Toyota Hilux pick-up review
Constant evolution means the tough Toyota Hilux has the talents to be a front-runner in the pick-up class
The Toyota Hilux has been on sale for over half a century, and its reputation for go-anywhere reliability has won it friends and fans around the world. More than 18 million examples have been produced since 1968, but the latest version has been uprated and refined to make it more appealing than ever.
At least that’s the case with the Double Cab version, which competes for attention from owner-drivers wanting to combine workaday practicality with their family lifestyle. The latest version launched for the 2021 model year ramps up the comfort and tech even higher, while still benefitting from the tax breaks offered to drivers of company funded ‘commercial vehicles’ with a one tonne load capacity.
It’s a hotly contested segment, with rivals such as the front-running Ford Ranger, plus the Nissan Navara, Mitsubishi L200 and Isuzu D-Max all vying for your cash. That’s why Toyota offers the Hilux for sale in a range of Double Cab trim levels, from entry-level Hilux Active – with air conditioning and Bluetooth – right up to the Hilux Invincible X with sat-nav, heated seats and a suite of luxury and safety features, such as lane departure warning and pedestrian detection thrown in. The two-door Single Cab and Extra Cab (extended) versions are pure workhorses that don’t attract the lifestyle buyers, so are offered only in basic Active trim, while Toyota also offers Tipper and Dropside variants in the same Active spec.
In spite of pandering to the luxury end of the pick-up truck market, the Toyota Hilux has certainly not forgotten its roots. While it’s better looking, better to drive and better equipped, it’s still tough as old boots, and has a wider load bay and bigger capacity than any of its predecessors. That said, the latest Hilux introduced in 2020 isn't a complete redesign, but a heavily updated evolution of the last and it still rides on a leaf-sprung live rear axle. But the latest updates saw Toyota tune the suspension to deliver a smoother ride when unladen, and the revisions have been largely successful.
The interior has been made more attractive, too, with a design that looks like it came from Toyota's passenger cars, rather than a commercial vehicle. There’s good space for four adults, five at a stretch, while top-spec models are very well equipped, although not cheap.
For 2020, Toyota introduced two engine options to the Hilux range. The existing 148bhp 2.4-litre four-cylinder diesel continues, but it's joined by a larger 2.8-litre four-cylinder with 201bhp, which is available in Invincible or Invincible X trims (it's standard with the latter). Both engines come with either a six-speed manual or an optional six-speed automatic gearbox Icon, Invincible and Invincible X trims. All trucks feature selectable four-wheel drive, with 2WD, 4WD and low-range settings, plus a locking rear diff.
The arrival of the 201bhp diesel means the Hilux now has the firepower to take on the best trucks in the class. It's second only to the Ranger for power (the V6-engined Volkswagen Amarok and Mercedes X-Class both disappeared in 2020) and means the Hilux is now a better choice than rivals such as the Mitsubishi L200 and Nissan Navara.
MPG, CO2 and Running Costs
With the addition of new eco technology, the Hilux offers decent efficiency, even in high-power 2.8-litre guise. Fuel economy across the range is separated only by fine margins, with WLTP tests showing the single cab able to achieve 28.2mpg, the Extra Cab capable of up to 29.7mpg, while Double Cab models offer efficiency of up to 30mpg. Add an auto gearbox, and you're looking at 30.7mpg in the WLTP test, while the 2.8-litre engine manages 33.2mpg with a manual or 30mpg with the auto, while in Invincible X guise – with bigger wheels and extra kit – those figures are 32.8mpg and 29.7mpg respectively.
CO2 emissions for the lighter two-door version are rated from 263g/km, with the Extra Cab manages 250g/km and Double Cab variants range from 224-248g/km.
Elsewhere, Toyota is offering the Hilux with a five-year/100,000 mile warranty cover to help it compete with the latest pick-up rivals. The first year is unlimited in terms of mileage, too.
Generous levels of safety kit, including autonomous braking on top models, should help to keep insurance premiums low. Those worried about leaving items in the load bay unsecured should look at the range of load cover options, including a hard-top for around £1,800.
Depreciation-wise, given the Toyota badge always carries serious credibility on the used market and the Hilux is a popular model, we expect the Hilux to hold its value as well as (if not better than) rivals.
Load Space and Practicality
As a pick-up truck and a commercial vehicle, the Hilux’s most important trait is how much it can carry and pull. Toyota is fully aware of this, which is why the current model has the biggest load bay and highest towing capacity yet.
The Hilux’s load bay length varies from 1,525mm in the double cab model to 2,315mm in the single cab. That’s pretty much on a par with rivals, but it’s width where the Hilux has made great strides.The load area on all models is a full 130mm wider than before, which makes it bigger than both the Navara and L200. If you’re often loading up wide items, it may be the best choice for you.
The single cab gets the usual format of two seats, whereas the extra-cab uses two tiny rear-hinged suicide doors that open up to reveal a pair of cinema-style folding seats. They won’t be the most comfortable to sit on, however, and are only designed for occasional use.
If you plan on carrying passengers regularly, you’ll want the double cab, which is also the only bodystyle available on top-spec Invincible and Invincible X trims. There’s reasonable amounts of head and legroom in the back for two larger adults (and three at a push), and it’s roughly on a par with rivals in that area. It’s easy to see why the vast majority of UK buyers are expected to opt for the double cab.
