Toyota Hilux (2016) review: Invincible by name, invincible by nature
Testing the new Toyota Hilux demands a little more than just nipping down to the local shop to grab a pint of milk and a Mars Bar. Although with all that space in the back you could buy a lifetime supply of those.
The famed “indestructible” pickup – apt, given the “Invincible” trime moniker of this review model – would even find pootling through the mud on an Oxford farming estate no problems. But ever the intrepid adventurers, we pushed things up a notch and headed to the plains of Namibia, Africa, to really put the Hilux through its paces.
From sand dunes, to rocky crevasses, through to fog-like dust during epic long drives, our 650-kilometres on the road was paired with very little sleep indeed. Given the exciting setting, we shunned the need for matchsticks under the eyes. But does the latest Hilux itself score high on the excitement-o-meter?
For a car not frequently spotted in UK cities – despite Toyota selling 8,643 of them in 2015, which is 250 per cent higher than Prius sales in the same period for this country – can the all-new Hilux continue to grow its success story in Blighty? Based on what we’ve seen, we think it’s a sure bet.
Toyota Hilux 2016 review: What’s new?
In its latest eigth-generation 2016 form, the Hilux is about as close to a total reimagining of the 1968 original as it could be. And we think the new model looks very contemporary indeed: all steely glares from those squint headlights and smooth bodywork that carries through in a wave-like form. Well, unless you park the nose in a sand dune and pop the front panel out of place… but it pops back in.
There are plenty of core new features to the 2016 Hilux: a new frame with higher rigidity than the outgoing model; a new 2.4l diesel engine with higher torque and more power than the 2.5l option it replaces (but no 3.0l option at present, sadly); new 6-speed manual/auto gearbox; and revised suspension and 4×4 capabilities – including a new rotational switch rather than lever for low-range engagement – all wrapped into a slightly bigger, longer and heavier chassis.
Which is a key point to note: the double cab option, as reviewed here, has an unladen weight starting at 2,100kgs, which tips beyond the 2,040kg threshold, thus classing it as a light goods vehicle (LGV) in the UK (the single and extra cab options, however, fall south of that weight threshold). That means you’ll be legally subject to slower speed limits of 50mph on single carriageways and 60mph on dual-carriageways. Well, supposedly: how many long-wheelbase white vans have you seen shunting along A-roads at 80mph+?
Toyota Hilux 2016 review: That new engine
With its new engine the Hilux’s top speed isn’t especially nippy: we pushed it to about 90mph/140kmph down a private road on farmland. Perhaps a surprise, then, that there’s no larger engine option (for the time being?).
Still, is the Hilux really all about top speed? We think not: this is a devourer of lumps, bumps, hills, dunes and, who knows, even mountains. Almost all of which we’ve traversed during our three days of driving. Our average fuel consumption was approximately 26mpg, well under the 40.4mpg official figure – but hardly a surprise given the intense conditions.
The high torque from that new engine is what’s most important. It’s clearly apparent, too, with 400Nm delivered between 1,600-2000rpm – which is higher still than the outgoing 3.0l and 2.5l options of the last-generation. And when you’re off-roading – scaling rugged hills so steep that all you can see is the skyline, with your head hanging half out of the window to get a sense of where you’re going – that non-slip pull is a great thing to behold.
Not that we’re completely mad: the Hilux was set to low-range (L4 on the new dial; H4 engages 4×4) for off-roading, which sees the car almost drive itself, pulling forward even with all feet off the pedals – although you’ll need the right balance of power and the odd bit of braking to ensure optimum travel.
Which brings us to the process of engaging low-range. Toyota says it’s easier than ever before thanks to this new dial. But it’s a fair old hoo-ha to get it to engage. We used three cars over the course of driving – one an auto, the other two manuals – and in each case it wasn’t a first time success to activate L4 (including other drivers’ attempts). The vehicle needs to be stationary and in neutral, but even so it’d sometimes take three attempts to engage, typically with turning the engine off fully to help things along. Failure to do so and you’ll hear a non-stop beeping sound and flashing 4LO on the driver’s dash panel.
Toyota Hilux 2016 review: Sand in your… everything
From rugged hills – with stones so sharp they blew out three tyres among our convoy – to sand dunes, this was a real hardship test for the new Hilux. Although mostly down to driver fails than vehicle inabilities.
