Rugged meets refined with updated Toyota Hilux and Prado
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It’s hardly a startling revelation to say Toyota New Zealand is sitting pretty. With an extensive line-up of models in all the “right” segments of the new car market, things are looking bright for the local branch of the world’s biggest car company.
In New Zealand, one in every three new vehicles sold is an SUV. Handy then, that Toyota has plenty of form in this department, and late last year issued updates to the perennial Land Cruiser Prado. More on those in a second.
Also, everyone seems to be driving double-cab utes these days. Have you noticed? Yes; hardly the kind of statement to have you slapping a hand to your forehead as the shock of what’s right in front of you sinks in. But it’s true. During the 2012 calendar year, 12,000 utes were registered in New Zealand. In 2017, around 32,000 utes were sold.
I’ll underline that first bit again: this change has taken place in just six years.
Of course, for Toyota, a lot has happened with its ute offering in the last six years. Two words: “Ford” and “Ranger”. After several decades as an untouchable workhorse at the pointy end of the market, the Hilux was knocked off its perch by Ford’s upstart utility a couple of years back.
Despite the occasional month-by-month victory for Toyota, the Hilux has basically been the bridesmaid since. At times the Ranger has been the best-selling new vehicle, bar none.
Mind you, in such a buoyant market, Toyota’s expectations for the Hilux are hardly muted as a result. The company shifted its sales projection for the Hilux range three times last year, believing that 8100 — mainly double cab, mainly 4x4 Hilux’s — would be sold during 2017. In fact it sold 8122 — that’s a good result in any carmaker’s books.
Its road manners on the arterial bitumen of Canterbury, as well as some gnarlier back country roads, were superb.
Late last year Toyota made a few adjustments to the extensive Hilux range, as well as facelifting a few items on the trucks themselves. This was possible because line space in the Thailand factory where the Hilux’s are screwed together had freed up, meaning the local distributor had access to specification boxes on the higher shelves, as well as more automatic transmissions (90 per cent of Hilux’s sold now feature an auto ’box).
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This year, Toyota introduces a new “hero” grade; the slightly confusingly named Cruiser (which replaces the SR5). Aside from stickers and alloys, this version also features an entirely different grille design; it looks the part, too, with a more upright edge to the bonnet and what I can describe only as a more American-looking nose.
It works, though. With the number of utes that remain completely un-customised in any way surely almost non-existent, the Hilux Cruiser will score points.
This current generation of Hilux was launched with 21 variants and, despite a bit of fiddling in the range (most notably the deletion of the big, thirsty petrol V6 version), there are still 21 variants.
Many incremental changes have been made, such as the addition of a rear diff lock to Prerunner (2WD) models, uprated braked tow ratings of 3500kg across the board and the introduction of lockable tailgates on what Toyota calls its “A” deck (the rural spec one you’ll see with external handles, versus the smooth-sided “J” deck on your townie trucks).
Reversing cameras have been standard on most models of Hilux for a while, but now even cab-chassis models receive these, too. Toyota simply gives the kit to whoever the customer wants their bespoke deck built by (or it’s fitted at Toyota’s Thames factory if a Toyota-approved tray is opted for).
Another adjustment Toyota managed to get across the line with the factory is the introduction of longer, wider leaf springs in the rear of the ute, with adjusted tolerances to suit, in order to help with ride comfort.
This, combined with a quiet cabin, makes the Hilux an impressively refined thing these days. Its road manners on the arterial bitumen of Canterbury, as well as some gnarlier back country roads, were superb.
Of course, if it’s refinement you want, the Land Cruiser Prado has been delivering this in spades for a while now.
The nameplate first appeared as a suffix on a Land Cruiser in 1990 and it has been a popular component of the manufacturer’s model mix since.
Unlike the Hilux, updates to Toyota’s mainstay medium-duty SUV were much more extensive. The Prado has been brought more into line with its bigger Land Cruiser 200 sibling.
Everything forward of the A-pillar has changed, with the old drooping nose design replaced with a much bluffer front end. The trademark vertical bars in the grille remain, but the headlights bookending it are slimmer, with grade-dependent colour-coding, depending on whether you’ve opted for a GX, VX or VX Limited.
Other updates include the addition of ventilated front seats, redesigned wheels, a comprehensive camera display system accessed through an eight-inch screen in the centre stack, designed to allow you to place your Prado in ever-more precipitous locations with confidence, as well as Toyota’s Safety Sense package now being standard across the range.
This groups together a number of safety systems, such as Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Warning, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control and Automatic High Beam deployment.
There are now a whopping 63 models to choose from in the SUV segment, reflecting carmakers keenness to supply to buyer demand.
So the refreshed Prado has plenty of competition, even in its corner; Jeep’s Grand Cherokee and — that Blue Oval brand again — Ford’s Everest are its main contenders.
It does what you need it to do, though. Media were taken up stunning private tracks, involving relatively strenuous off roading and river crossing work, too. The Prado just goes about off-roading with an unfussy, cosseted purpose. It’s brilliant and comfortable and spacious. It’s a Prado; it works well and that’s why it’s an automatic box-tick for so many buyers.
Taken together, the Toyota Hilux and Prado updates don’t exactly shake their respective worlds to the core. They’re small changes on vehicles that continue to do big things for their parent company.
They also happen to both be playing in absolutely the right parts of the market.