LET’S start with a confession: on the day the Toyota Hilux arrived, my testosterone level rose. The Silky Gold paintwork, optional alloy wheels and Durabar nudge, side-, roll and towbars elevated our Hilux above the thousands pounding our streets and country lanes, and added some much-needed machismo to the frumpy looking Hilux (and myself).
Eagle-eyed readers would have noticed that this Toyota Hilux is a pre-facelift version and as such lacks the Land Cruiser-esque nose of the latest models. Mechanically, however, it’s indistinguishable from the current iteration. Our Xtra Cab boasted rear-wheel drive and the trusty 3,0-litre D-4D turbodiesel engine.
The powertrain is definitely one of the more agricultural-sounding and feeling ones in the market, especially in terms of flexibility. But, keep the revs between 2 000 and 3 500 r/min and it impresses with brawny acceleration owing to the fact that the 4×2 is shorn of heavy 4×4-drivetrain gear and that the Xtra Cab is already lighter than the double cab. Fall outside this powerband and the engine either stumbles and vibrates, or runs out of puff.
Apart from regular inner-city commutes, our Hilux completed two long-distance trips that alone totalled more than 7 000 km. It did service last year as a tow vehicle on CAR’s Performance Shootout, pulling a large trailer all the way from Cape Town via Durban to Johannesburg. Fuel consumption took a beating, but the Hilux coped well with the additional mass and rarely struggled to keep pace with the speedy convoy.
The next long trip was completed at a more leisurely pace. Namibia beckoned and the Hilux duly obliged, sitting comfortably at three-figure speeds for hours on end on that country’s impeccable national tar roads.
Only the occasionally choppy ride at slower speeds spoiled the calm. Once there, any thoughts of dune driving were allayed by the lack of four-wheel drive. However, sandy roads proved no problem thanks to the differential lock and generous ground clear-ance. I would advise someone considering such a trip to pack a kinetic towrope in case traction and talent reach an impasse.
With 343 N.m of torque feeding the rear wheels that grappled for traction on sand, sideways action was but a prod of the accelerator away (visit CARmagblog.co.za for a video of the Hilux painting a pan in the Western Cape with dust).
A boon on the Namibia trip was the additional storage spaces behind the seats that kept all our valuables sand-free. In fact, this feature is so convenient that I’m surprised we don’t see more Xtra Cabs on our roads. Why would anyone pick a single-cab bakkie if the former loses only 500 mm in load-bay length but gains a far more usable cabin? I regularly made use of the space to store odds and ends or place my laptop out of sight. If you go a step further and have lockable boxes installed, the Xtra Cab transforms into an all-in-one utility vehicle.
The interior received a welcome upgrade at the time of the facelift. Ours, however, still featured the original configuration that is too agricultural in design and material choice, but all controls are well sited and large enough to use with gloved hands. That said, even the newer version’s cockpit feels decidedly old when compared with those of the Volkswagen Amarok and Ford Ranger.
I did speak to a number of farmers and tradespeople during the Hilux’s tenure and quite a few who use these vehicles daily were adamant that they prefer the Toyota’s simpler, seemingly more robust interior. Although I got used to the steering column that isn’t reach adjustable, some of CAR’s testers and readers would have preferred this feature.
The Toyota Hilux Xtra Cab did not miss a beat during its 12 months at CAR. Both services – at 10 000 km and 20 000 km – were efficient and the service-centre personnel very friendly, the rubberised load bay proved big enough for all types of cargo and the average fuel consumption worked out to a respectable 10,6 litres/100 km.
However, with the launch of the Amarok, Ranger and now Mazda’s BT-50, the bakkie market has further matured from offering a plethora of utilitarian workhorses into a segment that attracts customers who need practicality and comfort in equal measure. In this regard, the current Hilux feels off the pace compared with its newer competitors. But, with its impeccable reliability record, great resale value and the most extensive dealer network in the country, the Hilux remains a sound buy that should give its owner years of trouble-free motoring.