Toyota Hilux double cab review: it’s not so easy being the middle child

David Linklater
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Base price
Maximum power kW
Maximum torque Nm
Towing (Tonnes)
  • Smooth, muscular engine
  • Sharp Toyota Driveaway Pricing
  • Vastly improved on-road ride
  • Strange chrome grille surround
  • Doesn't offer much over entry SR
  • Less torque (420Nm) if you go manual

Will 2021 be the year that Toyota Hilux takes back the top sales spot? At the time of writing, with figures for the year-to-date November, the Ford Ranger was comfortably in the lead with 7314, followed by Hilux at 5355. So 2020 is in the bag.

But Toyota New Zealand has been pretty clear that it has a big order bank for its sharply priced new ’Lux and it’s been hit hard by supply and shipping delays at the end of a difficult year. So you’d have to say it’s game on for ’21.

The battle will partly depend on Ford NZ’s ability to keep Ranger on the boil. Raptor remains a hero model, Wildtrak is still highly aspirational/popular and it’s clear that the company is working hard on other ideas, from the FX4 Max, to the return of the Wildtrak X, to wider availablity of its impressive 2.0l biturbo diesel engine. Just how many good ideas are left before a model change late next year remains to be seen.

After a few wobbles (Boaty McBoatface styling on the 2016 model, quality issues including a dodgy diesel particulate filter), you’d have to say Toyota now has Hilux well and truly sorted in the current facelift generation, launched in October.

The range is vast (18 models), the status thing is sorted with different grilles for each grade and “no haggle” Toyota Driveway Pricing (TDP) has the whole bunch looking very sharp on paper.

We’ve driven a sampler of Hilux double cab wellside models during 2020 and they range from just $39,990 (you can go even cheaper with the $29,990 Workmate, although we didn’t test that) through to $58,990 for the loaded-up SR5 Cruiser. Sixty grand is only just getting you started with Ranger and while it’s true that “transaction pricing” (car-speak for big discounts) for rival utes is much closer to TDP, the fact remains they’re moving goalposts. Toyota prices are Toyota prices and many people like that.

We haven’t mentioned the Hilux Mako, which we did also drive briefly. It’s a Toyota NZ job rather than a factory effort, but deeply impressive all the same. As it should be for $79,990 – a figure much closer to its logical Ranger rival, the Raptor, than any of the other Hilux variants. But more about that in a minute.

What struck us over the course of our Hilux adventures was how difficult it is to be the middle child.

The entry SR has an appealing kind of swagger, with its charcoal grille and black-painted 17-inch steel wheels. It looks like it means business in a very work-trucky kind of way – like all Hiluxes used to do, before utes became fashion items.

The top-line SR5 Cruiser also goes for the blacked-out look, albeit with a completely different front fascia. It also goes all-out with special 18-inch wheels and fender flares, unique instrumentation and trim (including ambient lighting)… the list goes on for quite a while.

Hang on, we’ve forgotten the mid-grade SR5. Which is easy to do, although you’ll know one when you see it because it’s the only Hilux with a thick application of chrome around its trapezoidal grille.

It’s personal taste of course, but we reckon black looks best – whether that’s the in-your-face SR or the showy SR5 Cruiser.

The SR5 really just is an SR with a couple of extra bits on board: alloy wheels, parking sensors and mirror heaters on the 4WD model. And that lippy on the grille. Fair enough: it’s only $1000 extra – and you can still choose manual with the SR5, whereas the SR5 Cruiser is auto-only.

But the SR and SR5 Cruiser sitting on either side just look a lot more authentic and convincing. And they look better generally.

Right across the range, you have the choice of 2WD (“Prerunner”) or 4WD and the same upgraded 2.8-litre turbo-diesel.

The new engine is brilliant, with noticeably improved refinement and a meatier torque delivery at the low end of the rev range.

Ride has long been a sore point with Hilux – literally – but the new model is vastly improved.

It also deals with off-road terrain in a much more convincing way. Whether Hilux’s ultimate ability in the rough stuff has improved it’s hard to say, but the effortless way it goes about business is a real step up. The Prerunner models retain a mechanical rear differential lock, which gives them pretty decent off-tarmac driving talent, but it’s the 4WD models that really make an impression with a new electronic limited-slip diff and an incredibly smooth/quiet Downhill Assist Control system.

And what about that Mako? It’s definitely a Hilux apart from the rest of the range, but a beautifully executed adventure-machine created by TNZ as a genuine rival for the Ranger Raptor.

We won’t go into the Mako in detail here (you can click here to read more) and it’s fair to say our time with the vehicle was short: a few kays on the launch programme in the wet and then a couple of days later on our own terms.

But it’s a mighty achievement on a number of levels. Extreme off-road prowess is a given, but it’s an interesting proposition on-road as well. The chassis features ARB Old Man Emu suspension (adjustable) with 18-inch wheels and Maxxis Razr 265/60 tyres.

So it’s really squishy (technical term) and manages to provide arguably the best ride of any model in the Hilux range (you can say the same of Raptor among its Ranger peers), as well as a surprising degree of refinement from that chunky rubber.

Dynamically, it’s more of a mixed bag. The tyres have good on-road grip (at least in the dry) but there’s a good deal more pitch and roll. Yep, you can get the tools out and adjust the hardware, but no matter what you do there’s opportunity cost in off-road excellence in terms of on-road handling.

The quality and attention to detail is equal to anything out of the Toyota factory and without obsessing too much about Raptor (although without it, Mako wouldn’t exist), Toyota does get one up on Ford by maintaining Hilux’s muscular 3500kg tow rating with its flash dune-hopping ute.

Point is, Toyota has pretty much all bases covered as we head into a new sales year.

By the way, Hilux last topped the sales charts back in 2014, but lost the crown to Ranger partly by not having a broad enough lineup – especially when it came to high-riding 2WD models. Hilux has no such problem now.

TNZ is adamant that it wants Hilux to be part of balanced portfolio (no more than 30 per cent of its sales), rather than becoming too reliant on it as a sales leader. But if a chance comes to regain market glory, surely you’d take it?

To view all Toyota Hilux models currently listed on DRIVEN, click here

2.8-litre turbo diesel
150kW/500Nm (420Nm manual transmission)
6-speed automatic, RWD or part-time 4WD with low range
$39,990 (SR Prerunner 2WD manual) to $79,990 (Mako)


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