Test: Toyota Hilux SR5 4WD Double Cab
In addition to an unimpeachable reputation both on and off road, the 2014 Hilux SR5 arrives with new technology on board and an entirely new engine option in the form of a 4.0-litre V6 petrol.
Many in the primary sector would concede the Hilux is the vehicle that crossed over from simple farm implement to family transport. Where the farm truck once resided in the shed between the seed drill and the old Leyland 344, the Hilux — especially after the advent of the fourth-generation ute in the early 1980s — found itself parked outside the homestead, as ready to take the dogs and a load of fencing gear to a distant paddock as it was to take the kids out to the bus stop.
In recent times the Hilux has seen its position at the top of the heap contested by various brands, not least Ford over the last two years with the advent of their highly-specified Ranger line-up. For the time being, Hilux clings on to the "top selling ute" silverware though, with an unbroken stint as the most popular light commercial in the country for over 30 years.
Of course, the old argument that it's tougher to stay at the top than it is to climb there rings true. Like many brands playing in the same sandpit, Toyota's commercial vehicles have long model lives — considerably longer than passenger cars, whose fortunes are far more susceptible to design trends and technological breakthroughs. So once a wholly-new-generation ute arrives, updating the range with meaningful extras as time goes on becomes a vital part of the marketing war.
With an all-new-from-the-ground-up Hilux still over a year away, Toyota has just gone through this process with the 2014 model. So what has it given us?
While externally you'd be hard pressed to note anything of major difference about the ute, there are quite a few changes inside, especially within the 4WD range. And by "inside" I mean under the bonnet too, with the addition of an entirely new engine in top SR5 trim — a 4.0-litre V6 petrol which happens to be our tester.
The new V6 petrol boasts 175kW — the highest output of any ute in the local market at present — and 376Nm of torque. But a petrol V6? Isn't diesel supposed to be the crowning glory in this segment of the market? Well, the remainder of the 4WD line-up is still powered by 3.0 turbo diesel engines, but Toyota has said it sees a firm market for a petrol ute in top trim — perhaps a nod to the idea of the 4WD double-cab ute being as popular a private purchase as it is a fleet one these days.
Preferences aside, it sure is powerful, delivering a huge amount of get-up-and-go when called upon.
The other feather in Toyota's Hilux cap is the newly-awarded 5 Star ANCAP safety rating for double-cab versions, thanks mainly to the inclusion of three-point ELR seatbelts across all three seating positions in the rear (previously only a lap belt was available in the centre position). For all 4WD Hilux variants, Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and Active Traction Control (A-TRC) are now also standard.
Elsewhere, increased specification is the name of the game, with the SR5 models reaping much of the rewards. Our tester comes with satellite navigation as a standard component of the revised entertainment system. The satellite navigation program also incorporates SUNA real time traffic updates which are designed to give you the best possible route in traffic... handy for that 8.30am meeting in town.
And speaking of venturing into town, the tailgate-mounted reversing camera now fitted to SR5 models also makes reversing and parking manoeuvres a lot easier, although the full-colour screen proved difficult to see in bright sunlight. Still, with what can often feel like acres of sheet metal to see over when backing up in a confined space (and that's before you add a canopy), the idea of a reversing camera is a welcome one. It'll prove handy when lining up to hook on the boat trailer too.
Bluetooth hands-free capability and voice control software allowing access to phone and audio systems is also now standard across the range. We found the new auxiliary connection worked seamlessly with our iPad. Finding tracks and scrolling through podcast menus via the touchscreen display in the centre console was refreshingly easy. An integrated USB jack can handle a hub connection too, which means two USB devices can be plugged in at once.
Every Hilux in the range also now has cruise control as standard, as well as steering wheel controls for Multi-Information Display (MID) trip data displayed in the instrument cluster and the audio and phone systems — items that were previously lacking from lesser models.
So the new Hilux SR5 features plenty of convenience items that bring it into line with the competition. Is that enough to keep buyers keen over the coming 12 months though? Time will tell. But for now, Hilux resale values remain incredibly strong, suggesting a ready market for the model regardless of vintage or kilometres on the clock.
Oh, and if our V6 petrol test ute isn't different enough for you, rumour has it Toyota will be releasing a series of special edition Hilux models in the months ahead – starting with the decal-festooned 2WD EDGE Edition, which has already been confirmed — so keep an eye out for those.
At the end of the day the Hilux remains an icon of field, forest, and freeway. And although it has a hell of a battle on its hands this year with some stiff — and worthy — competition in the light commercial market, I can't help but look forward to when the all-new iteration arrives, ready to cement its name into the Hilux legend.
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