What is it?
For those looking for a rugged pick-up truck, the Toyota Hilux is truly the go-to vehicle. It has made a name for itself for being invincible, a storyline pushed by the famous Top Gear segment that saw it survive everything from drowning to being dropped from the roof of an imploding building.
However, while it has been a best-seller for commercial vehicles, the truck market has grown massively for private buyers who want a rugged family vehicle for their active lifestyle. Here, powerful engines are key to success, something the Hilux hasn’t had – until now.
With its new focus on appealing to lifestyle buyers – though Toyota was keen to point out it’s just as committed to its traditional buyers – there are a few key changes. The first is the new 2.8-litre engine, which is considerably more powerful than any found in the outgoing model, while the specification has been improved.
Perhaps the most intriguing update, though, is the news that Toyota has now tuned the suspension to perform with an empty bed. It usually tunes it based on a full load, but as it anticipates a smaller mix of commercial buyers for this model, many drivers will not fill it up. In theory, this should fix the skipping rear end common to pickups.
What’s under the bonnet?
Let’s start with the new engine. It’s a 2.8-litre turbocharged diesel unit that makes 201bhp and 500Nm of torque (or 420Nm in the manual). This engine is available in the Invincible X and Invincible Double Cab trim levels, with the latter is also available with the less punchy 2.4-litre unit that powers the rest of the range.
It represents a considerable jump over the 2.4, chopping just over two seconds off the 0-60mph time, which now sits at 10.7 seconds. That sounds irrelevant for a pick-up, but the result is a much more usable car on the road, because keeping up with traffic takes less effort. With up to 30mpg in official testing, there’s also a negligible economy penalty for the bigger engine either.
What’s it like to drive?
Once out on the road, the most important aspect is that new suspension tune. Pickup trucks have a tendency to skip at the rear when empty because they’ve been tuned for heavy loads.
However, it’s immediately apparent that the new Hilux does a great job of smoothing out the ride. It’s still ‘good for a pickup’ rather than directly comparable with a car, but if you’ll often be driving with nothing on the bed you don’t have to compromise much on comfort anymore.
It’s great on the road, then, but what about off it? Toyota knows it built its reputation through its ability to survive on the muddy stuff, and the new model hasn’t compromised this ability to appeal to road-going buyers.
On a rather taxing off-road course the Hilux coped with everything thrown at it, from slippery inclines to wading through water – despite only wearing the standard road tyres.
How does it look?
The Hilux has always had a chunky, rugged look to it, and that’s no different for this latest model. However, the minor tweaks over the past couple of generations are clearly focused on giving the pickup a bit more style to appeal to the lifestyle crowd.
That’s particularly evident on the top-spec Invincible X models we’ve been driving today, with the blocky bodywork supplemented by black extensions on the wheel arches front grille surround and rear bumper – working particularly well with the new camo-green paint colour, dolly called Titan Bronze.
What’s it like inside?
Although Toyota is likely hoping to tempt SUV buyers across to the truck market, the interior is still clearly based on a commercial vehicle. It’s nicely styled but feels quite hard-wearing with fewer soft plastics that you might hope for. The driving position is very high-riding, too, with the pedals feeling a bit too close beneath you to get really comfortable.
That being said, the latest updates are welcome and elevate a sense of quality. Unless you go for the entry-level Active trim, you get the latest Toyota Touch 2 infotainment system on a central touchscreen with integrated Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Top-spec Invincible X models also get sat nav and a new JBL premium sound system.
What’s the spec like?
Entry-level Active grades are primarily designed with work in mind. Prices start from £22,466, it’s only available with the six-speed manual and 2.4-litre diesel, and is the only trim that has all three body styles (single cab, extra cab and double cab). Equipment includes 17-inch steel wheels, PVC upholstery, and air conditioning.
Icon starts from £26,550, and gets a six-speed automatic gearbox on top of the manual. All trims from now are only available with a double cab body, with equipment including 17-inch alloy wheels, LED front fog lights, fabric upholstery, reversing camera and an automatic limited-slip differential.
Next up is Invincible, which has the 2.4-litre engine as well as the new 2.8-litre, with prices starting at £29,158 and £29,554 respectively. Upgrades include 18-inch alloys, heated front seats and LED headlights.
Finally Invincible X only gets the 2.8-litre engine and prices start from £32,533. It gets that extra chunky body cladding, upgraded JBL sound system and dual-tone leather upholstery.
The Toyota Hilux has long been a class-leader for commercial buyers, but its attempts to also appeal to private buyers appear to have been largely successful. The top-spec models have decent equipment levels and a powerful new engine, as well as cool looks that will seal the deal for many.
However, for commercial buyers the entry models will still appeal as the interior isn’t too plush for a tough life, and our testing proved it’s better than ever off the beaten track. Those coming from SUVs might have to make a few compromises to comfort and luxury for that extra practicality, but the gap has closed considerably.
Model as tested: Toyota Hilux Invincible X Double Cab
Price as tested: £33,783
Engine: 2.8-litre diesel
Max speed: 109mph
0-60mph: 10.7 seconds
Emissions: 248-259g/km CO2