T HE TOYOTA Hilux has always bumped around in an odd netherworld between bushy suburbia and the blue-collar universe. Starting life as a simple, rugged tool for the hard-hat and Akubra brigades, along the way it’s morphed into one of the most popular passenger vehicles in Australia. That dual identity brings with it a series of compromises that the Hilux’s original designers never really planned for.
This 2020 refresh of the eighth-generation Hilux, which first launched in 2015, inches the needle over towards a passengers-first sentiment, presenting a more civil side without impacting its abilities on the construction site or back paddock.
Niceties like a digital speedometer and Apple CarPlay, and necessities like AEB and adaptive cruise control, are all part of the mix of this upgraded Hilux, along with powertrain tweaks and a light cosmetic makeover.
Make no mistake, though – the interior of the Hilux is still as tradie as it comes. Okay, those hard plastics and durable surfaces are softened by stylised curves and radiused edges, while a larger 8.0-inch touchscreen with smartphone mirroring and app access make it more commuterfriendly. Dual-cab 4x4 prices start at $50,010 for the SR manual, while the SR5+ auto retails at $60,420.
Trademark Hilux touchstones are still present, including the dot matrixstyle digital clock and the idle-up button to the right of the steering wheel, which nestles just above the diesel particulate filter regeneration button. Added in 2018, it’s a reactive fitment to try and stem the tide of discomfiture with the bothersome DPF issues that have thus far plagued the eighth-gen ’Lux.
The Hilux’s 1GD-FTV 2.8-litre diesel turbo four has been made over, with a stiffer cylinder block, better exhaust gas management and improved cooling helping to boost outputs to 150kW (up 20kW) and 500Nm (up 50Nm) on the auto (though torque remains 420Nm for the manual). It’s still a handful of killer wasps down on the Ford Ranger’s 2.0-litre twin-turbo 157kW, but the torque is a match.
Another improvement: the updated six-speed auto can now handle 3500kg of trailer, up a hefty 400kg.
Outside, there’s a bigger one-piece grille, redesigned headlights (still halogen at the lower end of the spec scale) and a tidied-up rear, but little else in the way of sheetmetal changes.
A telescopic steering column and decently proportioned seats provide a familiar driver interface, and a digital speedo is a few years late but a welcome addition. The adaptive cruise control system is effective, if conservative, with distances, and can still be overridden to access old-school cruise if that’s your preference.
Has Toyota manage to improve the skittish unladen ride and handling for us city folk? Short answer is yes. Revised shocks combine with new front springs and longer rear leaves, revised bushings and new mounts between the cabin and the frame to bring the around-town ride quality closer to that of its competitors. It’s still a utility and it still can pack a tonne in the back, so it will always be compromised, but Toyota has clearly spent a bit of time and money to improve the everyday liveability of the Hilux.
Its primary ride is now on a par with – and possibly nicer through the front end than – its most vaunted rival, the Ranger. The revised engine feels more cohesive and less industrial too, with decent throttle mapping and a good relationship with the six gears.
We need more miles with the Hilux to see if it’s got the chutzpah to see off a brace of new and improved rivals, but at first blush, Toyota has certainly rounded off a few of the more conspicuous callouses.
Model Toyota Hilux 4x2 SR Hi-Rider Extra cab
Engine 2755cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo diesel
Max power 150kW @ 3400rpm
Max torque 500Nm @ 1600-2800rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
0-100km/h 10.5sec [estimated]
More composed ride; better safety features; digital speedo; greater towing capacity
Manual ’box still torque-limited; cabin still majors on gritty plastics; rivals aren’t standing still
FORD RANGER 2.0 XLT $60,740
An all-new version of the Ranger will hit us next year, so technically the Ford is an older nail than the Hilux.
However, key tweaks for the 2020 year from the Blue Oval will keep the Japanese giant honest. It’s the little things on the Ranger, like a USB port behind the rear view mirror for dashcams and remote-controlled roller shutters on high-spec versions, that will help keep the fight alive between two of Australia’s top-selling vehicles. Next year, however, will be very interesting…