Updated Hilux is ready to defend its best-seller crown on road or field. Picture: PHUTI MPYANE
Updated Hilux is ready to defend its best-seller crown on road or field. Picture: PHUTI MPYANE

If you hadn’t noticed, the lifestyle bakkie wars have resumed. All the major players are readying new steeds for market entry.

Isuzu and Mazda’s platform-sharing new D-Max and BT-50 are imminent, ditto Ford and Volkswagen’s new Ranger and Amarok twins. Peugeot is ready to join the fray with its Landtrek, while the Chinese bloc has been quietly introducing new contenders.

The sales doyen of the segment — Toyota’s Hilux — has been facelifted and enhanced with a bold new grille and other new details, and we’ve had our first drive.

While its dependable bones are largely a carryover from the model that was launched in 2016 and enhanced with a sportier face in 2018, there was still room for improvement.

The slight change in the interior extends to a new instrumentation layout which now glows with cool-blue background lighting, as opposed to the red of old. The Raider and Legend models have a new-age infotainment system that’s decked out with all the regulars like Bluetooth, USB ports and bolstered with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and other media streaming functionalities through a larger 20.3cm colour display.

Safety includes the first-time fitment of Toyota Safety Sense (TSS) in the Hilux range with a Pre-collision warning system, Lane Departure Alert and Adaptive Cruise Control. This is standard on the Legend 4x4 models.

The Legend RS (Roller Shutter) top-tier trim I drove was resplendent with luxury features like an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and leather interior trim on electrically adjustable front seats.

It also boasts the only engine change in the line-up. The new 2.8GD-6 Auto model now develops a meatier 150kW and 500Nm as opposed to the previous 130kW and 420Nm.

My drive revealed an unmistakable improvement in ride quality. New spring rates, dampers and suspension bushes have injected a silkiness in motion where bumps register less now inside the cabin.

But it’s the new off-road driving arsenal that includes a redesigned traction control system for the bakkie’s part-time 4x4 drivetrain that must be experienced. It was demonstrated at Gerotek’s treacherously soft sand trough where we hit the gooey stuff in the inappropriate rear-wheel drive mode to create a worst-case scenario. The system quickly detects the predicament to escape entrapment while out in the wilderness.

The cabin has a more luxuriant ambience, a larger media screen and a change in background lighting. Picture: SUPPLIED
The cabin has a more luxuriant ambience, a larger media screen and a change in background lighting.   Picture: SUPPLIED

Once 4x4 is selected on the rotary selector, four-wheel traction allows the vehicle to carry on unhindered. This and Downhill Assist Control (DAC) make off-road driving easier and safer. This system was showcased on steep gradients where the vehicle’s ABS brakes moderate a safe pace on descents. It’s also valuable to mitigate risk of slip while treading on muddy surfaces.

We also climbed up steep gradients where the engine’s increased torque showed its usefulness.

Pointing the new Hilux deeper into more testing terrain, the vehicle once more came into its element in using its 286mm ground clearance for skirting over bulges and onto a section made trickier by a deluge that turned the path slippery.

Again the accomplished mechanicals of low-range gearing, diff-locks and the extra oomph decisively dealt with the mud slush and any other challenge. The entire experience was a reminder of the off-road prowess and why the Hilux is a popular purchase.

In its latest form the Hilux feels better than before whether ploughing through inhospitable turf, or going about your daily trips. The electric Roller Shutter (RS) is operated via a pair of waterproof buttons placed along the edges of the loading bay. It opens or closes out of sight for easy and less time-consuming loading and works in conjunction with the vehicle’s standard central locking to remain secured.

The more powerful engine is smooth and feels respectably faster while the living quarters of the range-topping model matches those of flashier nameplates.       

The 33-model Hilux line-up is priced from R386,700 to R765,600.

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