Steel rims, black door handles and cloth seats. Not exactly the picture of the new Hilux etched into our minds after an extensive launch campaign by Toyota. But there we were at the Mkuze airfield in Mozambique, taking in a fleet of workmanlike SRX double-cab models featuring the new 2,4-litre GD range of engines. This fleet of bakkies looked more suited to the farming community than a road trip to an exotic location, but time behind the wheel in a variety of challenging driving scenarios proved that this hard-working Hilux had a good deal more class than we'd expected.

The interior is now a familiar sight with the tablet-like touch-screen infotainment system taking centre stage. Gone are the metallic-effect trim inserts on the door panels and the seats, although comfier than the leather pews in the top-of-the-range model we recently sampled, are now cloth covered. The steering wheel only offers satellite buttons for the radio (no additional functionality or cruise control) but it still has (limited) reach and rake adjustment. Climate control is now manual and it struggled slightly in the hot and humid Mozambique climate where the recirculation mode was needed to cool down sufficiently. All in all, though, opting for SRX specification doesn't represent too much of a sacrifice in terms of comforts.

That 2,4-litre engine
The all-new 2,4 turbodiesel engine is offered in two states of tune with the higher output version in our test unit delivering 110 kW, and more importantly, 400 N.m of torque - 57 N.m up on the old 3,0 D-4D unit. From start-up it's clear that this unit is surprisingly refined with little diesel clatter audible in the cabin during idle or on the move.

On the road-bound section of our launch the engine provided good shove between 1 500–2 000 r/min and doesn't feel that far removed from the 2,8-litre. The larger unit shows its advantage at higher engine speeds needed for overtaking, but thankfully the six-speed gearbox is slick and positive in its action, making it easy to keep the smaller engine in the meat of the rev range. In general, the 2,4-litre offers more than enough performance for most needs and has surfeit capability for any commercial application. The on-board fuel consumption figure for the trip to the border was 7,6 L/100 km which was impressive considering all the slow-moving trucks we had to overtake en route.

The ride on tar and sand
The new Hilux's ride on tarred surfaces is a marked improvement over that of the previous model but still firmer than that of most rivals, especially over bumpy sections. Once we crossed the Mozambique border and tar made way for sandy tracks, the Hilux was in its element. Select four-wheel drive on the rotary drivetrain setting dial, steer a steady course and the Hilux makes short work of sandy terrain – even with standard tyre pressures. Out of interest I changed back to rear-wheel drive and was surprised how capable the Hilux was in sand, as long as the momentum was kept up. A forced stop to let approaching vehicles past meant a return to four-wheel drive to prevent embarrassment.

Although most leisure buyers will likely opt for the 2,8-litre model in Raider specification, it has to be said that the 2,4-litre SRX range offers enough muscle and capability for both commercial and leisure applications, with a substantial saving to boot. And while it may not be as sharply dressed as its higher-end siblings, SRX buyers can at least take solace in the fact that steel wheels are back in style…