New Sasol GTC cars set for thrills

The iconic Grand Prix Circuit will present a new challenge to the GTC drivers as they tackle the country’s fastest racetrack on June 16.

Suzuki’s new Swift hatch and sedan in SA

Suzuki kicks off its new model assault with an all new Swift hatchback and standalone sedan called the Dzire.

First drive: Updated Toyota Hilux

2008-11-26 08:01

Lance Branquinho

South Africa’s best selling vehicle now features a slightly modified face and revamped interior with better safety spec.

The Hilux is a South African institution. It’s the largest volume seller locally, and as the one-ton transport and logistics solution to most mining operations, small business enterprises and rural South Africa’s famers, Hilux is a vital cog in the economic dynamism of the country.

Unfortunately Hilux services a hugely diffuse customer base, with strongly differentiated demands. At the one end you have double cabs employed primarily in the pseudo SUV role, whilst one-ton single cab bakkies are delivery mules.

Although still displaying class leading sales momentum, Hilux has now been upgraded with a new drivetrain, nearly imperceptibly revised front styling and a few previously absent "nice-to-haves" adorning the interior.

Safer, from the bottom up

Styling changes for the range will be cosmetically noticeable only to the most hawkish Hilux owners. Wheel diameter has increased from 14- to 15-inches for workhorse models, whilst the double cabs (all now in Raider trim) roll on 16-inch Fortuner alloys.

A new trapezoidal shaped grille framed by a new headlamp design and bumper moulding distinguishes the facelifted Hilux range.

Beyond these very slight styling modifications is a safety package roll-out which has benefited nearly the entire range. When Ford fleshed out its Ranger bakkie range with side airbags last year, customer expectations in the bakkie market increased towards more extensive driver and passenger airbag protection.

Witness the introduction of driver and passenger front airbags to all models in the range bar the entry level 2.0 VVTi (standard and chassis cab) and 2.5 D-4D models.

Raider double cab models boast even more impressive crash safety protection, being equipped with side and curtain airbags – the latter feature a bakkie first locally.

Smarter inside

Open up, step aboard and you’ll notice Hilux now features a multifunction steering wheel on all double cab Raider models.

Beyond the comfort and convenience of having audio controls at your fingertips, I have always believed a multi-function steering wheel to be one of the most underrated safety features onboard any vehicle. It ensures the driver keeps both hands on the steering wheel (instead of fumbling with audio controls) and both eyes scanning the road – instead of the MP3 track name or folder destination.  

Neither Ford, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan or Isuzu offer multi-function steering wheel capability on their bakkies. In extreme off road conditions, one can end up knocking the stereo system into action – or up to embarrassing volume levels – though.

Unseen, yet hugely reassuring, is the presence of front, side and curtain airbags onboard all double cab Raider models, signalling a move in the right direction with regards to bakkie safety in South Africa.

At last: a diesel auto

Perhaps the most significant change in double cab buying patterns over the last two decades has been the demand for automatic transmission options.

Whereas double cabs were once the preserve of those who could not afford a Land Cruiser for trans-Kalahari trips, or construction and engineering crews necessitating four-up transportation to inaccessible areas, today’s double cab buyer is primarily an urban commuter. They indulge in some weekend off-road work, or leisure craft (dirt-bike, quad or jet-ski) transporting activity. Sometimes it’s just somebody who likes to park on the lawn outside the gym…

Hilux owners have been agitating for an automatic gearbox on the turbodiesel double cab models for quite a while now. Toyota has answered with a both 2x4 and 4x4 double cab Raider autos now entering the range.

Unfortunately the transmission is hardly cutting edge, sporting only four ratios, which is fine when you’re off-road, but conspires against economy and overtaking performance at highway speeds. A comparison in point is Ford, Nissan and Mazda providing double cab configuration turbodiesels with five-speed automatics within their respective bakkie ranges - only Ford does a 4x4 one though.

Hilux owners with a habit for power-sliding will be disappointed to notice the axing of the five-speed manual, 4.0 V6 double cab from the range.  All maximum capacity V6s (both found in double cab Raider trim) are now only available as five-speed autos.

Rampant fuel price increases have made even bakkie buyers more consumption sensitive, not to mention the chore of working a heavy-duty bakkie clutch-and-gear combination to work through the morning traffic.

Subsequently, demand for large capacity petrol engines driving through manual transmissions is expected to taper off significantly in the double cab market. Both 3.0 turbodiesel and 4.0 V6 petrol modes feature cruise control.

Two-pedal driveability

Hauling our way to the superb Klipbokkop off-road conservancy and training centre outside Cape Town we had the opportunity to sample the new autos on tar.

As a reference point, the V6, producing 175kW compared to the turbodiesel’s 120kW, and boasting an extra ratio, displays the requisite urgency when called upon to kick-down and overtake slower traffic.

The turbodiesel 3.0 D-4D retains its strong torque characteristics, serving up 343Nm from 1 400r/min. It runs quietly and smoothly in combination with the four-speed auto. Off-road the four-speed auto and two-pedal convenience is sure to appeal to novice off-roaders, or those who often drive trails in convoy and enjoy impromptu stops on gradient surfaces.

Descent compression is the bugbear. Even in low-range, with the auto-box in "L", there’s insufficient engine braking to tackle serious descent on compression alone. Thankfully ABS modulated brakes are onboard, ensuring confidence inspiring characteristics when tackling even twisty shale descents.

Standard Hilux characteristics are still present. It's easy to drive, with mechanical toughness which encourages low-gear, full throttle use when necessary without fear of any durability issues.

It’s a shame the manual-gearbox 4.0 V6 has been dropped, as it was a beastly dune-climbing machine. As mentioned, many double cab owners now use their vehicles as daily commuters. The need for brawny bakkies with two-pedal ease of operation in urban environments is a thread of logic you can hardly fault the product planning team on.

Perhaps the only thing Hilux still needs is a cab-and-a-half derivative. Recent exchange rate volatility has made Thai-built Hilux cab-and-a-half imports an unattractive option.

Local production would require a major logistical exercise at the Prospecton production facility outside Durban, so don’t expect the VAT loophole Hilux option any time soon – though Toyota says they are cognisant of the demand. If you’re going to Namibia this December holiday though, you’re sure to see a few…

Hilux pricing:

Hilux 2.0 VVTi                                                R145 800
Hilux 2.0 VVTi chassis cab                                R140 500
Hilux 2.0 VVTi S                                             R150 100
Hilux 2.7 VVTi Raised Body Raider                     R 210 300
Hilux 2.5 D-4D                                                R167 900
Hilux 2.5 D-4D S                                             R172 200
Hilux 2.5 D-4D Raised Body SRX                         R204 900
Hilux 2.5 D-4D 4x4 SRX                                    R246 000
Hilux 3.0 D-4D Raised Body Raier                        R242 500
Hilux 3.0 D-4D 4X4 Raider                                  R 283 600
Hilux 2.7 VVTi Double Cab Raised Body Raider        R269 600
Hilux 4.0 VVTi Raised Body Raider AT                    R310 200
Hilux 4.0 V6 Double Cab 4x4 Raider Auto               R 370 600
Hilux 2.5 D-4D Raised Body Raider Double Cab         R280 500
Hilux 3.0 D-4D Double Cab Raised Body Raider         R304 400
Hilux 3.0 D-4D Raised Body Raider Double Cab Auto R 314 400
Hilux 3.0 D-4D Double Cab 4x4 Raider                    R346 200
Hilux 3.0 D-4D 4x4 Raider Double Cab Auto            R356 200


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