• The interior is more spacious and more comfortable and gets an improved infotainment system. Picture: TOYOTA

  • The new Hilux has a tougher look. The load limits are still the same as the outgoing generation. Picture: TOYOTA

  • The new Hilux has a tougher look. The load limits are still the same as the outgoing generation. Picture: TOYOTA

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FOLLOWING the Dakar Rally can be a tricky affair, the long distances, point to point format and sometimes impassible terrain mean that careful planning and a capable vehicle are necessary to get close to the action. We were in Argentina to witness this event first hand but also to get behind the wheel of the new Toyota Hilux that will be launched in SA next month.

The bakkie war in SA is serious business, so serious that most months a model from the double cab segment tops the overall passenger car sales charts. Toyota has traditionally been the leader in terms of double cab sales with manufacturers such as Nissan and Volkswagen trying to get a slice of the pie with mixed results. Ford has managed to make some impact in the past 18 months with its Ranger, even edging out Toyota a couple of times, although the latter’s performance is impressive given that the Hilux was essentially a 10-year-old model.

Since its introduction in 1969, the Hilux has etched out an enviable reputation for itself, where the durability, strength and outright quality of the product has entrenched itself in the hearts of its owners.

The most striking feature of the new generation is certainly the exterior design, with the Hilux projecting a tough stance, while also exuding a sense of innovation and refinement.

But it is inside the vehicle that you will spend all your time and the interior sets new standards for a light commercial vehicle. The same design ethos of tough and advanced was used to create an interior that combines ruggedness and practicality with innovation and design.

Taking centre stage in the interior is a new touchscreen audio system. Featuring a flat panel design, flick operation and capacitive touch technology, the system is a marvel.

The interior is high quality, innovative and user friendly with comfort and convenience clearly being strong influencers in the design process. Interior space and comfort has definitely been improved, with four adults now able to travel in comfort where this was not always the case previously, especially for us bigger framed South Africans.

Our driving group consisted of new and previous generation Hilux models and this provided the perfect platform for back-to-back driving. The new model has come a long way in terms of passenger comfort, with comfortable seats and more favourable damping, while retaining the load carrying capabilities and even improving the towing capacity to 3.5-tonnes.

Underpinning the new model is an all-new frame, delivering improved strength and rigidity. High tensile steel, thicker cross members and increased cross sections all contribute to greater handling, ride comfort and safety levels. Noise and vibration levels have been reduced, resulting a quieter driving experience.

Part of the design brief was that the Hilux had to offer improved off-road capability, with the Land Cruiser Prado being the benchmark, and the engineering team were able to deliver on this request.

An electric 4WD changeover switch replaces the previously employed second gear lever to allow the driver to easily switch between 2WD, 4WD low and 4WD high modes.

Under the bonnet is a range of engines offering improved power output, efficiency and refinement. The newly developed GD (global diesel) series feature a number of advancements to provide a super driving experience.

The GD series engines will be available in three different variants, starting off with a 2.4l offering 110kW and 343Nm, while a higher output version will feature 110kW and 400Nm.

The 2.8l boasts 130kW and 420Nm in manual guise or 450Nm when coupled to an automatic transmission.

Three petrol engines will be on offer, starting with a 2.0l producing 100kW and 182Nm. The 2.7 VVTi engine has been revised to deliver 122kW and 245Nm with claims of much improved fuel consumption. Completing the line-up will be a 4.0l V6, boasting 175kW and 376Nm.

Workhorse models will be equipped with a five-speed manual while higher grade models will be available with either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission.

We got to sample the 2.8, 4x4 automatic model while in South America and I suspect that this will become the top selling configuration in the new range. Despite the slight decrease in displacement compared to the previous generation 3.0l engine, the new unit offered more than enough gusto and smooth power delivery. I also believe that it will offer the best balance between performance over varying terrain and fuel consumption.

With a focus on safety, workhorse models will now feature a driver airbag, while double cab models will feature a total of seven airbags and Isofix child seat anchors. ABS, brake assist and an antitheft system are also standard across all grades.

Signifying their flagship status, high-grade models will feature exclusive exterior trim, metallic interior accents and a comprehensive list of comfort and convenience specification.

Buyers will be able to choose between three body shapes, four specification grades and five engine configurations, with each being tailored to the specific requirements of the intended application and usage.

Within the light commercial vehicle market, customers no longer only expect toughness and durability from their bakkie, but are placing much greater emphasis on comfort, convenience and design. The bakkie of today needs to fulfil a multipurpose role.

The Hilux does exactly that. Behind the wheel it no longer feels like you are driving a commercial vehicle.

The ride handling and comfort is similar to what we have become used to in luxury SUVs and even some passenger cars and all creature comforts that come with those vehicles have now also been included.