Car reviews - Toyota - Hilux - range
Uncompromising off-road ability, tough exterior makeover, strong value proposition
Room for improvement
Weight gain impacts performance and fuel efficiency, untouched powertrain, core HiLux steering and suspension flaws persist
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19 Apr 2018
BEEFED-UP dual-cab pick-ups are all the rage at the moment. Just when you thought the Ford Ranger Raptor and HSV Colorado SportsCat would have the emerging segment to themselves, Toyota has kicked the door down with its new HiLux flagship trio.
Dubbed the Rogue, Rugged and Rugged X, the latest HiLux variants have burst onto the scene with an uncompromising focus on lifestyle and off-road ability.
However, just like the Raptor and SportsCat before them, high-performance powertrains are not part of the equation.
Power-hungry Australians will have to look towards the incoming Mercedes-Benz X350d and Volkswagen Amarok TDI580 instead, or should they? We put Toyota’s hard-hitting trio to test on and off the beaten track to find out.
Three years ago, Toyota Australia’s Port Melbourne-based product planning and development division set out on a mission: create new flagship variants for the best-selling HiLux dual-cab pick-up range. However, it wasn’t that simple.
These additions had to be uncompromising in their lifestyle or off-road focus. Enter the Rogue, Rugged and Rugged X.
The SR-based manual Rugged kicks off proceedings from $54,990 before on-road costs, while the SR5-based Rogue and manual Rugged X both start from $61,690.
An optional six-speed automatic transmission adds $2000 to the Rugged and Rugged X’s price tags but is standard on the Rogue.
Compared to the $74,990 Raptor and $60,790-68,990 SportsCat, the HiLux trio offer cracking value on paper. The Rugged X features a steel front bumper that incorporates an LED light bar, a bash plate and red recovery hooks, while fender flares, side body protection, side rock rails, a snorkel, a steel rear bumper, a tub-mounted matte-black sports bar, a tub liner and black 17-inch alloy wheels shod in 265/65 all-terrain tyres complete its upgrades. The Rugged shares these features but misses out on the front recovery hooks while adding a full steel bull bar.
Alternatively, the Rogue shifts focus from outright capability to lifestyle, offering up a new-look front end, a hard tonneau cover, a marine-grade carpet tub liner and black 18-inch alloy wheels shod in 265/60 rubber. It doesn’t matter what variant you pick, all look tough as hell in the metal – especially the Rugged X. If the regular HiLux is too soft for your liking, the new trio piles on aggressive styling in spades.
However, if you had your fingers crossed for a boosted turbo-diesel powertrain, it’s best to look away – there is nothing to see here, because the HiLux’s 2.8-litre four-cylinder unit carries over unchanged. As before, 130kW of power is on tap, while peak torque is 420Nm with the six-speed manual gearbox or 450Nm with the automatic. This seems like a missed opportunity for Toyota as the Australian market has expressed its strong desire for high-performance pick-ups in recent times, with Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen seemingly the only car-makers willing to answer the call.
This issue is amplified when you consider that the Rogue (up 99kg), Rugged (up 185kg) and Rugged X (up 177kg) are significantly heavier than their respective base grades, with the gains of the latter two mainly owing to their heavy-duty front and rear steel bumper bars. Unfortunately, this has a negative impact on performance and fuel efficiency.
Bury your right foot on the highway and progression is less than rapid, which can make overtaking problematic when the gaps are short. Bear in mind, this is the case when the tub is empty, nothing is being towed and there are only two occupants on board, so you can imagine what it would be like fully loaded. More power next time, please?
Remarkably, Toyota claims the Rogue matches the SR5’s combined fuel consumption figure of 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres, while the manual and automatic Rugged and Rugged X are only up 0.3L/100km and 0.1L/100km respectively over their base grades. However, real-world economy pushed these figures out. Consumption during multiple stints off-road hovered around 14.0L/100km, while extended stretches on the highway only saw it drop to about 10.0L/100km – again with an almost empty vehicle.
Nevertheless, these missteps are forgiveable when you realise how capable the HiLux has become under Toyota Australia’s design and engineering program. With the Rugged X as our weapon of choice, we tackled a demanding riverbed course that included numerous short drops and steep inclines, ensuring plenty of contact with the front and rear steel bumpers. The Rugged X’s impressive 49-degree corner approach angle made quick work of these when full lock was required to exit.
Furthermore, one particular drop necessitated contact between the side rock rail and a large boulder on the way back up. Impressively, the boulder came off second best, with the rock rail incurring no noticeable damage. Despite the disconcerting crashes and thuds, the Rugged X proved to be … rugged.
The same can be said of its performance through a rock-lined stretch that felt like being a pair of pants in a washing machine. This terrain was rough enough to give our neck a serious workout, but the range-topping HiLux was not so fazed. Similarly, negotiating dirt, gravel and corrugated roads was handled with aplomb by all three variants. If Toyota Australia was aiming to improve off-road capability, it has undoubtedly done it.
However, that is where it stops. Shifting away from capability and looking at the rest of the package, this trio – especially the Rogue – still has the HiLux DNA coursing through its veins. In some ways this is a good thing, because you don’t become the best-selling model in any market without having something appealing to offer, but in others it’s a bit of a let down.
Namely, the leaf-sprung rear suspension continues to offer an uncomfortable ride on bitumen, whether it be on uneven roads or over potholes and speed bumps. The inevitable thud is nervously anticipated and can make your bones reverberate. In our experience, the only way to the settle the rear end is to load up the tub, which has been made more difficult as payload has been reduced by 200kg, to 725kg.
While hydraulic power steering systems are usually favoured over their electrically assisted counterparts, the set-up in the HiLux continues to verge on being too heavy and too slow. This is particularly evident at low speeds, no matter what the terrain is. Tight corners need to be anticipated early as understeer is certain to be prominent. Naturally, this can dent driver confidence when navigating challenging stretches.
Despite the addition of new flagship variants, at its core, the HiLux remains the same vehicle that many buyers have grown to love. Nevertheless, this goes hand in hand with its steering and suspension bugbears migrating, but that’s not what Toyota Australia set out to change here. Instead it crafted a trio that caters towards capability and lifestyle needs.
The result? Pretty good, in fact. Judging the Rogue, Rugged and Rugged X for what they are and not what they could’ve been reveals that the nail has been hit on the head. It’s just a shame that a significant number of these vehicles are unlikely to ever do any off-road work, because the trio welcome this task wholeheartedly, eating up whatever may lay ahead.
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