Ryan Bubear tests the latest Toyota Hilux 3.0 D-4D 4X4 Raider. Is it still king of the bakkies?
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Think of the word "bakkie". Quick, what sort of image popped into your head?
If you're anything like the average South African motorist, it's quite likely your mind conjured up an illustration of the Toyota Hilux — anything from the first model from the late 1960s right up to this latest incarnation.
No, I'm not a tea-leaf-reading telepathist. The Hilux is just that popular. It is far-and-away Toyota's best-selling vehicle in South Africa, with somewhere in the region of 900 000 units snapped up in the country over the years. More recent figures tell a similar tale: 2774 new units were sold in SA last month (January 2012), with only the entry-level fan favourite Polo Vivo managing to sell more (and only a fraction more, at that).
So, since the Hilux enjoys the lion's share of the light commercial market, it's fair to label it South Africa's "king" bakkie. But, of late, a number of pretenders to its crown have come thundering onto the scene...
Most recently, we tested the Ford Ranger, and of course, there are others, such as the VW Amarok, the evergreen Isuzu KB (which is rumoured to be replaced by an all-new model soon), and even the Nissan Navara. So, what was Toyota's response to the introduction of new competitors into the Hilux's territory?
A winning formula
The Japanese manufacturer was understandably reluctant to mess with what was working, and thus decided to merely expand the range and give its pride and joy a bit of a nip and a tuck. The current platform was introduced in 2005 and Toyota says more than 5.5 million versions have been sold across the world since. Who can blame them for not making vast changes to a winning formula?
This latest generation benefits from restyled bumpers, headlights, foglights, bonnet and grille, with new over-fenders also making an appearance. Add to that redesigned side mirrors, wheels and rear light cluster, and you have rather a fresh-looking Hilux. Under the skin and extra chrome-detailing though, the same tough components remain, allowing this bakkie to plough over the worst terrain SA can throw at it.
There are 21 derivatives in the latest range: nine single cab models, three "xtra cab" models and nine double cab versions. There are also five different engine options, two drive-trains and two gearbox options. Plenty of choice, then.
Our test unit was the 3.0 D-4D 4X4 Raider, with manual gearbox and in long-wheel-base form. The 1KD-FTV engine employed is a 3.0-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged and intercooled diesel powerplant. Maximum power is rated at 120kW at 3400rpm, while peak torque of 343Nm is delivered between 1400rpm and 3200rpm. Needless to say, it pulls from low down, as one would expect. And it isn't a surprise at all that the towing rating on this model has been increased to a whopping near-2000kg.
Gear changes via the five-speed 'box are smooth, and far easier on the left arm than most other vehicles in this class, despite the fact that the gear lever is rather long. Of course, this means that the Hilux scores valuable points in the versatility stakes, in terms of who in the family can play pilot without major hassles. Light steering makes directing this mammoth bakkie a relatively simple task, and the ride-height gives the driver a clear view of the surroundings. In general, the Hilux is a really easy-to-drive bakkie, and even a bona fide South African farmer would happily hand over the keys to his wife.
Realistic economy figure
Toyota quotes a combined fuel economy figure of 8.6 litres per 100km. And for once, this isn't pie-in-the-sky stuff, as I quite easily managed to return a figure of 8.8, with a mix of driving dominated by scowl-inducing traffic and short trips. And an 80-litre tank means the fuel needle takes quite some time to hit the dreaded empty mark, making trips to the pumps refreshingly infrequent.
The flagship Double Cab Raider sports an interesting blend of tough, utilitarian features and modern, creature comforts. From the outside — particularly in white — it may appear to be an all-out workhouse, but step inside the cabin and you'll be greeted by a number of (dare we say it) luxury features. Leather (and multifunctional) steering wheel, automatic air-conditioner, cruise control, automatic headlights, electric windows, Bluetooth, multimedia system (radio/CD, including a touchscreen monitor), USB and iPod ports, electric mirrors, height-adjustable driver's seat, and more cup-holders than you can shake a stick at, are all standard fare. It's an incongruity that may take a bit of getting used to, but nevertheless remains a welcome one.
The one thing that is missing is any form of reversing aid. Although a rear camera isn't really a necessity, an audible parking assist would certainly make the 5.26m-long Hilux easier to back into a parking bay (I can almost picture Hilux owners puffing out their chests and declaring such "pansy parking aids" a waste of time and money).
Inside, there is plenty of room, and five adults can quite easily be accommodated. And despite all this space inside the double cab, the double-skinned load box still measures over 1.5mx1.5m, with a depth of 450mm, and a payload rated at some 845kg. So, versatility is again the order of the day, with the Hilux more than capable enough to perform work, family and weekend leisure tasks with equal aplomb.
There's no getting away from the fact that this vehicle has built a reputation for toughness. Turn on the news and you're likely to see a Hilux — complete with obligatory heavy-duty machine-guns mounted on the back — roaring through some war-torn country. Flick through a couple of channels are you may just catch the Top Gear gang attempting — unsuccessfully, it would seem — to destroy a Hilux. It's this image of indestructibility that shines through when the Hilux is taken off-road.
So, in this field, the Hilux hasn't changed. These machines are used and abused daily in remote areas of the country, yet somehow manage to remain in one piece. What helps no end, is that the Hilux's power transfer mode can be tailored to the terrain, with options of H2, H4 and L4 available through the front-drive control lever; the 844-page owner's manual — the size of a comprehensive dictionary — maps out exactly which settings to use when.
On tarmac, it's as well-behaved through the bends as one can expect a hefty bakkie to be, but does benefit from electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, and vehicle stability control.
Keep your eyes peeled on your drive home from work this evening, and you will no doubt spot several examples of the Hilux. Even if you work from home. Yes, they are that popular.
But will we continue to see the Hilux dominating South Africa's bakkie market? Can this latest offering, tasked with defending the crown, hold off the more-capable-than-ever competition?
It certainly has a tough job on its hands. But then again, the Hilux is all about tough, isn't it?
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