Test: Toyota Hilux SR 4WD Double Cab

Toyota has updated its iconic ute with some seriously good technology and a vastly improved driving experience

I’m positive there’s a saying of sorts that suggests that, in trying times, we humans tend to seek out home comforts. Well, I’m not sure how else to explain why the sitcom Friends is suddenly popular all over again…

Another bastion of the faithfully familiar must surely be the Toyota Hilux. For nearly 40 years, Toyota’s top-selling truck has been an indelible stamp on all manner of challenging landscape across every part of New Zealand.

As much as any other place a light commercial ute is deemed a worthy tool of trade – and regardless of some stiff competition, especially in the last decade of its lengthy run – the Hilux has always boasted a strong local following.

As a whole, the light commercial segment is down by just over 29% year-to-date at time of writing. But Toyota is quick to point out that its combined commercial line-up is only down by 16% across the same period, speaking (perhaps) to the trust a lot of people place in the Japanese manufacturer’s hardware, especially in trying times.

In other words: if you’re going to go, go with something you know.

Power to the masses

A new face for the 2020/21 Hilux boosts its street presence. But the updates go beyond the skin.

While effectively just a facelift rather than a wholesale generational shift, the amount of upgrades Toyota has brought to the new Hilux is impressive and touch on almost every aspect of the ute.

The 2021 model Hilux features a new face, an improved level of on-board safety, more power and torque from the engine, and refinements in the cabin that change the way it performs on the road. While there is a like-for-like element to each Hilux variant’s spec sheet between the last one and this one, the changes that are there are far-reaching in that they really hammer home the idea of the Hilux as a serious contender, especially against the competition.

The 2.8-litre turbo diesel that features across 16 different variants in the Hilux range has been given a 15% power boost (now up to 150kW), while peak torque has been ramped up to a decent 500Nm for automatic models. Manual transmission Hiluxs’ also boast 150kW peak power, but the torque figure remains firm at 420Nm for the six self-shifter variants that remain in the mix.

Toyota’s old recipe for the Hilux produced 130kW and 450Nm, with the power increase in the latest trucks having been achieved through modifications to the cylinder block, pistons, turbo design and the cooling system. Although there’s more grunt at the driver’s disposal, Toyota states the new Hilux features improved fuel economy over the outgoing versions of each grade.

Some good sense

The updated Hilux boasts a maximum 700mm wading depth

Toyota’s comprehensive Safety Sense technology package is now featured on every Hilux you can buy, which is pretty admirable. When you consider that the humblest Hilux PreRunner SR cab-chassis ute now has more whiz-bang driver assistance software in it than a top-flight German sedan from even five years ago, it goes some way to underline the value-for-money proposition that Toyota is always seeking to highlight.

The standard Toyota Safety Sense package includes a Pre-Collision System with Autonomous Emergency Braking for vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert with Yaw Assist and Road Sign Assist, which gives you a visual indication of the posted speed in real time (it’s literally ‘watching’ for signs, so even in a works zone where a temporary 30km/h speed limit has been posted, the system will display as such).

This and the other advanced safety elements mentioned have become de rigueur in passenger cars but are pleasing to see in a light commercial setting.

Smooth as

If you need to head off the tarmac, the Hilux range has you covered with 10 4WD versions in total

While the increase in available power and safety are definitely great to have, I’m also impressed with the manufacturer’s efforts to provide for a smoother, quieter, and more responsive steer.

While you’re never going to be fooled into thinking you’re piloting a Camry Hybrid, the new Hilux has leapt ahead of where it used to be in terms of successfully mitigating intrusive engine and road noise.

It’s still unmistakably a turbo diesel and is still louder than what you might expect out of the engine bay of a V6 Volkswagen Amarok, for example. But the Hilux engine used to fairly roar when starting from cold, settling down to a still very audible hum that bordered on the thrashy under load.

Now, either the engine itself has been refined or there’s better sound-proofing in the cabin (or both), the SR and SR5 grade utes I drove during Toyota’s recent media launch for the new Hilux were admirably quiet; all the better to enjoy the stereo, which features an upgraded eight-inch touchscreen display (the best such system Toyota has managed yet as I have found their system graphics a bit dowdy against some competitors in the past), along with the introduction of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring tech. Again, Toyota has been a bit late to the party here, but it’s great to finally see these handy features on offer in the Hilux.

