Yes, the new Toyota Hilux is finally here. Ryan Bubear heads up to Johannesburg to sample the Toyota Hilux 2.8 GD-6 4x4 Raider double-cab...
Over the past few decades, the Toyota Hilux has earned itself the undisputed title of South Africa's best-selling bakkie.
But this popular pick-up has not only trounced all-comers in the light commercial segment (for no fewer than 40 of the past 43 years), it has also routinely taken annual honours as the most popular vehicle overall by sales.
In 2015, for instance, a whopping 35 684 new Hilux units left Toyota dealer floors across South Africa. That makes it an immensely important vehicle not only to the world's largest automotive brand, but to all manner of South Africans and local industries, too.
So — with more than one million sold in South Africa and 16 million sold worldwide — it would have been easy for the Japanese automaker to rest on its laurels, and again make only minor changes to its in-demand seventh-generation bakkie. Buyers, after all, would still be queuing around the block (in fact, they did just that for the run-out stock).
But, instead, Toyota has done pretty much the opposite. The SA-built Toyota Hilux you see pictured here is new from the ground up, featuring an even sturdier ladder-frame chassis, fresh styling, and the sort of cabin that modern, creature-comfort-loving pick-up buyers have come to expect.
As before, there are three body-styles available: single-cab, xtra-cab, and double-cab, with the first expected to continue to dominate sales. The xtra-cab, it must be noted, now boasts rear-hinged doors that provide easier access to the handy storage space.
All three body-styles are longer and wider than before, although the 3085mm wheelbase remains unchanged. Underneath, the eighth-generation Hilux still makes use of a leaf-spring type suspension, but an army of clever revisions means it's somewhat more sophisticated than before.
Although the exterior styling will likely be the first thing to catch your eye, the biggest transformation has taken place inside. The cabin is now bang up-to-date with Toyota's passenger car offerings, and feels modern yet durable. In the posher double-cab models, a tablet-like seven-inch touchscreen takes pride of place in the centre of the dashboard, while a full-colour 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display sits directly in front of the driver.
Thankfully, for the sake of safety, this touchscreen is used mainly to manipulate the six-speaker audio system, with the traditional air-conditioning controls sited directly below it. To the right of this panel sits an electronic rotary four-wheel drive switch (with the options H2, H4, and L4), which finally replaces the old-school second gear-lever found in the outgoing model.
Toyota has also managed to work a little extra space into double-cab's interior, offering occupants a smidgen more head- and shoulder-room up front, and even more leg-room in the already relatively spacious rear. There are also a number of nifty hidey-holes scattered around the SUV-like cabin, and even handy shopping bag hooks positioned on the rear of the front seats. Although the steering column now adjusts for rake and reach, we'd have liked a little more telescopic range to accommodate long-limbed drivers.
So, what provides the oomph? Well, Toyota has opted to leave its three petrol engines virtually unchanged, with the single-cab-only 2.0-litre mill (102kW/183Nm) and the familiar 2.7-litre unit (122kW/245Nm) gaining the slightest of output increases (the latter is somewhat more efficient, too). The 4.0-litre V6, too, has been carried over, albeit with no hikes to its 175kW and 376Nm peaks.
The two all-new diesel engines, however, are certain to attract the bulk of the attention. The first is a 2.4-litre unit, available in two states of tune. This four-cylinder oil-burner — which unfortunately wasn't available to test at the launch — makes 110kW and 343Nm in base form. The higher output version takes peak torque to a useful 400Nm, although this is available across a slightly narrower rev-range (1600rpm-2000rpm as opposed to 1400rpm-2800rpm).
The engine we spent much of our time with, however, was the new 2.8-litre turbo-diesel, which churns out 130kW. In manual guise, this mill makes 420Nm from 1400rpm to 2600rpm, while the automatic version boasts a peak of 450Nm from 1600rpm to 2400rpm. In terms of pulling power, this 2755cc diesel engine thus easily outguns the 3.0D-4D it replaces, even if peak torque isn't sustained for quite as long.
Compared to the old three-litre, the 2.8-litre GD (Global Diesel) engine is somewhat more responsive and noticeably more cultured, with Toyota claiming a considerable improvement in fuel economy, too. To this end, all xtra- and double-cab variants feature three driving modes — Standard, Power, and Eco — with the latter dulling throttle response and optimising the air-conditioning system for maximum efficiency.
The new six-speed manual gearbox (workhorse models still have to make do with five-speeds) features a surprisingly light and accurate shift action and a shortened, car-like lever. Smart rev-matching technology, which ensures smoother cog-swapping, is also available on certain models. This feature can, however, be disengaged via the iMT (intelligent Manual Transmission) button on the centre console as it can have a minor effect on fuel efficiency.
We also sampled the new six-speed automatic transmission, a fairly slick self-shifter that draws very little attention to itself. There's not much tentative up- or downshifting from this new unit, regardless of the selected driving mode. In short, it's a tremendous improvement over the antiquated four-speed it replaces.
The other area in which the eighth-generation Hilux is leaps and bounds ahead of its predecessor is that of refinement. Yes, the new 2.8-litre oil-burner is far more civilised than its forerunner, but overall cabin insulation is also vastly improved, with very little road- or wind-noise finding its way in. This quieter operation gels well with the markedly enhanced ride comfort (even on gravel), which we would expect to improve even further with a decent load on the back.
Of course, Toyota has been careful not to let this newfound refinement or the feature-filled cabin compromise the very thing that has secured the Hilux its colossal following: toughness. Yes, the latest Hilux — which continues to employ hydraulic power steering — is still highly adept off the beaten path, as we found out when putting it through its paces around an off-roading track.
Thanks to those suspension updates mentioned earlier, rear-axle wheel articulation is greatly improved, while the underbody gains more protection. There are also new limited slip differentials to call upon, as well as an array of effective electronic driver support systems, including active traction control, hill-start assist control, and downhill assist control.
Towing capacity, meanwhile, has been increased on all models in the range bar the base 2.0-litre single-cab, with the 2.8 GD-6 4x4 variants topping the charts at a whopping 3500kg. The deck size, too, has gained a handful of millimetres here and there.
There are four tweaked specification levels (and the Legend 45 badge falls away), with the Raider again functioning as the range-topping trim and featuring items such as Bluetooth, automatic headlights, 17-inch alloys, and as many as seven airbags.
Toyota has somehow managed to be rather aggressive with its pricing, which will no doubt leave its competitors sweating. Indeed, the new 23-model range is priced from R228 900 to R593 900, not much more than the R222 300 to R578 000 that bookended the outgoing 21-model line-up. In fact, some derivatives are actually slightly cheaper than the models they replace.
This keen pricing — together with the strength of a nameplate that saw the apparently evergreen seventh-generation model effectively hold off the resurgent Ford Ranger in its final months — makes us certain the Toyota Hilux is set to continue its dominance in this segment.
While it may have seemed risky creating an all-new Hilux from a clean sheet of paper when the outgoing model had been so successful, Toyota has absolutely nailed it. Indeed, the new Hilux has taken significant steps forward in all of the areas in which it had fallen behind more modern bakkies over the past few years.
It's an altogether more rounded product that will appeal to an even larger audience than before, and one that has become infinitely more attractive to the dual-use buyer, without alienating consumers who place a high value on ruggedness.
Ultimately, the new Toyota Hilux is more comfortable, more sophisticated, and more refined than before. And, somehow, seemingly more capable than ever, too.
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See page two for specs and pricing.