Driving on sand is unlike driving on anything else. Think about taking a road bike and trying to cycle it across a beach – it’s not going to get you very far before you end up sunken with your face in the sand. To stop the Hilux sinking into those sands the tyres need to be deflated to two-thirds pressure for a larger footprint, less resistance and less chance of sinking in and getting stuck. Of course several drivers did get stuck, but that’s the peril of taking 2-tonnes of metal across African sand dunes – you need to be bold, hit the gas with gusto and trust in your vehicle.
Descending steep dunes is trickier than scaling them. One feature we found exceptional in the stoney hills when off-roading was the DAC (downhill assist control), which gauges the descent and takes you down low and slow, avoiding slippage. Put this to sand and it still works to some degree, but in a slightly confused manner. Having slipped the Hilux out of a more defined track imprint in the sand we let DAC do its thing, only to find the wheel locked sharply, so had to step in and manually take over. Good job the biggest sand dunes we see in the UK are on building sites, then.
Try doing this with your Ford Fiesta though. It won’t end well.
Toyota Hilux 2016 review: Cabin fever
Not that you’ll be spending all your time skating about dirt roads and up sand dunes. Throw down a bit of Tarmac (a rare commodity in Namibia, but a wonderful thing to feel under tyres), skip through those gears – we never got on that well with this box’s throw from first to second, though – sink back into the seat and the new Hilux has an adept interior that feels more SUV than you might expect of a hardy pickup.
Our interior shots – complete with stark sunlight, two-way radio and, but of course, excessive amounts of biltong (and bonus points for spotting the Simba crisps) – aren’t nearly as glossy as the official Toyota ones, but then what did you expect? What is clear, though, is the wide layout with ample space and the Toyota Touch 2 multimedia system – which is optional in the Icon and Invincible, but included in the Invincible X trim. Go navigation is a separate addition again – we didn’t have this (as it’s fairly useless in zero signal Namibia anyway), but a separate Garmin plugged to the windscreen interior instead.
The Touch 2 system melds together DAB/FM radio, sat nav and core multimedia controls across a 7-inch touchscreen to the centre console. It’s larger than in the outgoing system, but still a little fiddly to lean over and handle while driving. This isn’t the quite smooth marriage of on-screen and physical tunnel-based controls you’ll find in, say, Audi, BMW and Merc’s latest ventures – but it’s just about responsive enough and has all the core features you’ll need. Particularly useful is the rear reverse camera, because the Hilux is no small beast at 5.3-metres long and 1.9-metres wide.
There’s a USB port for charging phones on the go, or you can deliver music from a USB stick – we opted for a Bluetooth connection instead, as this syncs with the on-wheel controls to make skipping tracks through that party playlist all the easier. Oh, and the standard sound system is rather decent too, surviving everything from heavy metal to underground techno, the Frozen soundtrack and the cheesiest sing-along pop in existence.
The driver’s view has a 4.2in information display, which paired with the car’s camera will pull in road sign information and show you various useful nuggets of information, such as fuel efficiency and distance travelled. It’s clear to read and easy to glance at when on-the-go – even when the every ounce of your body is vibrating due to the relentless road surfaces.
Ultimately the Hilux’s interior is sleeker and neater than you may visualise a pickup’s to be; but with competition from the likes of the Nissan Navara, it needs to stand strong to standout. Just because you’re driving around on a farm all day, or hauling goods, doesn’t mean you don’t want the comfort and decent tech that’s becoming an everyday affordability.
The Hilux arrives at a really interesting time for the UK market. Back at the beginning of 2016 the very last Land Rover Defender rolled off the production line. Sure, there’ll be another one in the future – but right here, right now, that’s opened a gap the likes of the Hilux can neatly slip into.
Especially given its £29,850 starting price (in the double cab Invincible setup). And with Toyota’s 5-year/100,000-mile warranty thrown in for good measure, we suspect you’ll see many more 2016 Hilux trumping around the UK’s rural roads from the late summer.
Not that a pickup will be for everyone. But it’s clear to see that Toyota is angling for a broader market here. As light goods vehicles go it’s got more SUV-like appeal than ever before – from the front you won’t even necessarily notice its open-back design – providing the comfort, space and technology that can cater for a small family meets business crossover. Who needs a proper boot anyway, right?
So whether pulling a heavy load (it can tow 3.2-tonnes, tow-bar optional), or missioning your way through sand, mud, rock, dust tracks and beyond, the new Hilux appears not only to be Invincible by name, but invincible by nature. It’s got all the best pickup lines.