Toyota Hilux review, first drive - A pick me up unlike any other?
The Toyota Hilux made its debut in India last year, and almost a year later we got our hands on it to get you this drive review. The Hilux globally has a massive reputation earned on three fronts. First that one episode where Jeremy Clarkson basically took the single cab version apart in many ways and it still kicked back to life after every explosion, crash, drop and submersion. That episode cemented its rep as one of the most reliable vehicles in the world. Not as the best off-road pickup or best performing, but reliable. Now, most people in India are aware of Toyota's reputation for reliability, and the Hilux is the very epitome of that credential. Second, the Hilux in its single-cab version has a reputation for being the go-to pickup for a majority of insurgents the world over. In various conflict zones, the Hilux will be the one vehicle coming to a halt with a gun mounted on a turret in the load bed spewing hellfire. This is a fact. Its third front came up with the conversion jobs done by a small after-market tuning and build company called Arctic Trucks. They heavily modified the Hilux and took it to the North Pole, which then also gave it the credentials of being highly capable off-road.
Without a doubt, the Hilux is a popular pick-up though global sales are nowhere close to Ford's F-Series or the GMC Silverado. That said the Hilux which has been around for well over 50 years is a highly respected brand name. So it's coming to the Indian market did get me pretty excited and if you have been following my social media feeds you'd have noticed I've got a bit of a fetish for pick-ups. I own an Isuzu D-Max V-Cross, which falls in the same category as the Hilux, except, it's less powerful, significantly less powerful. How these two fare against each other is a subject for another day.
The Hilux in India is the dual cab version, which is more lifestyle oriented. Globally this is not the higher-selling model, the single cab is the one that commands attention being the reliable workhorse that it is. The dual cab is more attuned for the adventure road trip enthusiast, four doors, a smaller load bay and lots more creature comforts. By itself, the Hilux isn't something that would catch your eye. Our drive vehicles for that matter were heavily altered with several cosmetic enhancements from an exhaustive accessories list that Toyota offers in India. What comes standard, out of the box so to speak are the badges, the large 'Toyota' sticker spread across the tailgate and the soft open dampers for the tailgate. The rest of all that you see enhancing the Hilux's appeal comes from the parts list. So making the Hilux look good is entirely up to you. The drawback is that this adds more digits to an already inflated sticker price that kicks off at around INR 33 lakhs.
There are a few reasons why the price is as high as it is. First, this is an SKD or a semi-knocked-down kit. This means the body is imported as a completely painted unit from Thailand to be married to the chassis and powertrain at the Toyota facility in Bidadi. Import duties on SKDs are higher than on CKDs or Completely Knocked Down kits. Then there is the new powertrain which is a large displacement 2.8-litre turbocharged unit, and it has to conform to the latest emission norms, so it has to be BSVI compliant. This adds on expensive parts like a diesel particulate filter to meet those norms which hike up the price yet again.
There is a downside to that steep sticker price though, The Hilux's cabin does not feel as premium. The quality of plastics is low rent, fit and finish certainly lacks premiumness, and while Toyota has added on connected tech and a large touch screen, accessibility is poor. Given how the industry has moved ahead in making crisper, more articulate, and more informative infotainment systems, the Hilux's system feels severely lacking. Even wireless charging and a TPMS monitor are accessories and not standard fitments. In terms of creature comforts, you get what is absolutely basic, though the rear passengers do get air-con vents and there are plenty of grabrails to ease ingress and egress from the tall cabin.
The powertrain on the Hilux is a new 2.8-litre turbodiesel that is torquey, packs in a big punch and is surprisingly quite responsive. The torque output though depends on the model you pick. The manual transmission version packs in 420Nm of peak torque whereas in the 6-speed automatic this is bumped up to 500Nm. The advantage the AT offers is those 500Nm of peak torques kick in at just 1600rpm, so you barely get any sensation of turbo lag. I believe this would be pretty effective at higher altitudes where the air-fuel mix and the turbochargers that begin spooling late play havoc with drivability in most vehicles. If there is a drawback, it's that the diesel clatter can be loud and that diesels have a shelf life of just 10 years as per the National Green Tribunal and the central government legislation. This could in the years to come, drop down even further. The good news though is that Toyota will be getting a petrol hybrid powertrain in the Hilux in the near future.
