are six months or 10,000km.
This ute segment has certainly taken off in the last couple of years, with most brands offering up a new or updated dual cab to take on the HiLux. People are also looking at the Ford Ranger Wildtrak (from $57,390), Nissan Navara ST-X (from 54,490), Mazda BT-50 XTR (from $51,700), Mitsubishi Triton Exceed (from $47,490) and Isuzu D-Max LS-M (from $53,000). The Volkswagen Amarok will be updated this year.
The dual cab's appeal lies in the fact that it can be both a work and family vehicle, adaptable to the needs of the buyer.
We like that it has been designed as an office on the go, with sockets to charge tools and phones, space for diaries and iPads and plenty of storage options, too. Towing capacity for the manual has been upped to 3500kg - 1000kg better than before - with payload ranging from 920kg to 1120kg - about mid-range for this class.
I love a ute, but I am never overawed by its fine lines and beauty. This HiLux with its new grille, rugged stance and reputation for durability certainly looks the part.
The HiLux's popularity is unquestionable, and for the most part, with good reason. It attracts the sort of loyal customer who, comfortable in its reliability and re-sale value, will keep one in his garage irrespective of the excellent work done by competitors.
This HiLux has been improved inside and out, on the road and off it. And while it is good, it is not the best in its class. That, however, won't stop it being the top-selling ute in this country again this year.
What matters most
What we liked: Powerful engine, quieter ride, off-road ability
What we'd like to see: Air vents in the second row, better payload
Warranty and Servicing: 3 year/100,000km warranty and capped price servicing for 3 years or 60,000km
Model: Toyota HiLux SR5 dual-cab ute.
Details: Four-door four-wheel-drive dual-cab ute.
Engines: 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel generating maximum power of 130kW @ 3400rpm and peak torque of 450Nm @ 1600- 2400rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
Consumption: 8.1 litres/100km combined.
Bottom line plus on-roads: From $53,990 (auto from $55,990).