Lifestyle Change: Toyota Hilux (2009)
There’s no need to mince words: I don’t see the point of pick-ups. The fact that they’re used for more than just hauling stuff just adds to the irritation. Our roads are already overly crowded and then you just had to add five-meter long vehicles that offer just about the same level of interior space as a sub-compact hatchback. And then you have to minus the versatility factor since 40 percent of the vehicle (the cargo bed) is almost never used in fear anything placed there would get wet or stolen. Some would plop a “Carry Boy” or as old school folks call them, “Camper Shell”, but it just ruins the overall design, plus it makes you think you should have gotten an SUV in the first place.
But times are changing, and so is the pick-up truck. To understand why the lowly pick-up has become the latest lifestyle craze, it’s important to remember where these new-generation trucks are made: Thailand. Thailand has embraced the pick-up as their people’s car and as such, created special incentives making it much more accessible for the regular buyer. This made Thailand the world’s second-biggest pick-up market (the first is the United States). Because regional assembly is mostly concentrated in Thailand, car makers soon engineered and developed pick-ups that are equal parts workhorse, equal parts family car. And unveiled back in 2005, the Toyota Hilux represented one of the first in this new breed.
Expectations were certainly high, so when I got my hands on the Hilux 3.0 G M/T, I wasn’t impressed. And pitting it against the then leader, the Isuzu D-MAX, magnified the Toyota’s weaknesses even further. Three years on, Toyota is once again letting me handle a Hilux for a week. This time though, it’s the facelifted model with an automatic gearbox. And you know what; this Hilux leaves me very much impressed.
What could have happened in such a span of time that transformed this dud of a pick-up into a true star? One word: gearbox. Sure, Toyota has done a lot of cosmetic and feature revamps on the Hilux, but man, the gearbox is the deal breaker here. By far, the four-speed box on the Hilux is the best automatic fitted into a pick-up, bar none. Not even the Ford Ranger’s five-speed unit can match the Toyota’s in terms of smoothness and responsiveness. If shifting the manual box is like doing a rope-a-dope with Muhammad Ali, the four-speed automatic responds like Manny Pacquiao’s power jabs. The power and acceleration come instantaneously, and they come without jerking the cabin. Like any other pick-up, the Hilux’s four-wheel drive system is manually engaged (at default, it runs on its rear wheels), but the difference here is that its 4H (Four-Wheel Drive High) is tuned to be engaged on regular pavement. In fact, the Hilux’s owner’s manual recommends shifting to 4H from 2H during wet weather driving.
Paired with this impressive transmission is the 3.0-liter D-4D common rail diesel engine also shared with the Fortuner SUV. No changes were done to the engine so the power and torque figures remain the same: 163 horsepower and 343 Nm of torque. Though it’s not the most powerful nor is it the torque-ist in the business, this dependable engine still holds up pretty well. At idle, the D-4D engine exhibits the characteristic diesel clatter, but it doesn’t go any worse than that. Even at full throttle, regular conversation can be carried out inside the Hilux. This is in comparison with other common rail diesel engines with a much quieter idle, but sounds like a commuter bus as the engine revs go up. An added bonus is a slight turbo whoosh as the engine gulps in air, so you can still play out a bit of your WRC fantasies even if you’re driving something that’s 1,810-mm high. In terms of fuel mileage, I managed to squeeze out 10.59 km/L on the manual box Hilux a few years ago. This time, with the slush box, the figure stood at 10.00 km/L—not a bad feat considering I played around with 4H a lot of times plus plowed through flooded streets at least thrice.
Being mainly a cosmetic change, the Hilux’s running gear remains unchanged. The platform is still made of the same Independent Double Wishbone/Leaf Spring combination as before, so expect the same sort of ride. Because of its long wheelbase, the ride isn’t as jarring as other pick-ups, but it’s still no SUV. On lower speeds, the Hilux manages to absorb road undulations very well, but as the speeds increase, it somehow magnifies them. This means that driving at 120 km/h is twice as uncomfortable as cruising at 60 km/h. And despite sticking to the recommended 29 psi tire pressure, the Hilux has difficulty finding grip at just about any surface including flat pavement! It gets worse when you’re turning into a sharp corner or climbing up damp parking ramps. This is perhaps the reason why 4H could be engaged even on regular pavement. Braking used to be another Hilux weak point, but thanks to the inclusion of anti-lock brakes, it now feels surefooted.
Now, If you’re the type of person who doesn’t get too engaged with the Hilux’s innards, you should note several changes that were made to improve everyday usability. Thankfully, the seats have been upgraded with a new material and improved support to the back and thighs. The driver’s seat too now features a much needed height adjustment knob as well. Elsewhere in the cabin, new silver trimmings have been added to brighten the dash and a trip computer has been integrated into the clock. Even the standard audio system has been upgraded to include an auxiliary audio jack and six speakers. And though the steering wheel’s still finished in urethane, at least it now incorporates satellite controls for both the audio system and trip computer. All these changes plus outside you get a new front facia and a new alloy wheel design.
As with any other pick-up truck, the Hilux’s cargo versatility is quite limited unless you work at Home Depot. However, it does have one trick up its sleeve and that’s its single action folding rear bench. Aside from offering a larger passenger space compared to other pick-ups, Toyota introduced a novel loading system that made use of this space. Their system folds the seats upward as opposed to having the seatbacks fold down. This reveals a flat loading bay good for potted plants or groceries. Plus, it incorporates two medium-sized cubby holes perfect for smuggling things through checkpoints (it also reveals the toolbox and jack). Essentially, what’s missing for a perfect score would be a 60/40 split-fold mechanism. Maybe next time, Toyota.
The Toyota Hilux is easily a commendable vehicle for those looking for a dual-purpose vehicle. It can easily accommodate large amounts of cargo as well as people, if needed, in a single go. Despite its weakness in the handling and grip department, the excellent drivetrain, surprisingly good fuel economy and revamped interior make up for it. However, all this pick-up truck joy doesn’t come cheap: the model I tested will set you back P 1,431,000. That’s a lot of money considering there’s a Toyota Fortuner available for an additional P 17,000! And with the Fortuner, you do get more seats (all of which are covered in leather) plus much more everyday versatility. If you’re dead set in getting a pick-up, the revamped Hilux with an automatic transmission is a good place to start. But if you’re just after the lifestyle associated with owning a pick-up, better look at much more practical choices first.
By Ulysses Ang | Photos by Ulysses Ang