The current Hilux platform has been around since 2005, with more than five million units sold worldwide. Since the series was introduced in 1969, some 860 000 Toyota Hilux bakkies have been retailed in South Africa. What does this all mean? Well, it’s popular! It’s also one of the preferred towcars for caravans and trailers. We put the newest version through its towing paces.
I was assailed by an assortment of emotions and sensations. This bakkie oozes heritage, so when it arrived as our next vehicle to be tow tested, I already felt as if I carried a world of responsibility on my shoulders for the pending assessment. I’m guessing millions of South Africans would first deny the existence of boerewors before bad-mouthing any Toyota, let alone a Hilux.
But at Caravan & Outdoor Life we’re about honesty, impartiality, and sharing our experiences and opinions, so I braced up, steadied myself, and prepare to hoist it all onto my shoulders.
I do like Hilux – please don’t misunderstand me – but these days several bakkies have caught up and narrowed the metaphorical gap, and, in some cases, possibly surpassed this pedestalled performer.
Just to add to the pressure, this bakkie’s arrival also happened to coincide with recent pleasant personal driving experiences in new Ford Rangers, a Nissan Navara and a number of other able automobiles. So what, you might be thinking. Well, a lot of what! When you’re comparing one vehicle with another, directly and immediately, a few things stand out, particularly in the finishes department.
This is a new Hilux, the 3.0 D‑4D 4×4 model, but sitting inside it feels like something of a time-warp experience. In my opinion it hasn’t kept abreast with some capable competitors in the double-cab sector. Granted, there have been some updates, like a brand spanking new touch-screen radio and media centre with Bluetooth functionality. (No, the GPS function is not currently available in South Africa, and is not expected to be anytime soon, so don’t be misled by the button next to the screen.) There’s also a new instrument cluster, upgraded centre console, and other subtle touches here and there, including a four-spoke steering wheel with thumb-operated satellite controls. New too, and convenient, is the USB jack, for charging electronics, operating sound equipment and the like.
Yet, in spite of these improvements, the interior still seemed a bit tired and dated. The feel of the new steering wheel between my fingers and palms was rather insignificant. It’s scrawny and plain, especially when you consider the symbolic size of this bakkie’s ego. Ergonomically, it appears that fewer seat adjustment options are available, compared to some competitors. Also, perhaps I’m not as tough as regular Toyota drivers, but why can’t the design engineers add a tad more padding to the centre bin elbow rest? For long off-road journeys you might need a folded up jersey tucked in there to keep you comfortable. But, with all my criticisms taken into account, Hilux is still the embodiment of build quality on the body, in the interior and under the bonnet. No contemporary counterpart has stood the test of time the way this competitor has, and the D-4D engine is well-nigh indestructible. However, in terms of performance, especially from a towing perspective, we were left feeling slightly on the rare side of satisfied.
This model now has Toyota’s backing to tow an overrun-braked caravan or trailer with a GVM of up to 1840 kg. It used to be 1500 kg, which excluded quite a range of towables. According to the licence disc in the windscreen, this bakkie’s tare is 1770 kg. So, in terms of the towing law in South Africa, you may not tow more than 1770 kg. In the absence of anything heavier, and because it looked like a heavenly match, we hitched up a Jurgens Safari Xplorer off-road caravan with a braked GVM of 1650 kg – combination: totally legal. I’ve taken a 3.0-litre D‑4D Hilux through the Shingwedzi trail before, so I know that on the open road this bakkie can certainly cope. However, foot on the throttle in a tow test setting and its performance was somewhat lacking. That’s not at all to say that it won’t come to the party, time and time again, as a commendable towcar companion, cruising happily along at 100 to 110 km/h, and at significantly higher speeds if required. But the punch is just not forthcoming. This model might boast 120 kW at 3400 rpm and 343 Nm at 1400-3200 rpm, but there are several double-cab bakkies on the market now that surpass these figures handsomely. ‘Who cares?’ I hear the chorus of Hilux supporters heckling. And you know what? They’re right! You can go right up to 550 Nm of torque, as in the case of the V6 3.0-litre Nissan Navara, but if 343 Nm is packaged up and presented in the right way – a way which satisfies you, as the person behind the wheel – who are we to argue? Our standard hill climb exercise was healthy, taking 1:39.97, a hair’s breadth short of 1:40 flat, which is neither blistering nor pedestrian.
The 3.0-litre D‑4D engine, which is also available in 2.5-litre guise on the Hilux, functioned frugally during our test manoeuvres and on our route, where we averaged 100 km/h. Diesel drained away, with the caravan in tow, at around 12.6 l/100 km. I’d settle for that with this level of reliability and build quality surrounding me and my family. The pulling power is certainly there, and based on my experiences in rural north-western Mozambique towing a fully laden Conqueror off-road trailer on some seriously tough terrain, this bakkie will pull you through almost anything. Standard tyres are 265/65 R17 7.5J on 17-inch alloy wheels. Ground clearance is 227 mm, with the bakkie unladen.
A final point is that the fitted tow hitch was ridiculously high, mounted at some 615 mm above the ground. It was also a detachable unit, secured with a pin system – not my favourite. To bring whatever you’re towing into some semblance of a correctly angled towing profile, you’ll need to opt for a drop-plate of some description. The driving experience was, well, a bit ordinary, and I guess nothing I’d write home about. Let’s say I didn’t find myself cutting my breakfast short in the mornings, in my eagerness to turn the key. Then again, I wouldn’t call it disappointing either.