AUSTRALIANS have always loved a ute, right back to the 1930s and Ford Australia’s first coupe utility.
But the one we love the most these days is Toyota’s HiLux, our top-selling vehicle of any type.
In 2017 the HiLux broke its previous record with 47,093 rolling out of showrooms across the country; its success helps keep Toyota on top of the sales charts. While the HiLux, as with any machine, was never infallible, it’s proved a reliable stayer through competent engineering, attention to detail and clever marketing over more than five decades.
The first arrived here in 1968, imported by mining magnate Sir Leslie Thiess. His far-flung concerns meant these HiLuxes were seen, and serviced, in far-flung and rugged places.
Toyota was keen too to learn about the business of exporting; the company listened and sorted out issues for the HiLux to build an excellent reputation as a made-tough-for-Australian-conditions workhorse, relied on from outback mine sites to isolated beaches.
The HiLux was on the ground floor when four-wheel driving became a pastime from the 1980s on. It was built right and backed by a widespread dealer and service network.
As it went through the generations, as more variants were offered and the reputation was enhanced, the Toyota HiLux also attracted more premium pricing. This only added to the lustre resale prices were better than most rivals. The Toyota HiLux is now in its eighth generation with some 30 variants offered.
There are base two-wheel-drive delivery utes from around $20,990, and there are dressed-up, mean-looking four-wheel-drive dual-cabs up to $61,990.
All are very good at their respective jobs, attracting custom from merchants to fisherfolk, farmers to families.
And sales success also drives sales success. The more sold, the more the marketing department can push the best-sellers angle; how could so many people be wrong?
The new, eighth-generation HiLux is a significant improvement over the old model that, despite some updates, had been showing its age for a long time. A new 2.8L 4cyl turbo-diesel engine delivers better performance and lowers fuel consumption. It delivers 450Nm of torque, a gain of 25%. Transmission is now a 6spd unit.
Cabin improvements are where HiLux particularly shows up the other finalists. It’s well insulated to reduce engine noise further and improve the perception of quality.
The centre console is dominated by a seven-inch touch-screen multimedia system with sat-nav, Bluetooth and iPod connectivity. Climate control and smart key are also included. The addition of tilt-and-reach-adjustable steering, a rarity in this category, gives HiLux a more car-like feel.
Toyota has built on HiLux’s reputation for ‘unbreakability’ with a strengthened chassis and beefed-up suspension. The off-road ability has also been improved, with 20% more wheel articulation, bigger dampers and larger disc brakes, along with greater under-body protection.
Although all three finalists topped the class for tray space, HiLux can’t match the other two in either payload or towing, where its limit is a step down at 3200kg. While the new engine is excellent, it lacks the strong pull of the Ranger/BT-50 twins.
HiLux has a five-star ANCAP safety rating, with items such as a driver knee airbag. But it doesn’t get autonomous emergency braking or lane departure warning.
What makes the nation’s best-selling car, let alone ute, so highly sought after?
If the HiLux team fell out with their bosses at Toyota and then split off and formed their own company, it would be Australia’s 10th largest automotive brand, boasting more customers than Honda and Subaru – with just one single model.
But why is the Toyota HiLux so popular with car buyers today? And with plenty of other options, is the HiLux still the best ute on the market?
The almighty HiLux
Originally launched here in 1968, Toyota’s venerable ute has been with us for fifty years now. The model name is a portmanteau of “high” and “luxury”.
2018 has been yet another sales success for the HiLux. In June alone, 47,093 buyers chose a HiLux, beating the ute’s own previous sales best by a good 5,000 orders. Thanks to this evergreen pick-up, Toyota has sold the most cars in Australia for the 15th consecutive year.
Toyota explains HiLux popularity
In the words of Toyota Australia president and CEO Matthew Callachor, the HiLux is an adventure-ready ute that serves a popular segment.
“SUV sales have grown 14 per cent during this period (2017) while sales of LCVs have grown almost 18.9 per cent. This surge in demand for vehicles like HiLux can be viewed as an extension of the popularity of SUVs. They’re high-riding vehicles that can take you on your adventures while delivering car-like features and comfort.”
Best-selling HiLux models
The top-selling model is the premium SR5 trim, which packs the more powerful turbo-diesel 2.8-litre engine together with over-size 18″ alloy wheels and techy features like automatic climate control and a smart entry/start system.
Toyota’s next best performer is the SR line which sits just below the SR5 and has steel wheels as standard, making it appealing to tradies who need something that is both practical and still carries some creature comforts.
The third most popular option is the WorkMate spec HiLux. This entry-grade spec is Toyota’s equivalent of a toolbox on wheels. It has two engine options, 2.7-litre petrol or a compact 2.4 diesel and is available as a lowrider or tough Hi-Rider with 4×4. It’s simply out fitment, and rugged construction makes it the ideal ute for a builder or a tradie.
For 2018, Toyota created three new models, the Rogue, the Rugged and the Rugged X. Each model progressively receives additional off-road accessories and protection, coupled with desirable interior features.
Inside, the HiLux cabin is one of the most user-friendly in the business. Controls are generally easy to find and operate, although the touch-screen interface on some models has small buttons that can be hard to press. The dash sits far away from the driver, and there are loads of cubby holes and storage spots to put your receipts and coffee and so on.
No other ute on the market has the reputation of the HiLux. Top Gear first coined the phrase ‘invincible’ for the HiLux and even ran it through a few ridiculous tests to try and destroy it. In the end, it keeps starting back up and driving away. Toyota, as a brand, already has a reputation for creating high-quality, super-reliable products. The ute segment is one of its fortes. It has been building utes for almost 50 years.
