The West

HiLux works hard to make Toyota tops
HiLux works hard to make Toyota tops

Quick quiz. What's the top-selling vehicle in Australia at the moment? Put your hands down if you said Holden Commodore.

Likewise if you said the Toyota Corolla.

You'd be right in thinking it's a Toyota. But not the one you think. In fact, it's the Toyota HiLux.

That's right, at last count more Australians had bought a HiLux this year than any other brand or style of car. Not bad for what is, essentially, a work ute.

Now originally, this was supposed to be a review of the Toyota Camry Hybrid. But, thanks to a glitch in the Toyota scheduling department, our drive in the most high-tech, environmentally-friendly car ever built in this country became, in fact, a week in a ute.

A Toyota HiLux SR cab-chassis tray-back ute, to be precise. A nice enough ute, without doubt.

With a massive, drop-sided, timber-floored tray on the back that, as it turned out, could swallow up so much garden waste that I spent an entire Sunday chopping down overgrown palms and hedges before driving my ute to the dump.

But a ute, nonetheless. Hardly the technological tour de force and landmark entry to the Australian-built passenger car market that is the Camry Hybrid.

Never mind. Funnily enough, when it comes to significance on the Australian motoring landscape, the HiLux probably commands its own place in the hall of fame.

Did you know, for instance, that Aussies bought 27,400 HiLuxes in just the first eight months of this year - more than two years after it first became the only ute ever to be the nation's top-selling vehicle when it first topped the monthly sales charts in April 2008. That's hardly its first "first".

Watchers of Top Gear will know that a HiLux became the first vehicle to drive across the Arctic to the Magnetic North Pole in a memorable episode of the cult car show.

More recently, it became the first vehicle on the scene of the Icelandic volcano (I won't use its name) which erupted earlier in the year crippling most of Europe - literally traversing fire and ice to transport scientists to the scene of the eruption.

The HiLux nameplate has been in Australia since 1980, and in the three decades since, Toyota has sold more than 670,000 of them.

Of course, the HiLux is offered in almost as many variants as there are tradies wanting to drive them.

There are officially 32 variants, spanning two- and four-wheel drive, three cabin styles, three engines, manual or automatic transmissions and three equipment grades.

We drove the mid-range SR model - with a 4-litre V6 petrol engine and five-speed automatic transmission, with all-wheel drive.

As part of an overall upgrade of the HiLux range, the SR has recently been given a single-CD audio with Bluetooth connectivity and, in a nod to modern times, a USB port.

A new steering wheel with audio controls is part of the SR upgrade. That's relatively fancy stuff by ute standards, but there's more - like the electric windows and alloy wheels, for instance.

Toyota recently announced further upgrades to the HiLux range, this time on the safety front, with top-spec models receiving additional safety gear and lower-spec models getting additional gear at a reduced price.

The flagship SR5 range, in 4x4 double-cab trim, now gets stability control and traction control to supplement its six airbags. Its ABS brakes now come with brake assist and brakeforce distribution.

An option pack on the SR 4x4 model we tested, which includes anti-skid brakes, now also includes curtain airbags plus new bucket-seats with side airbags. The option costs $800.

The ABS option on other 4x2 HiLux models has been reduced to $400.

The upgrades are part on an ongoing war between the top-sellers in this "recreational tradie" segment - Nissan's Navara and Mitsubishi's Triton have also received major upgrades recently and facelifts are also imminent on Ford's Ranger (also sold as a Mazda BT50) and the Holden Colorado.

Toyota's impressive sales numbers might suggest that the HiLux overshadows its rivals in all respects, but that's not strictly correct. We've driven most of them over the years and they all match up well against the HiLux.

In fact, most of these vehicles better the HiLux in one respect or another - be it ride, engine performance or efficiency or interior comfort and styling. But clearly the Toyota puts it all together better than its rivals in the eyes of the market.

The latest interior tweaks have bolstered the HiLux in that regard recently, and it remains a sturdy and versatile workhorse.

The big V6 on our test machine was brawny and reasonably frugal, if lacking a little in the refinement we've traditionally come to expect from Toyota's engines.

The same engine seems more refined inside a Kluger, for instance, although that's an entirely more civilised beast than the HiLux.

The five-speed auto, too, was serviceable if a little agricultural in some instances. The HiLux rides competently, particularly when the back is loaded up and those big rear springs are given some work to do other than bounding off every corrugation in the road.

Clearly the Toyota has made a long and lasting impression on the market. Probably because it has no particular weakness, boasts legendary reliability and also enjoys strong-resale-value service support.

And for a tradie, in particular, reliability and service rank pretty highly on the scale.

The West Australian

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