Improved ride, option of a brawnier 2.8-litre engine, sense of all-conquering unstoppability
It’s still a leaf-sprung farm truck. Attempts at SUV comfort and trim only go so far
What is it?
The world’s best-selling pick-up truck… if you leave out America. Which is like saying Burger King does the most popular cow sandwich on Earth… if you forget about McDonalds. But even excepting the USA’s insatiable thirst for open-bed freedom on wheels, the Toyota Hilux is a sales phenomenon. Since 1968, Toyota’s shifted more than 18 million of these humble workhorses to everyone from farmers to freedom fighters. And now it's a Dakar Rally winner, too.
So has Toyota stuck to the recipe for this latest one?
No. Toyota has been poring over the spreadsheets, and in recent years they've made grim reading for the Hilux. Since 2012, pick-up truck sales in Europe have doubled, swept along in the torrent of clamour for all things 4x4 and SUV-ish. But while truck sales have boomed, the Toyota’s market share has been eaten into by the likes of the Ford Ranger Wildtrack and VW Amarok – trucks aimed at wooing lifestyle enthusiasts in Shepherds Bush as much as they impress actual sheep-herders in the bush. In 2021 Toyota shifted a grand total of 47,480 Hilux units in Europe, which doesn't exactly provoke the age old hot cakes analogy.
So what's changed?
Toyota’s reacted to the trend for people desiring high-spec, well-kitted pick-up trucks with powerful motorway-happy engines. There’s now the option of a 2.8-litre engine on the toppier trim levels, instead of the workaday 2.4-litre. Inside, the range toppers boast heated leather seats, an automatic gearbox and Toyota’s latest smartphone-literate touchscreen. There’s even a JBL hi-fi and LED lights.
New for 2022 are extras such as a panoramic view monitor, an auto-dimming rear view mirror and dual-zone air conditioning, while automatic service reminders, e-call and remote diagnostic functionality are standard across the board.
And what about the mechanicals?
Toyota used to place a multi-tonne load in the Hilux’s bed, then tune the suspension. That meant a bouncy, unsettled ride when the truck was unladen. Because most lifestyle pick-up truck drivers never place more than a bottle of screenwash and a pair of trainers in the cargo bay, the latest Hilux has been tuned to ride best without so much as a bag of sand slung in the bed.
Great news… and very worrying. Not just because the Hilux is supposed to have the simplicity and longevity of Stonehenge, but because this tactic isn’t necessarily a winner. The Mercedes X-Class was long ago dropped from UK sale after its premium take on Nissan Navara underpinnings failed to convince the pick-up truck faithful. They’ll sniff out a faker in moments.
So, has the Hilux lost its way, or reinforced its position as a modern motoring icon? We’ve tested the two top-spec models: the Hilux Invincible and Invincible X, to find out if they’re worthy of the best-seller or not.
What's the verdict?
The Toyota Hilux is a predictably unpretentious machine, and its attempts to court lifestyle truck buyers have done little to alienate its core following while rounding off some of its rougher on-road manners. The most welcome upgrade is the new 2.8-litre engine, alleviating the older cars’ tardy performance particularly when fully loaded.
The cabin remains grim in areas and it’s a cumbersome beast to helm around, but if anything that’s a constant reminder this isn’t a vehicle to pose in – it’s a tool, a faithful workhorse, and a dependable business partner.