Unladen, the ute delivers a confident smoothness to on-road work, with the revised (but still hydraulically assisted) power steering feeling nicely weighted and precise. We didn’t do any towing with the Hilux on the media event, but its 3500kg braked tow rating puts it on par with the competition, and we’d expect that boost in torque will confirm it as a compliant, comfortable load-lugger.

Off-road, nothing has changed. The Hilux will still go toe-to-toe through the rough stuff with any of its rivals with decent 286mm ground clearance and a 700mm maximum wading depth.

The Downhill Assist Control system Toyota now utilises in the Hilux was intriguing on the wet and slippery Taranaki grass and mud we encountered along the way. These types of systems – which rely on you putting your faith in mechanical technology by taking your foot off the brake when descending a hill and letting the vehicle self-brake individual wheels in order to crawl carefully down a treacherous slope – are part of the feature set of almost any 4WD you care to name these days. Toyota’s system sounds and feels different, forgoing the clunking and clonking of the technology as experienced up to this point, and instead feeling much more electronic in nature. It quietly ‘walks’ the Hilux downhills while you steer, once again underlining the improved refinements on show in the 2021 ute.

A fistful of dollars…and shark teeth

The Hilux has long been a well-regarded and popular option on the farm… and everywhere else

The Hilux range is comprehensive, and you could get bogged down in the detail. Suffice to say, on the main branch of the family tree there are six 2WD (PreRunner) and 10 4WD options, covering single, extra and double cab configurations. There are five cab-chassis options with the BYO tray aesthetic, while everything else features a robust wellside tub.

Grades step up the feature set accordingly, but SR and SR5 options exist across all two- and four-wheel drivetrains and in each body style. You can pay between $39,990 and $44,490 for PreRunner versions or between $44,990 and $53,990 for 4WD versions. There is also the top-shelf SR5 Cruiser, which adds niceties such as 18-inch grey and black two-tone alloys, a nine-speaker JBL stereo system, auto-dimming rear vision mirror, matte black fender flares, and plenty of other tasty stuff. The PreRunner SR5 Cruiser double cab retails for $47,990, while the 4WD SR5 Cruiser Double Cab is the most expensive mainstream Hilux, at $58,990.

‘Mainstream’ Hilux? Oh yes. Because it’s 2020 (or 2021 if you’re looking at the Hilux’s build plate), Toyota New Zealand has also introduced a top-flight ‘halo’ ute. It’s called the Hilux Mako and, as the name suggests, it’s designed to take a shark-sized bite out of the all-conquering Ford Ranger Raptor in terms of performance kit and sheer street presence.

To be honest, the Mako (a bespoke Toyota New Zealand project truck that isn’t available anywhere else in the world) probably deserves an entire article of its own… we’ll possibly do that one day.

But in the meantime, if Maxxis Razr off-road tyres, tints, flared fenders, replacement steel bull bars, ARB Old Man Emu BP-51 high-performance shock absorbers, and a custom sport leather interior are the sorts of things that you might suddenly find irreplaceably integral to your farming operation, then the Hilux Mako is worth a look. It comes with a ‘halo’ ute price tag attached though: $79,990. And yes, I fully expect it’ll go gangbusters for the brand here.

Today, Toyota New Zealand pretends the “bad old days” of mass discounting never really happened. Instead, their dealer network now offers fully transparent Toyota Drive-Away Pricing. You have to leave your haggling hat at home, but the ute’s sticker price does also include all on-road costs (WOF and rego), 1000km of RUCs, a full tank of gas, floor mats, and membership of the Toyota Care Service Advantage fixed price servicing package.


More power and torque for automatic transmission Hiluxs’ will be good news for anyone looking to buy the latest from Toyota

The Toyota Hilux has been a firm part of the New Zealand vehicle landscape for nearly four decades now. Always rugged, dependable, and popular, it has, nonetheless, been shown up by the competition at various times during its lengthy history as lacking in certain areas, often in terms of refinement and technology.

That isn’t an accusation you can level at the latest Hilux, however. It looks good, goes well, carries plenty, and features as much of its maker’s modern technology as is practicable to include. As a result, the Hilux is once again a comprehensive, dependable, and fresh offering for all sorts of Kiwis needing their ute to do all sorts of things.

The king has indeed returned. How cosily reassuring is that?  

Toyota Hilux SR 4WD Double Cab specifications

Engine  2.8L four-cylinder turbo diesel 
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Power 150kW
Torque 500Nm
Ground clearance 286mm
Cargo bed length 1520mm
Cargo bed width (between wheel arches) 1100mm
Payload 940kg
Tow rating 3500kg (braked)
Fuel economy 7.9L/100km

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