Tuesday 12 December 2017

Hilux picks up lesson down an old bog road

Big upgrade for on and off the road

Big upgrade: The new Toyota Hilux
Big upgrade: The new Toyota Hilux
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

In the course of extensive research for the new Toyota Hilux pickup, chief engineer Hiroki Nakajima visited dozens of countries. He spoke, and listened, to what people felt needed to be improved from the previous one.

I think he might have benefited from a visit to our midlands as well. I'll tell you why in a moment.

It so happens I've driven this across desert tracks, up sand dunes in Namibia and down bone-shaker roads to bog fields in Ireland. And I've come to some fairly firm conclusions.

First let me say the idea of a pickup has always appealed to me. You have your (increasingly) car-like cabin for family/employees, etc and you have your flat-bed load area where you can carry whatever it is you need.

In my case, we lugged stuff (cargo deck width is increased) from urban to rural destinations and vice versa, loaded with skip bags of stuff as well as axes, forks, spades and a change of clothes for, and after, a bit of badly-needed work.

And then we drove down to the cousins' bog fields where we drank their flasked tea, ate their sandwiches, biscuits and graciously accepted a log of timber for the return journey. Like old times; bitter-sweet.

The Hilux made it possible. That is what it is supposed to be all about: a 'car' and a workhorse. I enjoyed it a lot.

Hiroki Nakajima said, way back in Namibia, that it had to be much better on and off the road.

As well as being a tough-terrain motor, it had to become much more of a 'car' too, he said, because more people are buying vehicles like this for lifestyle purposes - my few days in it certainly underlined how well such a mix can work.

It is, of course, primarily made for farmers, business people, those whose job it is to maintain services, etc. For family use, you need to know there are tax implications. Strictly speaking, the tax goes up if you use it for non-commercial purposes - such as dropping the children to school.

Revenue have told me that means the vehicle cannot "under any circumstances" be used for social, domestic or pleasure purposes without invoking higher tax. I think some people do and say nothing. I'm saying no more.

Regardless of use, this new Hilux is a serious upgrade on what went before (many of the 5,000 sold here are still going). They've wrought major changes in key areas.

The one thing you will notice is how quiet it is on the road - and off. That's down to an extreme pre-occupation with deadening sound from engine, tyres and wind. They've injected expansion foam throughout the bodyshell.

And there is a brand new 2.4-litre diesel (148bhp; enormous 400Nm pulling power/torque). In low-gear high revs there was little noise but when it settled to cruise in 6th gear (used to be five) on the motorway, it was barely audible. Boy did we skit back quickly after our day.

There is now a stronger ladder-chassis and a reinforced deck structure while they claim the Active Traction Control (A-TRC) brings its 4x4 ability to Land Cruiser levels. Towing levels are well up, but you have to pay extra for a tow-bar as you do for a load bay cover.

There is a bit more head and shoulder room in the cabin; they have even shortened the gear lever so it feels more like a car. And there is a tad more usable rear-seat room.

Improvements cost, and this is up about €3,000 on the old one which isn't bad considering the sweeping changes that pit it forcefully against rivals such as the Ford Ranger, Mitsubishi L200, Nissan Navara, Volkswagen Amarok and Isuzu D-MAX.

It showed just how tremendously flexible these vehicles can be, but there were a couple of things I'd complain about.

For such a large vehicle I - and my tall companions - found we had to dip our heads quite low to get in. That's because there is a small enough vertical gap between roof and seat. For someone getting in and out a lot it could be a problem.

And then there was the main lesson on the poorer roads. The rear leaf suspension has been heavily upgraded but this was choppy over some sections of road.

I had not experienced that in what I considered worse underfoot conditions in Namibia. I put it down to the amount of dip and sharp slant you find on some of our less-well maintained roads.

Should Hiroki wish to visit as part of his research for the next version, I'd be delighted to take him for a drive down the road to Devery's Bog to see for himself. I'm sure we can arrange a flask of tea and a few biscuits too.

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