Parts and Servicing
Being a mass-produced vehicle, parts for the HiLux are easy to find, and they are relatively inexpensive. You can also find aftermarket parts and accessories if you shop around, and may be able to find even better deals for certain things quite easily. Servicing is capped for all new vehicles in the range. Toyota calls it a Toyota Advantage. This means all scheduled services for new vehicles are capped at a low price for a set number of kilometres or years of ownership.
There are currently over 22 variants on sale in Australia, which means there is a package that is perfect for every duty. The range is available in aluminium tray-back layout for the heavy-duty tradesman or a sporty body-back style for a stylish design. As mentioned, there are also three engine choices, spanning from efficiency, utter reliability, to high performance. All models are available with either an automatic or manual transmission.
Whether you’re out on a dusty trail or forging through traffic in the city, the HiLux is one of the better drives in the light commercial vehicle market. Most models feel quite sedan-like, with a comfortable driving position, decent handling, and nice steering, unlike some other utes that have excessive turns lock-to-lock. Independent front suspension provides comfort for the cabin while a live axle setup at the back ensures a robust cradle for heavy loads.
Revered engine line-up
The HiLux product range is now one of the only ute line-ups with a petrol engine as an option. But it’s the powerful diesel engines that car reviewers heap praise on. The current model is available with a frugal 2.4-litre turbocharged diesel. There’s also the option of a gutsy 2.8 if you need to tow trailers on a regular basis.
Looking online, it isn’t unheard of for older models to hit over 240,000km or 300,000km on the original gearbox and engine if looked after by rigidly sticking to Toyota’s service scheduling. One farmer in Denmark achieved over 620,000km with his 2001 HiLux.
Expansive model range
With a wide array of different trims available, from the farm spec “WorkMate” to the off-road equipped Rugged X, there’s a HiLux to suit most driver’s needs. You can order the HiLux with a tray, as a double cab pick-up or as a king cab (which Toyota calls an extra-cab). This makes the HiLux ideal for almost any application, whether you need to lug around bales of hay and agricultural equipment or you need to mount specialised equipment in the rear.
Looking through reviews for the Toyota HiLux, car reviewing experts generally applaud the interior of the Japanese pick-up. The WorkMate interior is stripped back, but that means it can handle the dust and daily punishment of a work ute.
Testers appreciated that the automotive giant spent considerable time designing and developing factory off-road options specifically for Australian conditions on the new Rugged X trim.
Higher-end SR5 models are described as upmarket, with comfortable seats and excellent build quality. There are a few things it doesn’t do quite as well as competitor offerings, but overall the cabin is summed up as a pleasant place to be.
That’s no easy task when you’re building a vehicle that has to be able to handle off-roading, load-carrying duties and towing as well as deliver a comfortable on-road drive.
Top Gear couldn’t kill one
Any doubters of the Hilux’s monumental toughness were knocked for six on 23 November 2003, when Top Gear attempted to bump one off using a series of increasingly elaborate methods. Through flood, fire, a falling caravan, and a collapsing tower block; the Hilux lived, and the challenge sparked a flurry of interest in pushing what many believe to be the world’s toughest car, to its limits.
The Hilux took on a volcano – and won!
Three years later, in 2010, Top Gear’s James May drove the car to the peak of a dormant volcano to set up monitoring equipment for scientists. Soon afterwards the volcano erupted, sending an enormous cloud of ash 30,000 ft into the sky.
Hilux helped break the lawnmower land speed record
In 2010, the Hilux was the support vehicle of choice for the joyously madcap Project Runningblade – a British attempt on the world land speed record for a lawnmower! The team, led by driver Don Wales, demolished the previous record of 80.7927 mph, which was set by Bob Cleveland at Bonneville Salt Flats, USA, in 2006, recording a scarily-quick top speed of 87.883mph!
Hilux helps save wild animals
Aylesbury-based charity Tiggywinkles operates the world’s busiest wildlife hospital and uses a Double Cab Hilux Invincible to rescue sick, injured, and orphaned wild animals. The Hilux Double Cap transports Tiggywinkles’ teams’ cross-country and allows them to reach remote locations.
Last year, a Hilux saved a lorry
During last year’s cold snap, a Hilux rescued a stranded articulated lorry – roughly five times its weight – that had become stuck on an icy stretch of road in England. Discover the story of the Hilux.
The South Pole is no sweat for it
Not satisfied with having ‘only’ beaten the North Pole, the Hilux – filled with jet fuel – successfully completed an epic 5,900-mile drive to the South Pole in 2010, without a single technical hitch.
So the HiLux has a number of factors contributing to its ongoing success: reliable workhorse reputation; Australia’s ongoing love of four-wheel driving; a huge number of variants; widespread sales and service network; resale values; and market mass.
For donkeys’ years’ none of the challengers – in the main Japanese brands – have come close to the Toyota HiLux overall sales results.
Still, there has been movement at the station since Ford’s latest Ranger arrived in 2011.
Designed in Australia by Ford and Mazda engineers, the Ranger has been more than well accepted.
Take out the fleet and government business, and the Ranger could be number one in private sales.
As it is, for the 12 months of 2017 the four-wheel-drive Rangers pipped four-wheel-drive HiLuxes _ 36,932 compared with 35,297 _ with Mitsubishi’s Triton third most popular in that class with 20,513 sold.
But the HiLux countered with 11,796 two-wheel drive utes delivered compared with 5796 for the Ranger.
Yet while the competition has closed up in the four-wheel-drive ute segment with rivals coming from all corners of the globe, it will be decades before the demise of Toyota’s venerable HiLux.