The proverb ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’ is a reference to situations where there appears to be a meaningful change, but many underlying fundamentals are still the same – and this is not necessarily a bad thing.
In January, Toyota sold 2 794 Hilux bakkies, some 600 more than its nearest competitor. Considering 600 units is regarded by several automakers as a ‘good’ month, it gives some idea of just how entrenched the South Africa light commercial vehicle psyche is tied to Toyota.
The limited edition Dakar version of the Hilux I tested last year was the first inkling of design revises to the front end of the vehicle and my new test unit, the 2.8 GDI-6 4×4 Double Cab Raider, now also sporting the square face look.
The range-topping Raider models have been given a chrome grille surround, which offsets the black horizontal slats and supplements the chrome exterior mirrors (power-retractable) and door handles.
The multi-dimensional fog lamp garnishes incorporate intersecting horizontal and vertical elements decked out in a matching black and chromium effect. The fog lamps themselves utilise LED elements for illumination. Full LED headlamps with distinctive LED Daytime Running Light (DRL) bands complete the front view.
In that watering hole I rarely visit, the conversation often turns to cars and the subject of my latest test vehicle with opinions varying in extreme from ‘fugly’ to ‘wow’ with most detractors concurring the front end had a ‘pinched’ or ‘thin-lipped’ look and not nearly as road-dominant as past iterations.
And, dominant it has always been.
Possibly my favourite memory of Hilux goes back several generations to the boxy single cab 4×4 and driving in a convoy in the Richtersveld up a really steep track and being forced to test the handbrake and near vertical pull-off ability as the driver of the vehicle in front of me did everything possible wrong in terms of off-road driving.
Comfort came in the knowledge on the descent I would be behind him and out of harm’s way!
What that did, however, was to really emphasise the ethos of the Hilux and to spotlight why – even then – it was South Africa’s bestselling bakkie, beloved of a broad spectrum of users.
Fast forward to the present generation and I was privileged to drive the new Hilux prior to its local launch in Iceland where I saw the design styling in the flesh for the first time. The front end was not my favourite element then and neither is it now, although the latest revises have produced much handsomer visage.
The touchscreen multimedia system in Raider guise has been upgraded to include Satellite Navigation and DVD-playback compatibility. Bluetooth telephony, USB interface and 6-speaker output remain part of the package – all controllable via large, steering-mounted switchgear.
A carry-over from the Dakar limited edition is the new full black interior, complete with black headliner and metallic-black interior trim accents.
Raider-badged Hilux continues to offer a comprehensive specification level. These include stylish 18-inch alloy wheels with 265/60R18 tyres, high-grade fabric interior trim, air-conditioned glovebox, leather steering and shift lever, automatic climate control, cruise control, a TFT colour multi-information display, 12 and 220-volt accessory connectors, rear armrest with cup holders and seven crash bags (including curtain and driver knee).
The 2.8 GD-6 four-cylinder diesel engine is untouched – offering 130 kW and 420 Nm for the six-speed manual on test and 450 Nm in automatic transmission guise.
The manual is also fitted with ‘intelligent manual transmission’ (i-MT), which supports smooth shifting with rev-matching technology. The i-MT is able to match revs for both up and down shifts and aims to provide a smooth drive and pull-aways.
The drive mode on the Hilux can be changed from ‘normal’ default to ‘eco’ or ‘power’ depending on the needs or urgency of the driver. Eco really cuts back on the revs and is pretty gutless so best used when on the long haul and cruising speed has been reached.
Obviously, this goes a long way to reducing the overall consumption stats and, while Toyota’s claimed 8,0 l/100 km is attainable, expect closer to 9,6 l/100 km for normal everyday use.
Turning ‘power’ mode on gives the vehicle a sudden boost in energy and makes it a whole lot more fun to drive, especially when dealing with the rolling hills of KwaZulu-Natal. It will just eat up the kilometres and flatten out the hills – although this (and the likelihood you will be stretching its legs a bit) does come as slap in the face on the consumption side, which can then drift up into 11’s depending on how hard you are driving.
The ladder frame chassis design keeps road noise to a minimum, with rigidity improved to make all road conditions more comfortable to the occupants.
The Hilux uses a double-wishbone front suspension design and leaf spring type suspension with twin (larger-diameter) shock absorbers at the rear and is equipped with a pitch and bounce control, which automatically adjusts engine torque in response to the road surface. The system is able to reduce the pitching motion of the body, improving ride comfort and handling.
With the high levels of comfort and luxury and all the new tech I’d certainly feel so much happier on that mountain track in the Richtersveld – even if the dude in front still had not learnt how to drive a 4×4.