Gareth Butterfield puts the tough new Toyota Hilux through its paces
WHEN the three banished buffoons from that pokey motoring programme, Top Gear, wanted to test an indestructible car, they picked a Toyota Hilux.
For a while, it became a bit of a running joke; trying to kill a tired old vehicle they’d picked up off a farmer for a few quid. But each time they tried to destroy it, it bounced back.
They tried everything. Death by fire, death by seawater, death by a series of horrible accidents – they even strapped it to the top of a building that was about to be demolished. But after each ordeal, the engine coughed into life.
A few series later, Jeremy Clarkson and James May tried to race Richard Hammond to the North Pole. For their most ambitious challenge yet, they needed a car that could cross any terrain, face any challenge, never break and never let them down. Have a guess which pick-up truck they chose.
The top editions of the current Toyota Hiluxes are given the rather appropriate moniker “Invincible” and I’ve just borrowed one for a week.
I’m not about to put the “claim” to the test in a Top Gear fashion, but I’m happy to report it feels every bit as tough as I was hoping it would.
In fact, you’d have a tough job causing any damage to the latest version, because it’s absolutely enormous. It feels like it would simply drive over anything it came into contact with, rather than plough into it.
But it’s a handsome thing, if slightly intimidating, and its presence will win it fans not only from the world of agriculture and heavy industry, but from those who think it’s cool to drive something huge and ostentatious. That’s a market I’m not sure Toyota’s had many dealings with before.
That said, inside it’s far from lavish and soft. It’s surprisingly comfortable and there’s a selection of gadgets you’d not expect to find in a vehicle designed for transporting people and rocks in and out of a quarry, but there’s still a very hefty and utilitarian feel to everything.
Changing gear, for example, is not a process you do on a whim. Its gear stick takes some strength to wield around, although it does slot into each ratio positively. And you’ll need the strength of a rugby player to heave it into reverse.
Opening the rear load bay cover is not the sort of job someone who works in an office all day can do, either. It takes a man with the sort of giant hands that have been chipped away by years of manual labour to heave it back.
Even climbing into the Hilux requires an effort you’d not be used to if you drive a conventional four-wheel-drive car – and then there’s the gargantuan turning circle, the bouncy suspension and the sluggish steering.
But I’m not being unfair. The Hilux, as pretty as they’ve made it look now, is still very much a tool. Do not be fooled by the sculpted front end and LED daytime running lights, this is a vehicle which means business and can still get the job done.
Although this is a bigger Hilux than ever before, its one and only engine is actually smaller in the newcomer. It’s diesel-powered lump is now 2.4 litres instead of 3.0 but, fear not, power and torque is up. There’s 148bhp and 295lb ft on offer and that’s really quite respectable, even in such a monstrous machine.
It picks up speed quickly and will happily keep pace with motorway traffic. Refinement in the cabin, even at high speed, is also excellent. However, be warned, if the rear load area is unladen the back end is very light. Be careful delivering too much torque on a wet roundabout, as you could be caught out.
So, on the road it’s cumbersome, juddery and a bit of a handful but it can also, once you’re used to all that, be surprisingly civilised. A handful of driving aids, a decent infotainment system and a comfortable, spacious cabin make it feel more civilised than ever before. But there’s no hiding its roots.
Beneath the bling and the pretty new nose lies the heart of something truly tough and immensely capable. Is it really invincible? Probably not. Could it be the toughest car on the road? More than likely.