Most contentious,

for the 4x4 diehards, was the ditching of the time-honoured beam axle for an

independent front suspension. And then there was the matter of the new diesel

engine.

Available in normally aspirated or turbocharged forms, the 2 986 cm3 5L power-unit

won few fans when in turbo guise. It was noisy, and - at least partly thanks

to unfavourable gearing lifted straight from the unblown unit - thirsty.

Admittedly, when the turbo version (a locally developed but factory fitted unit)

underwent our test routine in May 1999, it exhibited plenty of grunt. Clearly,

though, it needed taller gearing to provide the dual benefit of lower noise

and improved economy.

As a workhorse the powertrain had some justification. But it simply didn't

cut the mustard in full-spec Raider guise at the top of the diesel range, where

the focus is definitely on the Sport part of the sport-utility equation. Instead

of tinkering with the gearing, Toyota decided to start from scratch instead

and slot in an entirely different engine (its new-generation 1KZ-TE) into the

Hilux as a replacement for the 5L. Diesel fans didn't know whether to

hold their breath or let it out in a sigh of relief.

On paper, at any rate, it looked good. For one thing, the new 2 982 cm3 engine

has little in common with its predecessor. And for another, it was designed

from the outset for turbocharging. Moreover, redressing the balance that had

swung rather too far towards the workhorse aspect, it has been proven in a sport-utility

role, powering Toyota's Prado.

Retuned to characteristics in keeping with the Hilux's more utilitarian

status, the 1KZ-TE develops particularly healthy urge in the low and middle

ranges. Less powerful overall than in the Prado application, the Hilux-spec

unit develops greater peak torque, hitting 315 N.m at 1 800 r/min. Just 1 200

r/min higher, peak power of 85 kW is reached. At least 80 per cent of torque

is said to be available from 1 400 to 3 200 r/min.

Also, from the oversquare proportions of the earlier engine's bore/stroke

ratio (99,5:96 mm) it has a pronounced undersquare configuration with a bore

of 96 and stroke of 103 mm. Other technical features include twin balancer shafts

to smooth out the four-cylinder's inherent imbalance, electronically

controlled fuel injection, and - in the turbo model - a clutch diameter

that is 10 mm greater, at 260 mm.

Gearing has changed completely. The new engine is matched to the R151 five-speed

gearbox, which replaces the G50 transmission used on the 5L engine models, and

is said to be better suited to the turbo engine. The normally aspirated three-litre

continues with largely the same gearing as before.

Now, when cruising at 120 km/h the engine is turning over at just 2 800 r/min

and the top speed is achieved at more or less 3 600 r/min. And whereas the previous

model needed a shift into fourth gear to clip the 100 km/h mark, spurring this

one on in third will do the trick.

The accompanying table compares the new engine's performance with that of the

model tested in May 1999. Not surprisingly, there are clear gains across the

board.

Sprinting ability in a diesel-powered 4x4 is generally forgettable. Still,

revving up the gruff Hilux has it bolting from standstill to 100 km/h in 15,49

seconds, and lumbering to a 36,16-second kilometre. Top speed gains an impressive

14 km/h to 157. In-gear overtaking is slightly better than before; given the

taller gearing, that performance can actually be regarded as a distinct improvement.

And consumption drops sharply. Our constant-speed consumption of 9,96 litres/100

km indicates a fuel index of 13,94 in overall driving, a range of 581 km between

fill-ups.

On the dynamic side we were pleased with the generally quiet and refined (for

a diesel) ride of this updated model. Subjectively judged, sound levels at idle

and on the move were well within what we would expect, and actual measurements

confirmed this. Differences to the old model ranged from 3 dB (easily discerned

by normal hearing) at idle, to a massive 6 dB at freeway speed.

Gearshifts are reasonably light and positive, and the steering a little wooden

but precise enough. In tight corners it does pay to be well aware of the low-down

torque and minimal turbo lag, because a hasty right foot will unstick a rear

wheel, particularly in the wet.

As for the change to the front running gear, because South Africa had passed

over one Hilux generation we had also missed out on the change to an independent

front end. Toyota 4x4s have used the double wishbone/torsion bar layout in other

markets since the 1980s. A similar arrangement does duty in 4x2 models, of course.

There are no question marks over its ruggedness and unquestionably superior

on-road refinement, including more precise steering feel. But the benefit of

independent wheel articulation brings with it an inevitable varying in under-axle

ground clearance that will be anathema to those looking for the ultimate off-roading.

However, in the interests of comfort there are many who would be willing to

make the tradeoff.

Yet some things don't change: the body-on-ladder-frame chassis, for

instance. And the Hilux soldiers on with the conventional part-time 4x4 system.

Its free-wheeling front hubs have to be manually locked before 4wd is engaged

with a separate shift lever, in high or low range. Electronics lock up the rear

differential automatically when excessive wheelspin is detected.

The engine upgrade provided an opportunity to make some cosmetic tweaks as

well, namely new cloth inserts for the combination leather/cloth seat, and new

body striping. In addition, diesel Raider models now have the added security

of a transponder immobiliser that complies with insurance industry requirements,

and does away with the need for other anti-theft devices such as gearlocks.

As before, Raider specification encompasses all the bells and whistles in this

class, from combination cloth/leather uphostery to such convenience and luxury

features as air-conditioning, power windows, sound system and central locking.

Exterior features include sturdy-looking tailgate latches, a step bumper and

a custom tonneau cover.

Unlike the petrol-engined Raider 2700i, the 3,0 TD does not come with airbags

as standard equipment, and so is able to wear a full bullbar (not being part

of the body structure's crumple zones, the bar would interfere with airbag

triggering in an an impact). However, there are ABS braking on the front disc/rear

drum combination, passenger safety cell, side impact door beams, impact-absorbing

steering column and pretensioners on the front seatbelts.