First Drive: 2016 Toyota Hilux

First Drive: 2016 Toyota Hilux

Stalwarts such as the Volkswagen Golf, Porsche 911, BMW 3-Series and Toyota Hilux are united by the same quandary. Designers and engineers have to walk a tightrope when coming up with new iterations of these models — somehow satisfying the traditional brand loyalists while attracting a broader audience. In the case of the Hilux, that challenge seems especially daunting because, locally, the bakkie genre is more of a religion than a mere car segment. And Toyota’s “truck of ages” has been accepted into the hearts of countless South Africans. It is loved for its everlasting reliability and toughness.

The Hilux dominated the sales charts for what seemed to be three score and 10 years, apparently as unmoving and unflappable as an Old Testament prophet with engineering straight from the creation of the world. Then, last year, a certain brash American wearing a blue oval supplanted the enduring icon as the bestseller in its class. Consumers ’ needs in this category have changed. Today, bakkies have additional lifestyle demands thrust upon them. Ford’s Ranger fares so well because it appeals to urban types who expect car-like manners. So the latest generation of the Hilux wants to attract these buyers too. We sampled the model while attending the Dakar Rally in Argentina, testing out a double cab that was almost identical to the version our market will receive next month.

The only differences were a few cosmetic touches and interior tweaks. We will be publishing a more detailed evaluation of this newcomer after the official launch, but based on my brief appraisal, I can report that it contains ingredients that should keep both the khaki clan and the millennials happy. It boasts a refinement not seen in its ancestors. The dashboard is the same as that in the latest Corolla — by no means a bad thing.

There is also a touchscreen infotainment system and sumptuous seats made of a mix of real and synthetic leather. Then there’s ride quality. What an improvement. Of course, it would be, coming from a rather low base. The engineers have done a stellar job of disguising the Hilux’s agricultural leanings, and imbued the bakkie with a sturdy-yet-soothing character, easily on par with the Ford. And even that competitor from Wolfsburg: the Amarok. New 2.4 and 2.8-litre diesel engines will feature outputs ranging from 110kW and 343Nm to 130kW and 450Nm. A trio of petrol units will also be available, including a V6 pushing out 175kW and 376Nm. Five-speed manual transmissions do duty in workhorse variants, but higher grade offerings are available with either a six-speed manual, or automatic, gearbox. Limp-wristed lads like myself will take solace in the electronic, push-button engagement of 4WD.

Inevitably, those looks will divide opinion and ignite debate. But one thing cannot be disputed: the Hilux finally feels like a thoroughly modern product. Daring reinventions aren’t always well received, but remember: this is Toyota, which has enough brand equity to eclipse any styling faux pas.

-Brenwin Naidu

*The all-new Toyota Hilux launches in South Africa on 23 February. Pricing and exact specifications will be announced then.