AFTER three decades of leadership in the local pick-up market, Toyota’s Hilux nameplate has virtually become a synonym for the word bakkie in local light truck lingo. But, in its latest form, referred to as “Innovative International Multipurpose Vehicle” – or IMV in Toyota-speak – Hilux is out to conquer the world. And, in recognition of its enviable record in pick-up production for the South African market, the Prospecton plant has been chosen as one of four factories (the others are in Indonesia, Thailand and Argentina) to pro-duce the vehicles for the IMV’s onslaught on international markets.

By far the biggest project ever undertaken by Toyota SA, new Hilux will stand the local company in at R2,4 billion, and output is set to reach 120 000 units annually. But, though exports will bring in huge returns, the focus on the local market is as strong as ever, with 15 different long-wheelbase-only derivatives – six “normal height” single-cabs, three raised body single cabs and six double-cabs - for South African buyers to choose from.

The various derivatives, as well as the mix of new petrol and diesel engines, were detailed in the Special Report in June 2005 CAR. But, although the research for that feature involved a brief drive in one example, the doublecab 3,0 D-4D Raider in this test represents our first in-depth assessment of Toyota SA’s crucial new model.

With the IMV Hilux, Toyota hopes to take a larger share of the double-cab sector than before. And the highly-specced but favourably priced Raider with the top-line 3,0-litre diesel engine is likely to account for a good proportion of sales.

Featuring a front end in the style of the popular RAV4 soft-roader grafted onto an American-look double- cab pick-up body, the newcomer comes across as forceful rather than handsome. It is significantly larger than its predecessor – 150 mm longer and 60 mm wider. In Raider form it has colour-coded bumpers, sturdy running boards, chrome exterior mirrors, and special 15-inch alloy wheels, fitted, in the case of the test unit, with 255/70 R15 Bridgestone Dueler tyres.

As before, the smoothly contoured exterior sheet metal is carried on a rugged laddertype chassis. But the new frame is larger, with bigger side-members. The double-box side rails have been increased from 60 mm in width and 120 mm in height to 90 mm wide and 160 mm high. An extra cross-member has been added to improve torsional rigidity.

Suspension has been completely revamped. The outgoing model’s torsion bar front suspension has been replaced by a new coil and double wishbone setup. A live axle is retained at the rear, but the leaf springs are now in an overslung, rather than underslung, position. Spring rates have been tuned for greater ride comfort than before. Steering is rack and pinion with speed-related power assistance, brakes are discs in front, drums at the rear, and Raider models have ABS as standard equipment.

Like the other engines on offer, the 1KD-FTV turbodiesel in the 3,0 D4-D is all-new. It is a four-cylinder d-o-h-c 16-valve unit with an aluminium cylinder head, and features high-pressure common rail injection with electronic control. It also has a variable vane turbocharger, and a fuel cooler in the fuel return system. Capacity is 2 982 cm³, and peak outputs are 120 kW at 3 400 r/min, and 343 N.m between 1 400 and 3 200 r/min.

Drive is transferred to the wheels through a five-speed manual transmission. A “shift-on-the-fly” system – by a separate lever – with automatic freewheeling hubs makes the switch from two- to four-wheel drive a pain-less operation, and there’s also a low-range transfer ratio. A rear differential lock is standard.

Inside, the new Hilux has a car-like interior, with a styled facia – in hard plastic – and a centre console with central handbrake. The Raider’s seats are covered in light velour cloth. The front chairs offer a good range of adjustment, and the wheel can be raised or lowered. Among the standard features are electric windows front and rear, a sliding back window, air-conditioning, immobiliser/ remote central locking, and a radio/CD system. Although there are no satellite controls for the radio on the steering wheel, the unit’s high positioning means its controls are in easy reach of the driver.

A large lidded bin between the front seats, stash spaces under the rear seats, and a range of other smaller hidey-holes provide good in-cabin stowage. Rear passenger accommodation, often slightly problematic in double-cabs, is good in the new Raider: the rear bench has a longer squab and a higher backrest than previous Hilux double- cabs, and there’s reasonable leg, head, hip and shoulder room. The rear doors are wide, and offer easy access, and climbing aboard is helped by the full-length running boards. But taller members of our team would have liked more room in front...

The load box is large, measuring 1 515 mm by 1 520 mm. It is double-skinned, and the tailgate latches are operated by a convenient single central handle. Even in Raider form, there’s no load bed mat or tonneau cover, but both are available as optional extras. Carrying capacity, quoted at 971 kg, is 135 kg up on that of the outgoing model. The tare is quoted at 1 840 kg, and GVM at 2 770 kg.

Toyota has set out to make the new Hilux more user-friendly than the old, while retaining the toughness for which the nameplate is famous. The new suspension, for example, provides better ride comfort, though our testers still found the Raider bounced a lot more on its high-profile tyres than, for example, the new Isuzu KB. Things do improve with a load, however, and the vehicle is definitely more of an “everyday” proposition than its more harshly sprung predecessor.

The assisted rack and pinion steering is light, communicative and precise in 4x4 bakkie terms. The Bridgestone Duelers provide good grip, and handling on-road is good, the front end beginning to slide at the limit. Off-road, the Raider feels virtually unstoppable, the combination of low range and torquey diesel seemingly able to conquer any obstacle in the vehicle’s path. The ground clearance, measured at 225 mm in front and 215 mm at the rear diff, means there’s little underbody scraping in really tough terrain. The good arrival angle means its not prone to snagging in front, but with the shallow departure angle you have to mind the rear.

Out on the test strip the diesel Raider performed well, its 120 kW and 343 N.m helping to accelerate 1 922 kg of bakkie, with two testers and test equipment on board, to 100 km/h in 12,91 seconds, and on to a top speed of 171 km/h. The windscreen rubber – a cosmetic strip that is not used to secure the screen – proved no match for the high speed, however, peeling out of its slot with a pop, followed by a loud whistling sound. We refitted it by hand, and it remained in situ in sub-speed-limit motoring.

Despite reports of fading brakes on a mountain pass during the model’s media launch, the Raider recorded consistent stopping times in CAR’s 10-stop 100-tozero test. The worst time recorded was 3,42 seconds and the best – on the second-last stop – was 3,19 seconds. But the ABS was extremely rough and noisy, and in the last few stops was making wheezing sounds that continued even after the vehicle had come to rest. Parked after the procedure had been completed, clouds of smoke issued from behind the front wheels, but this is not uncommon after what is a pretty stern test of braking for a heavy vehicle designed for on- and offroad work. After the system had cooled down, the pedal took lower down than before, but braking ability was fine.

Fuel consumption will be a major consideration for diesel buyers in this category, and again the Raider D-4D did not disappoint, returning a CAR index figure – our estimate of overall consumption in enthusiastic motoring – of 10,6 litres/100 km. This equates to a range of 754 km on the 80-litre tank.

Test summary

Toyota’s Hilux has long been the benchmark for bakkies in South Africa, and the new model looks set to continue the status quo. Toyota’s aim was to make the Hilux more people-friendly without compromising on ruggedness. At the same time, on a cost-per-features basis, prices are down, due to economies of scale.

Our first acquaintance suggests that all the aims have been achieved, though a final verdict will obviously have to wait for performance in the market. Without doubt, the vehicle’s image has changed, with a stylish – or ugly, depending on the beholder – body adding a “frills” element that wasn’t there before. But what’s wrong with attention-grabbing looks if the under-the-skin solidity is still there?