Whichever variant you choose, the Hilux has a payload of at least 1,000kg, while the Active Single and Double Cabs sees that rise to 1,030kg. Every Hilux can pull up to 3,500kg braked (or 750kg unbraked), which is on a par with the majority of its rivals.
Reliability and Safety
Reputation isn’t everything, but Toyota has been known as a maker of very durable products, and the Hilux in particular has always been an extremely tough and reliable vehicle.
The rugged box frame chassis and selectable 4x4 system underneath is a proven set-up, although the diesel engines in the Hilux have only been around since 2015. The engines use some advanced new tech to boost efficiency and performance, but we’d be surprised if they didn’t turn out to be as reliable long-term as the old-tech diesel units.
It’s really safety where things have improved for the Hilux, though. The model range now offers seven airbags including curtain airbags and one for the driver’s knee, while all versions except the most basic single cab receive front and rear seatbelt pre-tensioners. Double cab models also get Isofix child seat mountings and front fog lights as standard.
It’s not just the things you can see, though, because under the skin every Hilux has a wide array of safety systems installed. Every model gets ABS, Emergency Brake Assist, Vehicle Stability Control, Hill Start Assist and Trailer Sway Control, while double cabs also include Downhill Assist Control. Toyota’s Safety Sense package also makes its way across from the passenger car range, and includes autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure assist and (on certain models) road sign recognition. It’s a level of tech that certainly shows up Hilux models of old, and a number of rival pick-ups.
In terms of crash protection, Euro NCAP awarded the standard Hilux only three stars for safety in 2016, although that rises to a full five-star score with Safety Sense fitted. Given that Toyota is claiming the ladder-frame chassis is 20% stronger than before, it should withstand big collisions better than the old car. Security-wise, all models get an alarm and immobiliser.
The Hilux, like most pick-ups, feels pretty enormous when you’re trying to park it. Thankfully, all models except Active get a reversing camera as standard, although Nissan goes one better in the Navara with the 360-degree Around View Monitor.
Driving and Performance
The Hilux’s driving experience has been constantly updated, and is at its best in the latest 2020 model. Toyota has reconfigured the suspension and developed its settings while the bed was unladen – facing up to the reality that these trucks tend to be driven unladen most of the time. As a result, the Hilux is a lot more comfortable than it's ever been. It's not quite SUV-like for comfort, and the Ford Ranger is still slightly more comfortable, but it's certainly better than most rivals in that regard.
The 2.4-litre four-cylinder diesel is gutsy enough in isolation, but the 2.8-litre diesel is the one to go for if you're used to punchy power delivery.
The 2.4 offers adequate, but not exceptional performance: A 0-62mph time of 13.2 seconds for the manual model illustrates this. That drops to 12.8 seconds with the six-speed auto, although using the engine's full rev range means it an get pretty noisy.
Move to the 2.8-litre diesel, and things improve markedly. The manual model has a 0-62mph time of 10.1 seconds, and the auto manages the sprint in 10.7 seconds. It's a responsive unit, while the auto model has 500Nm of torque for excellent pulling power. The manual has 420Nm of torque, but that's only 20Nm more than the 148bhp diesel.
In terms of handling, the Hilux has seen constant improvement over the years. Gone is the wayward feel and constant bounciness of old versions, replaced by accurate steering, reasonable body control and a comfortable ride on smooth roads. There’s plenty of tyre squeal and body lean if you push too hard, but that’s not what pick-ups are designed for.
There is a bit of a fidget to the suspension, but this will be all but eliminated if the load bay is weighed down with some cargo which settles things reasonably well. It's fair to say that the Hilux now has an advantage over rivals such as the Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi L200 when it comes to ride comfort.
Manoeuvrability isn’t too bad in the Hilux around town, thanks to light controls for a truck and a decent turning circle. Road and wind noise are well suppressed at speed, and the Hilux makes a surprisingly good (if uneconomical) motorway cruiser.
Cab and Interior
The driving experience is edging closer to that of an SUV, and the interior goes some way to matching a family 4x4, too. It’s a considerably less rough and ready place to sit than an Isuzu D-Max and on par with the Nissan Navara and Ford Ranger for design, layout and material finish, although the now-defunct Mercedes X-Class, led the way for upmarket quality.
Toyota understands as much as any pick-up brand that the cabin needs to be robust and able to withstand hard day-to-day working use. The carpets and seats of the Hilux seem well up to the job of ferrying mucky builders or farmers about, but the cabin has also taken on some extra sophistication.
The overall dash design is much like that of a Toyota passenger car. That means the Hilux is one of the nicest pick-ups to sit in. There’s a central touchscreen on top models surrounded by gloss black trim, while the instruments also feature a modern-looking trip display screen in the centre. Build quality is pretty good, too: there are no soft-touch plastics so it doesn’t feel as plush as Toyota’s passenger cars, but it’s not far off. All models receive Aux in and USB ports, along with Bluetooth connectivity, while Icon and Invincible versions include a DAB radio, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also now available.
There’s better storage in the Hilux than in some pick-ups. There are two gloveboxes – one on the top of the dash and one directly below – and both are a decent size. There’s also a central bin underneath the armrest and two cup holders in the centre of the dash, although the storage bins aren’t huge.
Space in the front is good – it’s not as hemmed-in as some trucks, with good leg and elbow-room, although the high floor means taller drivers will have their knees raised, which is a common problem on pick-ups. In the back of the double cab you’ll find enough space for two adults to sit comfortably and three to squeeze in for short journeys. Head and legroom is on a par with rivals, although it’s no better than a modern supermini in that regard.