ONE OF the key things to come out of last month’s nine-way ute test was just how much vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz X-Class and Volkswagen Amarok are raising the bar in this segment and changing people’s expectations of what to expect in a dual-purpose 4x4 pick-up. And those expectations will only get higher with the release later this year of utes like the X350d V6 X-Class, Ranger Raptor and even the updated Ranger with its 10-speed automatic gearbox.

Along with heightened expectations come higher prices, but the market has shown that it is prepared to pay for more features and performance. Top-of-the-range models like the Wildtrak, SR5 and now the V6 variants have been big sellers and the manufacturers are only too happy to load them up and raise the prices.

While vehicles like the Ranger, X-Class and Amarok have shown they can up-spec and carry a higher price tag, our testing showed the once-dominant Toyota Hilux would need some pretty serious re-engineering work to maintain the same level as this trio.

The new top-of-the-range Hilux, the Rugged X, is a nice looking piece of kit and its accessories work well, but they also eat into the payload and there’s no step up in performance. The 1GR 2.8litre diesel engine is the only engine offered in the Hilux and it goes alright, just not great; it’s no powerhouse and is buzzy in its operation at highway speeds.

Compared to the other top-spec utes mentioned, the Hilux still feels like a tradie-truck and, while that’s not a bad thing, there’s no way it could ever match the performance and refinement of these new V6 diesel models – and in no way can it command the same higher prices.

We had a Rugged X along for the ute test in the Flinders Ranges for this issue and it had some reliability issues. It isn’t the first time, as we’ve seen similar problems in a current Hilux/Fortuner with the 1GR engine.

This begs the question, is Toyota’s long-held reputation for reliability starting to fray under the pressure of the new competition?

Toyota needs a good V6 diesel or even a V8 petrol engine, as well as improvements in suspension and NVH, if the company hopes to sell in the $70K+ ute segment. Let’s hope it can come up with something.

Time will tell Toyota’s story, but the 4x4 ute market isn’t showing any signs of slowing, so it will be testing times ahead.