Road test: Toyota Hilux hits back with new prices, more tow
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The Toyota Hilux has been in danger of being perceived as ‘yesterday’s ute’ since the Ford Ranger ended three decades of market segment domination by the once invincible ‘Crumpy’s truck’.
Drilling down on the model range sales figures tells the true story of the great pick-up truck coup d’état by the Ranger.
Essentially, the 2wd ute market niche is where Ford outflanked the once-dominant Toyota. In terms of 4wd ute sales, Hilux held its ground.
So it should come as little surprise that recent upgrades to the Hilux range have focused most on making the 2wd versions more competitive. These still retain a US offroad racing-inspired name, PreRunner, which is all too tempting to turn into ‘Pretender’ given that the 2wd rides at the same height above the road and looks the same as 4x4 versions.
But the rear-drive Hilux is a pretender no more. Where it once had trouble getting off an urban grass verge if the grass was soaked by a typically heavy Auckland shower and there was a slight uphill slope, the addition of a rear diff lock since November 2017 has improved its traction on slippery surfaces considerably.
You can select this with an easy push of a button any time you require it and the PreRunner also has the same all-terrain tyres as the 4wd Hilux. Once back on a harder surface, it’s best to release the diff-lock again as it fully locks both rear wheels together, making turning difficult to achieve without binding up the rear live axle.
Meanwhile, that same upgrade in November increased the availability of the Toyota’s smooth-shifting six-speed automatic throughout the Hilux range, and successful negotiations with TNZ’s parent company in Japan saw the official towing capacity for all versions raised to 3500kg — now the standard for the segment.
More equipment also raised the Toyota’s game back in November. The white 2wd automatic Hilux SR tested here not only gained the diff-lock, but a reversing camera, durable PVC cabin floor mats, and side steps as well.
The red 4wd SR5 manual gained intelligent transmission software that matches engine revs to achieve smoother gear shifts, the reversing camera added across the range, and new LED fog lights now match the LED headlights.
All Hilux models, even the cheapies, come with seven airbags, daytime running lamps, hill start assist, stability control, cruise control, trailer sway control, and daytime running lamps.
Then, the bombshell that Toyota NZ dropped on the Kiwi new vehicle market on April Fools Day — reduced no-haggle prices across all model ranges. This initiative saw the price of the white 2wd Hilux SR automatic fall from $46,390 to $39,990; while the red 4wd SR5 manual now costs $50,990 instead of listing at $60,190.
When viewed through the prism of driving these two Toyota pick-ups over the past two weeks, it’s easy to conclude that the November upgrade, when combined with the April price realignment, has the potential to energise Hilux sales to the point of reclaiming segment leadership.
And that’s before accounting for whatever still-secret incentive Toyota will offer ute buyers in the annual Fieldays spend-fest.
2wd Hilux SR autoMeanwhile, I have to confess that I enjoyed my time at the wheel of both Hilux models. The 2.8l single-turbo diesel engine that motivates both produces its 130kW and 420Nm power and torque peaks at revs most vehicle owners would consider to be mid-range, giving an impression of effortlessness to both models.
On a 540km drive from Orewa to Tauranga and back, the 2wd SR auto recorded diesel use figures of 8.5litres/100km — a stunning result for a vehicle capable of towing 3.5 tonnes, while carting a further tonne in the tray.
That 2wd auto is the Hilux that I’d buy first. Especially now that it can drive itself off a wet grass verge.