TOYOTA HiLux: the best-selling car in Australia.
It seems very strange to say it, not least because what we have here is a ute. A truck. A tradie special. Not a car.
But we kind of knew it was coming. No matter you opinion, the HiLux has a justifiable unbreakable reputation and mighty brand loyalty the envy of the industry.
It is used across our great country by tradespeople, farmers, rural dwellers and government departments, with a fair chunk of the 42,104 sold in 2016 made up by fleet sales.
But the Toyota ute's march to the top has come about by it increasingly being the choice of the private buyer. I have friends with young kids who've bought double cab 4x4 utes as the family car; the car park by my local surf beach is littered with them, and now I've lived with one for a month I've seen the looks my top grade HiLux SR5 attracts from school boys, my elderly neighbour and young mums alike. It is coveted by a vast range of Aussies.
Toyota has loaned me its flagship HiLux Double Cab SR5 4x4 for two months, complete with six-speed auto gearbox, premium paint and tow bar. All up that costs $57,479, so let's reckon on around $60k with on-road costs thrown in. A tidy sum.
I'll hold my hands up and say I'm a HiLux (and all double cab utes) sceptic. I don't question the HiLux's brilliance as an off-roader, hauler, tower or worksite stalwart (I've tested them in this capacity and been blown away), but I do doubt their effectiveness as an everyday or family car. Not least when you compare them to family-specific SUVs, wagons or sedans costing over $50k, be they 4WDs or otherwise.
The HiLux uses bouncy leaf springs as rear suspension; its 130kW/450Nm 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel returns 8.5L/100km when two-tonne diesel SUVs of similar capacity offer more power and torque while returning under 6L/100km, and it lacks active safety features (like autonomous emergency braking) found as standard on some modern cars costing under $20k.
On paper then, you'd question why anyone would buy a HiLux as the main family car. But the key here is versatility.
The HiLux does the utility part exceptionally well (towing, off-roading, hauling, etc.) but also does comfort, practicality and modern specification well enough, if not exactly brilliantly comparatively speaking.
Statistics don't lie. Toyota's formula of same old tough-as-nails HiLux ute blended with modern niceties help explain why Australians are buying these SR5 grades in abundance.
After a month behind the wheel of our Double Cab SR5 I'm still sceptical though.
With no load in the rear the HiLux boings along in a manner that's had the kids feeling somewhat seasick, while my confidence in its cornering manners runs out rather quickly, especially in the wet. It's still a truck and still drives like one too. No question.
What a difference some kilos in the rear makes though. I added about 300kg of household waste into the tray and headed for the dump - the HiLux proving its practical worth here - and immediately the rear felt far better planted and behaved. If I owned one, the tools would stay in there permanently.
Positively I am a fan of the truck's styling (although I know some are not), the build quality is expectedly superb and cabin comfort and space are indeed family car suitable.
Two child seats in the rear with Isofix points, plus space in the middle for another adult: good win there.
The engine, while proving a bit thirsty at over 10L/100km during my test so far, is a gem.
It's practically silent at cruising speed and idle, and never wants for grunt. It, above all else, has impressed me most about the new HiLux.
But can it win me over in the long term? Does it deserve to be our nation's best-seller?
An off-road family adventure beckons, giving the HiLux its chance to shine in its element. Stay tuned for the next update.
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