by Brad Leach - 10/05/12
You know the scene in the ‘King Kong’ movie where he dominates New York City from the top of the Empire State Building? That’s reminiscent of how Toyota HiLux looms large over the Australian ute market.
While Toyota HiLux sales since the most recent model upgrade late last year have been impeded as a result of floods affecting Toyota’s Thailand assembly plant, things are now back to normal. Last month (March) Toyota Australia racked-up 18,461 HiLux sales – that’s 81 per cent ahead of the nearest rival.
In some states (Queensland, West Australia, Northern Territory), Toyota HiLux is regularly the top-selling vehicle outright.
Sure there are unique aspects back-grounding HiLux’ dominance of the local ute market – fleet and rural buying habits for instance – but the bottom line is HiLux sells well because it’s a great ute sharply priced and solidly supported by Toyota’s massive Australia-wide dealer network.
In Toyota’s massive model lineup - in overall importance for Toyota Australia’s bottom line - HiLux is overshadowed probably only by the locally-built Camry/Aurion. In that context and illustrating the diversity of the ute market, it’s no surprise there are 35 variants in the Toyota HiLux range (we tested the mid-grade SR model).
Single cab, extra cab, dual cab, ute, tray body, 4x2 and 4x4 Toyota HiLux has the market covered.
Price reductions averaging 16 per cent were part of the most recent model upgrades as Toyota responded to increased competition from new arrivals (most notably Ford Ranger and Mazda BT50), Nissan’s efforts with Navara and of course lost ground due to restricted supply from the Toyota plant in flood-ravaged Thailand.
Toyota’s 2.7-litre, four-cylinder DOHC turbo-diesel is a solid performer with 126kW of power at 3600rpm and peak torque of 343Nm between 1400-3400rpm.
But we still love HiLux V6. The 4.0-litre beauty with 175kW/343Nm or 376Nm (automatic/manual) has grunt with a capital ‘G’.
A freshened interior was one of the key components in the most recent Toyota HiLux upgrades.
There’s a new dashboard, new centre stack with easier operation, new steering wheel (rake adjustment only) and new audio systems. The SR grade Toyota HiLux as tested scored sports front seats (from the up-spec SR5 model), side curtain airbags and cruise control.
The new sound system is a single CD version with three-line text display, voice recognition, Bluetooth (with phone book and audio streaming) and AUX/USB inputs.
Not the freshest ute design on the market, we reckon the Toyota HiLux still looks good. There’s a purposeful feel about the HiLux design which has been enhanced with significant styling changes at the most recent update.
In fact everything forward of the A-pillar (bonnet, grille, headlights and front bumper) are new designs.
The SR grade as tested is distinguished by a body-colour radiator grille with chrome trim.
Toyota HiLux impressed during the national media launch in Townsville, but how would it perform during the full week of Car Showroom testing here in Melbourne? For starters the peak-hour crawl along the Monash Freeway isn’t familiar to Townsville residents.
And that’s the challenge for utes. Buyer diversity means these working vehicles must perform in both open rural conditions and also in tight city confines when doing duty as courier vehicles.
Sure city couriers wouldn’t be driving the 4x4 HiLux we tested, but nevertheless the HiLux does feel substantial in the city – just like rival 4x4 utes to be frank.
Over our high-speed mountain roads loop our SR grade HiLux with its 17-inch wheels and sports front seats was admirable, especially considering the leaf-sprung rear end was designed to work best with some load on-board. In fact as part of the latest updates, Toyota re-worked HiLux’ coil-sprung, double-wishbone front suspension and for sure its refinement and compliance are much better than the previous generation.
Volkswagen’s Amarok has raised the diesel engine refinement/quietness bar. Ford Ranger/Mazda BT50 (both brand-new designs) also eclipse the current Toyota HiLux in this department.
With the myriad of different model mixes, powertrains, drivelines, body and tray types ute buyers face a tough task and you must closely check specific specifications and prices.
Here’s our overview of the top sellers…
Ford Ranger/Mazda: Local development by Ford Australia has paid big dividends. Both are well-appointed, refined and handle local roads impressively. For us, the Ranger is the best-looking ute going around.
Nissan Navara/Mitsubishi Triton/Isuzu D-MAX: Nissan gets kudos for Navara 550’s massive diesel and all are as tough as they get. All-new Colorado and D-MAX arrive this year.
Volkswagen Amarok: Mirrors the Golf in small cars – German precision/refinement for the ute market. We haven’t driven the single-cab and eight-speed automatic versions due on-sale locally this year.
There’s no doubt the latest all-new Ford Ranger and Mazda BT50 give the all-conquering Toyota real competition - in fact for interior design/creature comforts and on-road driving dynamics the Ford and Mazda duo have probably edged ahead of the HiLux.
Sales of Volkswagen’s Amarok got off to a slow start with no automatic transmission and only a dual-cab derivative (both these issues will be corrected shortly) however the ground-breaking German didn’t bag all of its awards for nothing.
Even so, as an all-round package across the entire model range, the Toyota HiLux still takes some beating. The Toyota HiLux is just so competent at…well everything really.
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