Hilux: The hunt for perfection
Does the new Hilux live up to its previous status? ANZET DU PLESSIS ventures into the Free State to find out.
“Tough as nails … When the tough get going …” There’s a reason clichés develop – they’re overused because they ring true. The Hilux “tough” marketing campaign may be old, but it’s just as relevant today as when the bakkie was introduced to the market over 40 years ago.
With the Amarok receiving mixed reviews, Toyota fans have been looking to the Japanese automaker for a response. So, is the 2012 Hilux good enough to take on the luxurious image of the Amarok?
It’s certainly different to its predecessor – in fact, Toyota sees it as an entirely new vehicle. The adjustments are for the better, however, and that aggressive attitude familiar to Hilux drivers is still there.
But, while the old Hilux was rugged, this year’s model has been cleaned up a bit. It’s still chunky – perhaps even more so than before – and has been upgraded with fanciful gadgets, chrome bits on the Raider models and more defined features like the new light configurations.
The aggressive grill sets the tone. Mirrors are now more “square” and with sharp, jagged lines. The already massive air intake for the intercooler on D-4D derivatives has been made wider and is mounted in the centre of the bonnet like a set of big, flaring nostrils.
There’s now a subtle line which runs along the base of the vehicle to the rear, adding to the rigid feel. Wheels have been redesigned and variations of a six-spoke design can be seen on the different derivatives.
The interior mirrors the exterior design. The dash has sharper lines and features are more angular. The upholstery and quality of dash material are a great improvement over the previous model.
Additionally, the new Hilux is kitted with gadgetry not normally associated with the traditional image of South Africa’s favourite workhorse. A multi-info display with touch-screen controls houses the audio system in Raider models and features a CD player, Bluetooth, a USB jack and six speakers.
Other minor tweaks make the overall package even more user-friendly – such as the lockable tailgate on all models and the sliding rear window on Raider and SRX versions. The double cab is equipped with brake assist, electronic brake force distribution (EBD) and vehicle stability control (VSC) on the 3.0 D-4D and 4.0 V6 Double Cab Raider versions.
With 21 models in the line-up, Hilux customers can choose between single-cab, Xtra-cab and double-cab derivatives that range from practical workhorses to more upmarket units for leisure use.
But potential Hilux and Amarok buyers will know the real test is whether the vehicle can perform in on- and off-road conditions. To test whether “tough” is still an appropriate adjective for the country’s best-selling bakkie, we were given the opportunity to drive all the new double-cab derivatives in the Free State – which is truly South African “bakkie-country”.
Opting not to have an electronically- transferred low-range gearbox, the familiar dual-gear shifters still control the Hilux transmission. Toyota attributes this to customer preference, adding that it’s more reassuring to feel the low-range gears lock in than to trust a simple and nondescript button.
While the Hilux isn’t a luxury off-road vehicle, the suspension is impressive, as is the 227 mm ground clearance. Toyota did not tinker with the suspension, so the improved ride comfort is more than likely the result of tyre choice and tyre pressure.
The diesel engine, which hasn’t changed, sounds as if it’s been better insulated and is just as wonderfully torque-mad as always. Transmission-wise, little has changed either, with customers offered the choice between a five-speed manual or a four-speed auto, or a five-speed auto on the 4.0 V6 derivative. The most significant mechanical change is the addition of vehicle stability control to the double-cab Raiders – which complements the already well-stacked pile of electronic-assist safety gadgetry.
Also revealed at the launch were the new Xtra Cab derivatives. While the Xtra Cab was unveiled earlier this year, the newly-refreshed 2012 model is now available, and features the same interior specs as the double-cab versions.
The need for an Xtra Cab, according to Toyota, stems from a requirement in the market for a workhorse with slightly more space in the cabin for expensive or sensitive equipment. For this reason, the
Xtra Cab 2012 line-up sees the addition of the 2,5-litre D-4D derivative – a possible star seller for the automaker.
From this model year onwards, the Xtra Cabs are manufactured at Prospecton in Durban, from where Toyota exports vehicles to 57 other countries across Africa and Europe. South Africa is one of eight countries that manufacture the Hilux and it sells around 2 500 units a month in this market. This makes the Hilux not only the favourite bakkie in South Africa, but the overall best seller as well.
I also had the opportunity to take the 3.0 D-4D home for testing in day-to-day use in an urban environment. Here, it did nothing but impress. The clutch has excellent balance in that it’s light on the knees but sturdy enough to give complete control.
The doors are not as heavy as you’d expect from such a monster machine (although they’re not flimsy either) and don’t attempt to knock you unconscious every time you park on an angled road surface. They could open a bit wider, however, for those awkward-to-get-in items that one often finds farmers loading into their vehicles (or perhaps the often larger-than-life farmers themselves).
To my surprise, I also discovered that the Hilux is a lot bigger than you anticipate – especially when you see it parked in a garage next to an older model. The manual, as expected, gives the driver much more control and freedom, particularly when going off road (… an environment where using an automatic gearbox still somehow feels like cheating).
But the navigation system for the Hilux seems to have developed into a slightly ridiculous issue. There is, indeed, a control button for the SatNav on the entertainment system. But it is not linked to anything, nor can you opt to have a navigation system installed. Toyota promises that this function will eventually be available, but not for a few years to come.
The only other criticism is the placement of the gear shift, which seems very far forward. Being short, I usually sit far forward, anyway, so this was not a problem. But for those with longer legs, it may take some getting used to.
Overall, the much-anticipated Hilux “mid-life crisis” has been averted and the re-working of South Africa’s darling bakkie has been pulled off with a great deal of success. There’s still no doubt who the apple of the South Africa’s market’s eye really is.
Average pricing is up by around 2%, with the pricing ranging from R174 000 to R445 900.
2.0 VVTi – R174 000
2.0 VVTi S – R179 300
2.5 D-4D – R198 100
2.5 D-4D S – R203 200
2.5 D-4D Raised Body SRX – R241 000
2.5 D-4D 4×4 SRX – R289 000
2.7 VVTi Raised Body Raider – R248 300
3.0 D-4D Raised Body Raider – R286 800
3.0 D-4D 4×4 Raider – R334 000
2.5 D-4D SRX – R247 300
3.0 D-4D Raised Body Raider – R311 000
3.0 D-4D Raised Body 4×4 Raider – R359 000
2.5 D-4D Raised Body Raider – R331 000
2.5 D-4D 4×4 SRX – R337 500
2.7 VVTi Raised Body Raider – R312 600
3.0 D-4D Raised Body Raider – R363 800
3.0 D-4D RB Raider a/t – R375 400
3.0 D-4D 4×4 Raider – R412 500
3.0 D-4D 4×4 Raider a/t – R424 100
4.0 V6 Raised Body Raider a/t – R375 500
4.0 V6 4X4 Raider a/t – R445 900