No, we haven’t gone mad here at Wheels, at least not yet. But we have decided to do something we’ve never done before – live with a ute.
We’re not interested in shovelling dirt or working out what’s the best rig for a tradie looking to save a few bucks. Nope, we’re heading to the other end of the market, the dual-cab four-wheel drive loaded with fruit. It’s a booming segment, to the point that Mercedes-Benz is following an SUV-like trajectory into luxury.
For now, though, the Toyota Hilux continues to lead the pack, and this year it’s even in with a shot of becoming the first ute to top the market. Many a Falcon and Commodore driver has traded in their sedan for something with less finesse and a lot more carrying capability.
Perhaps it’s no surprise. Most dual-cabs can now tow 3500kg (the Hilux can, although auto versions are limited to 3200kg). You can option them with leather and all manner of accessories, and dual-cabs can carry five people. But are they worth the $60K-plus spend? That’s what we want to find out.
In what some Wheels readers may see as a cruel experiment, we’ll spend four months with a Hilux SR5; everything from regular driving and family duties to some freeway runs and, possibly, the occasional gravel escapade.
The SR5 comes with satellite navigation, digital radio, climate control and a 7.0-inch touchscreen. There’s also smart-key entry, although it’s not the grab-the-handle-and-go type; instead you press a button on one of the front doorhandles to unlock the doors.
Unlike some rivals, the Hilux has reach and rake adjustment for the steering, although the seating position is still quite upright – and high – thanks to the ladder-frame chassis underneath.
An electric driver’s seat and leather are part of the $2000 Plus pack while the auto adds the same again. Ours also arrived with some extra off-road fruit: a snorkel ($685); steel bull bar ($2493); driving lights ($793); and a towbar with trailer brakes ($906). Metallic paint adds another $500 and a plastic tub liner $450 for a total of $63,311.
Yet it’s missing the active safety still rare in this part of the market and gets only single-zone climate control.
While the SR5 is available with a 4.0-litre petrol V6, it’s the diesel that’s the big seller. The 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo is all-new, replacing the previous 3.0-litre unit. Peak outputs are nothing special and are easily beaten by others in the class. Power is a modest 130kW, while torque is closer to the money at 450Nm.
Our SR5 arrived with just 631km on the odo, so it might need a few more miles under its 18-inch alloys to reach its best.
Power is channelled through a six-speed automatic transmission, our weapon of choice for this test, or a six-speed manual (with 30Nm less). We love our stick shifts here at Wheels, but let’s face it, a Hilux is not the sort of car in which you’ll be chopping through the gears on the back way to the office.
We learned that early on. This thing is more truck than car, right down to its lacklustre steering and tendency to bounce around over bumps. Workhorse utes are never delightful things unladen, but the Hilux is particularly taut in its tail thanks to leaf springs designed to cope with more than a tonne in the tray. And the snorkel adds to induction noise on part throttle, which provides a hint of character if not much in the way of punch.
Still, there’s something refreshing about being able to tackle speed humps, and not having to worry about ripping the front bumper off on steep driveways. Or scraping a rim when parking.
The Hilux certainly feels tough. Unbreakable, right? Let’s find out.
TOUGH AT THE TOP
Until recent times, the Hilux dominated the ute segment in Australia. That’s been eroded by increased competition, predominantly from the Ford Ranger, which has gone from an also-ran to challenging Toyota for sales supremacy in the 4x4 segment. To the end of September this year the Hilux was still the sales leader — just. But it was the tradie-focused stripper models keeping it on top of a hard-charging pack.
POWER FOR THE PEOPLE
Get ready for utes with more grunt. VW has added a V6 variant to its updated Amarok (with 165kW/550Nm, it’s the most powerful in class), Ford is working on a Ranger Raptor, and HSV on a Colorado. Toyota was first to test the waters with its Hilux TRD (right) in 2008; a supercharged 4.0-litre V6 petrol lacked nothing for grunt, but getting it to the ground made for lairy sideways moments. Now Toyota is working on something to sit above the SR5, with the TRD name a strong chance to be dusted off.
This article was originally published in Wheels magazine Summer 2016.