Piers Ward11 November 2013

First Drive: Toyota Hilux 6x6

Arctic Trucks has built a Hilux destined for the South Pole. We test it in, erm, London…

A while ago, Jeremy and James bravely drove to the North Pole, conquering everything that nature could throw at them while eating spam and drinking ice-cold G&Ts. All with the help of a Toyota Hilux extensively modified by Icelandic firm Arctic Trucks.

And now the brilliant Icelanders are back with a Hilux designed to take on the South Pole. But this time it's got six-wheel drive. And a lot of tech on board.

This vehicle is effectively the world's most extreme mobile phone, and will relay live video and data feeds back to the civilised world during the upcoming expedition by young American Parker Liautaud. He's only 19 years old, and he's aiming to become the youngest male to ever reach the South Pole unaided.

The mods that Arctic Trucks have carried out are not minor. The chassis is all-new from the front wheels back, there's a whopping 400-litre fuel tank, new suspension and brakes, an airline for pumping up the tyres (which run at an almost-deflated 2psi on the snow for floatation), a re-routed exhaust, plus, of course, the extra rear axle.

In normal conditions, the Hilux remains ‘rear-wheel drive', powering the two rearmost axles, with 60 per cent of its torque to the middle and 40 per cent to the rear. But through a series of diffs, and the confusingly-labelled 4WD gearstick, the Hilux can send all manner of power in all manner of directions to generate traction.

Not only should that enable the Hilux to find grip in the ice-slick Antarctic conditions, but also haul a massive two-tonne payload on its flatbed, double the Toyota's standard carrying capacity.

Despite the extra strain, though, Arctic Trucks hasn't needed to alter the engine at all. It's the standard 3.0-litre diesel with 169bhp and 265lb ft, and it still has the same five-speed automatic box (albeit with lower gear ratios). Which'll be relatively economical; Arctic Trucks reckons the 6WD Hilux will manage about 800 miles on a tankful, which is handy for when the nearest fuel station is 1500 miles away. And across an ocean.

Performance? On a quick jaunt across central London... not exactly scintillating. Which is probably a good thing, because the extra axle and balloon tyres haven't helped the handling. A casual left-flick to avoid squashing an HGV made the whole car flop around like a jellyfish, and there was an odd vibration through the steering wheel at higher speeds. On the plus side, there's never any danger of kerbing a wheel during parallel parking.

Fortunately, Liautaud is unlikely to encounter these sort of problems in Antarctica. He will, however, face temperatures as low as -50, despite it being summer. TopGear's top survival tip? Take some spam. And some gin.

The numbers
2982cc, 4cyl, 6WD, 169bhp, 265lb ft, n/a mpg, n/a g/km CO2, 0-62 in quicker-than-a-penguin, n/a mph, 2600kg, £184,000

The verdict
Not so handy for popping to the shops, but it will, quite literally, take you to the ends of the earth. 9/10

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