Underpinning the Hilux is Toyota's IMV architecture which is the backbone for the Innova and the Fortuner as well. It's a ladder frame chassis with an independent front suspension, except that the Hilux uses leaf springs at the rear. This is because it is a load-bearing vehicle, used largely for utilitarian purposes. The leaf spring setup is a strong, and cost-effective solution with easy repairability especially since the Hilux is used in some of the remotest parts of the planet. In a lifestyle vehicle though this has its drawbacks, principally its ride quality and dynamic abilities.
On our drive in the Rajaji National park buffer zone, we experienced long broken tarmac sections. Over these and other minor undulations, the Hilux feels very crashy, especially at the rear. Add to this we were carrying an empty load bed which aggravates the ride quality. That said, high-speed damping is still superb. Damping and recoil rates have been tightly controlled, so you get little pitch at the front end. This is especially useful if your nose dives towards the ground when you are driving off-road. Even body roll is kept under check. On some of the more undulating surfaces, the Hilux won't crash and hit its bump stops if you happen to roll over a series of bumps and dips in rapid succession.
The dimension of the Hilux are also a dampener when it comes to the ride and handling. At 5.3 metres in length, the Hilux has a wheelbase that is 3.08 metres long and a turning circle that is 12.8 metres wide. This makes turning it in tight spots quite a bit of a challenge. In perspective, the D-Max V-Cross is around 50mm shorter, but wider and taller with a slightly longer wheelbase but a turning circle that is slightly smaller at 12.2 metres. I did like the steering feel though, it is quite car-like, light and linear. It's not very precise, but on the sections we were driving on, the front wheels kept getting thrown about upsetting the steering wheel and it still managed to make it easy to manoeuvre the almost 2.5-ton pickup.
On the 4x4 side of things, the Hilux feels fairly competent in the conditions we drove in. For most enthusiast adventure-seeking overland junkies, this is the perfect vehicle. You have the space in the flatbed to load up whatever you'd need on say a camping trip, the torque will get you over any obstacles and a great 4x4 setup thanks to its electronic traction control system that will take you to extraordinary places. The Hilux also has a rear diff lock but for most purposes, the ECT is all that you would need. You just have to be careful of its dimensions. The 260/65 R18 wheels and tyres fill in the wheel wells, but the standard tyres Toyota provides with the Hilux are Bridgestone Duelers HTs (Highway Terrain) which are great on the tarmac, and just about adequate off-road. For more serious off-road work you will need to change those to an all-terrain or mud and snow pattern.
I also thought there were a few things Toyota missed out in its 4x4 element list, given its price tag, and positioning as a luxury lifestyle vehicle. There are no camera's at the front or sides that could have been used as spotters. Neither is there any information displayed on the touchscreen that could at the very least show you meant business.
The Hilux overall is a great pickup to own. But the audience is limited, and numbers diminishing. Just take a look at what happened to the Isuzu D-Max V-Cross. It too was a fantastic proposition when new, and where are the numbers right now? Make no mistake I love pickup trucks, I own one, and I simply love the sense of dominance it has over everything else on the road or off it. Owning a pickup truck though is much like owning one of those adventure motorcycles. While they are imposing to look at by themselves, you need to add on accessories to truly make them look like they mean business. The interiors are spartan, and the all-black layout diminishes the sense of space this otherwise large cabin holds. On the road, its large proportions need careful manoeuvring but that sense of being the alpha on the road is satisfying. And in those faraway places, it can be a great companion. I however just cannot get over the price. Had it been substantially lower, at least 10 lakhs south of where it is at right now, I'd give up the D-Max in a heartbeat for the Hilux, but it isn't. And at nearly INR 45 lakh on-road for the top tier 6-speed automatic, you could buy a Fortuner which is significantly more practical and just as capable. This family of vehicles all emanating from a single platform is Toyota's strong suit in the country, but will the Hilux be able to add value to the brand then is still left to be seen. For you, if you have the moolah, shed it on the Hilux, else move on.
Starts Rs 33.99 Lakhs
Starts Rs 16.98 Lakhs