Toyota re-enters the race with athletic new Hilux
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The Hilux is back, but don't expect deep discounts writes Phil Hanson
Will the just-introduced Hilux restore Toyota's ute to the sales supremacy it enjoyed for decades before being beaten by Ford's Ranger in 2014?
Maybe, maybe not -- a senior executive says Toyota doesn't much care, either way.
That's an about-face from the company that used to care, very much indeed. The attitude at Toyota NZ's head office now is that the ute just needs to sell in sufficient quantity to do its bit to retain the firm's position as the No1 seller of passenger vehicles, said Steve Prangnell, general manager of sales, during the eighth-generation Hilux launch.
"Our plan in 2016 is to sell 5400 Hilux supplemented by the Fortuner wagon spinoff," he said. "If that means we regain the overall lead in the ute sector, that's good."
So far this year, Hilux is second to Ranger by a little more than 1000 sales.
"Our prime objective is to retain our overall lead and Hilux will be a significant contributor," promised Prangnell.
The company also wants to make a reasonable profit on each Hilux, so there goes the sometimes deep discounting for which the model had become known.
Toyota is predicting 122,500 new-vehicle sales across NZ next year and aims to supply 25,000 wearing Toyota and Lexus badges. Sales this year are expected to top 133,000, but Toyota believes the market is about to soften due to a saturated market, softening dairy returns, weaker GDP growth and weaker exchange rates that will cause price increases.
Hilux is well equipped to help deliver big sales numbers to Toyota's total. The ute looks good, with an athletic stance, and is full of added features and improvements, including a new turbodiesel engine and six-speed automatic and manual transmissions.
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Ride, handling and comfort are up there with the best of its rivals and it's been given greater off-road abilities with a stronger chassis, better underbody protection, revised suspension and a standard locking rear differential across the 4WD range.
The outgoing Hilux was hobbled by a limited model line-up compared to some rivals, notably Ford. Not this time; there are 21 models, nine more than before, and in four specification grades. S and SR versions are aimed at the "working" truck market; the SR5 and SR5 Limited at buyers seeking to mix family and business needs in one vehicle. The SR5 Limited, available in both 2WD and 4WD, has such added features as power leather seating and 18-inch alloys.
Prices start at $36,990 for a 2WD single-cab cab-chassis and top out at $70,490 for the flagship 4WD SR5 Limited automatic.
Hilux was particularly disadvantaged by its small 2WD offerings when buyers were flocking to the high-riding rear-drivers offered by some rivals. Customers, particularly in urban areas, have a hankering for automatic versions of these 2WDs that look like 4WDs but lack the extra complexity and higher pricing. Toyota didn't even have an automatic 2WD let alone a high-rider, and had to watch while, in the past five years, 30 per cent of buyers moved from manual to automatic transmission.
It was these gaps in the 2WD range that lost Hilux its long-held top-ute crown. The outgoing 4WD model was still ahead of Ranger 4WD sales, though not by much.
The new Hilux mix includes nine 2WDs. Five are high-riding PreRunners, a new model for New Zealand (see panel). However, unlike some rivals, Toyota elected to keep lower ride-height 2WD cab chassis and wellsides. One reason is that, without the added 100mm ride height, some users find them easier to load and unload.
A heavily optioned Toyota Hilux.
Toyota isn't offering its new 2WDs with a locking rear differential, a traction aid found on, say, the Ranger 2WD. Spencer Morris, Toyota's head of product, said it may review that decision if there's demand from customers. He pointed out that the standard electronic traction control works well in low-traction conditions.
A 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine that made its debut recently on the Prado wagon, develops up to 450Nm between 1600 and 2400rpm -- a 25 per cent increase over the previous 3-litre. It delivers up to 80 per cent of its maximum torque from 1200rpm.
Fuel efficiency is better by up to 10 per cent and drops to as low as a rated 7.3 litres per 100km overall.
A detuned engine producing 123kW and 343Nm is fitted to standard-ride height 2WDs.
If fuel economy's not your thing, Toyota has retained a 4-litre V6 Hilux, "the most powerful light truck in the segment". Some 200 have been sold since that engine was reintroduced in late 2013.
Manual versions of the SR5 and SR5 Limited have iMT (for intelligent manual transmission) that produces smoother gear shifts by matching engine speed to the transmission speed and by automatically blipping the engine for downshift, all but eliminating "shift shock". It also lessens the likelihood of stalling.
New rear leaf springs, longer and mounted farther apart, improve towing and load carrying ability, while rear wheel articulation has been improved by about 20 per cent.
"Leaf springs were found to be the best combination for load carrying, off-road performance, and heavy towing," said Morris, in a probable reference to Nissan's decision to go with rear coils on its new Navara.
The new ute should be able to do some serious bush-bashing. A new ladder chassis, 20 per cent more rigid, incorporates sections up to 30mm bigger and made of stronger, thicker steel, much of it galvanised. More undercoating, chip-resistant coatings and anti-corrosion waxes are used. Stronger, thicker and wider underbody protection covers 30 per cent more area.
All this, along with modest dimension increases, contribute to a heavier vehicle. An SR5 4WD double cab is about 130kg more than its predecessor, but payload is 90kg better, at 915kg.
Towing capacity is now up to 3.5 tonnes, depending on the model.
Standard cabin features include air conditioning, a large tablet-style touch screen display, Bluetooth, more supportive seats and wireless remote central locking. For the first time, 4WD versions change from the traditional transfer-gear shifter to a dash-mounted switch.
Chasing the demand for ever-more luxurious and feature-rich utes, the SR5 specification includes new six-spoke alloy wheels, auto-levelling LED headlights, fog lamps, keyless smart entry and start, climate control air conditioning and satellite navigation.
Rear seat occupants in double cab models get more knee room and two ISOFIX child restraint anchors are fitted.
Reversing cameras are on all models with a wellside, along with such safety features as seven airbags, vehicle stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, electronic brakeforce distribution and trailer sway control. The ute has a five-star ANCAP safety rating.