For Vigorous performance, roomy cabin

Against More expensive than rival Ford/Mazda, but isn’t as strongly specified

THERE are now two kinds of Hilux. The traditional. And the radical. The “trad” Toyota truck is the normally-aspirated one which you see in every stock yard. It’s the gruff, grass-roots star of that grassroots, primetime “Bugger” ad.

And the radical? That’s the one on test here, a turbo version of the farmer’s friend. It’s the same truck, but dressed-up like flash Harry.

That’s also got a 3.0-litre diesel under the bonnet. But it’s a turbo diesel, lifted from the previous-generation Prado. Which means that, as well as pull, it’s got heaps of poke.

This is most definitely the Hilux to have when heading home in a hurry. It’s streets ahead – literally – than the mainstream four-wheel-drive model which, for all its ability to flatten longdrops, eviscerate bogged bovines and flummox farmdogs has always provided a s-l-o-w way home from the saleyards.

Toyota only recently felt the need to bung a blower model into the Hilux line-up, primarily because the normally-aspirated model was being eaten – on the road and increasingly in sales – by the assertive Mazda Bounty/Ford Courier turbo diesel twins.

The Fordza’s 86kW/280Nm 2.5-litre mill has been putting mud in Toyota’s eye for over a year now. No longer: presenting 85kW power and 295Nm torque, the hotted-up Hilux is every inch an equal, not just in grunt but sales too. With 264 sold since 1 January, the SR5 double cab model has become as popular as the Land Cruiser Prado.

Drivetrain differences? It lacks the intercooler now fitted to the latest Prado, but there’s still plenty of technology. The turbocharger is water-cooled, it has electronic fuel-injection, quick-start ceramic glow plugs and twin counter-rotating balance shafts to reduce noise, vibration and harshness.

It promises to be smooth, refined and economical, but initially it’s the sheer punch that is most memorable. It might be stretching things a bit to say that Toyota’s doughty draught horse has become a Melbourne Cup prospect. Yet the 0-100km/h time of 15.5 seconds makes it four seconds faster than the standard version and you’re never in any doubt about the extra neddies in this stable.

The standard machine’s throttle needs to be hoofed into the floorboards to make it perform. That’s not necessary with the turbo, whose standing start performance – by diesel ute standards, at least – verges on startling. So quickly does it rush through the first three forward gears that there’s no time, or point, to taking a hand off the lever. On all but a bone dry surface, it might well launch into axle-hopping wheelspin.

Such aberrant antics promise to make this truck a star turn at any young farmers’ outing. But ultimately the turbo model is more likely to sell on the strength of its much-improved highway performance. Not only is it quieter and a lot more effortless at 100km/h, but put the foot down and the engine actually does more than just roar. It bites, too.

Patently, there’s some safety value in having a vehicle that takes seconds, not minutes, to perform a highway overtaking manoeuvre and won’t drag its tail across a busy intersection.

It’s a pity there’s just one version; every diesel Hilux could do with this upgrade. Sadly, for now the ‘Lux only comes in deluxe form.

Fitted out in a distinctive blue trim that even reaches the instrument panel, the SR5 has air conditioning, full electrics and an electronic push-button centre differential and self-locking front hubs. It’s finished off with blindingly bright chrome-coated rims, flared wheel arches and a glamour racing stripe on either flank. Jeez, trev!

At $47,000, this is the most expensive double-cab ute on the market, carrying a $4000 premium over the equivalent Bounty SD-X. Actually, make that $6500 if you want to also have anti-skid brakes and dual airbags. Safety items that Mazda makes standard are a $2500 cost-extra on the Toyota turbo.

Still, there’s no doubt that this Toyota’s tough-as-nails reputation will stand it in good stead. And rightly so, for few four-wheel-drives beat the Hilux off the road. Successful mud-plugging missions will be just a matter of judicious throttle application and, of course, having the right tyres. The turbo is shod with Bridgestone Duellers which do okay over a stony base, and would probably work well in sand, but clog up quickly in mud.

Still, there’s that diesel muscle to help haul you through. The turbocharger doesn’t seem to cut in at under 1500rpm, so the low-revs flexibility and reliably of a diesel remains intact when you need to “walk” through a sloppy patch, or pick your way up a rain-slick hillside. With strong torque characteristics low in its rev range, it maintains the relaxed, grunty performance you’d expect when wading streams and climbing hillsides.

Hilux’s four-wheel-drive system is primarily designed for off-road use only, although it can be activated on the fly at speeds of less than 100km/h. Simply push a button on the transfer case lever. The turbo maintains the traditional high-low ratio but there’s no need to hand-lock the front wheels.

Toyota advises against using this four-wheel-drive on dry seal, so really it’s all up to the suspension and road-tuned 255/70 radials to keep you clear of trouble.

The basic design and role of any off-road utility will always mitigate against it behaving as tidily as a car, and the turbo comes with all the usual traps for the utility unwary. Understeer is easily induced and it’s not altogether difficult to wag the tail coming out of corners.

Still, the extra ground clearance gives the four-wheel-drive model a tough-as-nails stance and helps with visibility, and the long wheelbase pays off for payloads and passengers.

People now come first with a Hilux double cab. The cabin is markedly bigger than the old one’s, and although this means it has a slightly shorter deck now, the difference isn’t enough to shed tears over, especially considering all occupants also now sit in greater comfort.


How much? $47,000 Engine 2982cc longitudinal single overhead camshaft injected turbo diesel, producing 85kW at 3600rpm and 295Nm at 2400rpm. Transmission Five-speed manual Suspension Front, independent double wishbone, gas shocks, stabiliser bar; rear, live axle on leaf springs, gas shocks Dimensions 4855mm long, 1790mm wide, 1805mm high, 2860mm wheelbase Wellside 1355mm by 1465mm by 405mm