Monday 19th April 2021
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First drive: Toyota Hilux 2.8 Invincible X. Image by Toyota GB.

First drive: Toyota Hilux 2.8 Invincible X
A bigger engine and even-plusher cabin push the long-serving, updated Toyota Hilux near the top of the one-tonne pick-up class.

 



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Toyota Hilux Invincible X 2.8 Auto

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The Toyota Hilux is a name you have always been able to 100 per cent trust in the one-tonne pick-up truck market sector. But is it one you can truly desire, too? The marque thinks a comprehensive round of updates enacted on its eighth-generation machine certainly make it so - and therefore we give the range-topping 2.8 Auto Invincible X a whirl to see what's what.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Toyota Hilux Invincible X 2.8 Auto Double Cab
Pricing: Hilux from 22,466 (as CV) or 26,895 (inc. VAT as private buyer), Invincible X from 32,533 (as CV) or 38,975 (inc. VAT as private buyer), car as tested 39,900
Engine: 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Transmission: switchable all-wheel drive with 4WD Auto Disconnecting Differential (ADD), locking rear diff and low-ratio '4L' setting, six-speed automatic
Body style: four-door one-tonne pick-up truck
CO2 emissions: 248-259g/km (VED Band 226-255: 1,850 first 12 months, then 150 annually thereafter; or VED Band Over 255: 2,175 first 12 months, then 150 annually thereafter - both rates as private owner)
Combined economy: 28.5-29.7mpg
Top speed: 109mph
0-62mph: 10.7 seconds
Power: 204hp at 3,000-3,400rpm
Torque: 500Nm at 1,600-2,800rpm

What's this?

A Toyota Hilux, a pick-up truck which has been around across eight generations since 1968 and which has become the world's best-selling vehicle of this type (disclaimer: anywhere on Earth outside of the USA, that is, given that the Yanks love a Ford F-150, among many other, much larger trucks than a Hilux) with more than 18,000,000 units shifted across the 52 years it has been available to world markets. While there are many competitors for the Hilux to try and see off in the current era, the fact of the matter is this vehicle has a reputation for dependability and indestructability that few other automotive machines can match. Who can forget that time Top Gear TV infamously subjected a rusty old red Mk4 Hilux to the most astonishing abuse on the streets of Bristol, before dumping it in the sea, setting fire to it, hitting it with a wrecking ball, dropping a caravan on it and then carelessly leaving it on top of a building which was scheduled for demolition? And yet it still kept on working after all of that. Possibly our favourite vehicle which ever appeared on the show, that one.

The thing is, though, this Mk8 Hilux - which launched in 2016 - might well be tough and reliable, and also quite easy on the eye, but it has felt outclassed in this sector pretty much from the off as a result of one simple factor: its rather underpowered 2.4-litre turbodiesel engine. While fine for its commercial vehicle uses and base-spec models, the Hilux has never had the sort of grunt that tempts private buyers into very high-specification versions of these one-tonne trucks.

However, Toyota has done some market research and realised the time is ripe to weigh into this particular market niche. You see, although one-tonne pick-ups are ostensibly commercial vehicles, bought by companies to do hard labour (as vehicles go) on building sites and farms and Forestry Commission land and so on, there has been an explosion of interest from private buyers in the luxury versions of these trucks in recent years. We're not kidding, either; since 2012, sales in the UK have doubled from 25,000 units per annum to 50,000 in 2019 (it actually hit the peak in 2018, levelling off into last year) - and, taking last year's figures as a basis, 70 per cent of those sales (c.35,000 units) were for high-power pick-ups. That is to say, any model with more than 175hp from its engine. In the Ford Ranger line, 83 per cent of units sold in 2019 had more than 175hp. For the Nissan Navara and Volkswagen Amarok, the corresponding results rose to 96 and 99 per cent respectively. Precisely three-quarters of all Mitsubishi L200s sold in 2019 boasted more than 175hp. The Hilux, with its solitary 150hp/400Nm offering, of course registered 0 per cent in this regard, putting it in the company of the Isuzu D-Max, another pick-up with a modestly powered engine.

Coupled with that, private buyers want the finest pick-up model grade they can get for their cash, with the upmarket Wildtrak taking 80 per cent of the Ranger mix, the Barbarian 52 per cent of L200 sales, the N-Guard 26 per cent of the Navara and the Aventura 18 per cent of the Amarok's line. Factor in further lifestyle trucks like the Fiat Fullback Cross and Toyota knew it had to get a really high-end version out there, stat. OK, the Invincible trim did well for the marque in 2019, accounting for 30 per cent of all sales, but with that 150hp motor private buyers were simply looking elsewhere for their big-truck kicks.

So, here comes the 2021 model year Hilux. It's actually the second update of the Mk8 model in four years, but this programme sees a significant raft of changes. The 150hp engine continues and of the 30 per cent of all pick-ups with less than 175hp sold in 2019, Hiluxes accounted for four-in-ten of those numbers - an area that Toyota expects to continue to do well in. To that end, the Hilux 2021MY range begins with the Active model (from 22,466 ex. VAT or 26,895 inc. VAT), a steel-wheeled bog-basic entry truck which comes only with the 2.4-litre engine and a manual gearbox, but is the only level at which all three body styles are available: these being the Single Cab, the Extended Cab (it has little 'suicide'-type rear doors) and then the full Double Cab. At Icon grade (from 26,549 ex. VAT or 31,795 inc. VAT), it's Double Cab only all the way up, and this model also enjoys alloy wheels and the new eight-inch Toyota Touch infotainment system inside. However, it sticks with the 2.4-litre turbodiesel, albeit now available with a six-speed automatic option to go with the standard six-speed manual gearbox.

It's at Invincible level (from 29,158 ex. VAT or 34,925 inc. VAT) where the big difference comes into play. This version still comes with the 2.4 motor as standard, with manual or auto transmissions, but now there's a new 2.8-litre turbodiesel to go at. This develops 204hp and 500Nm (as a six-speed auto; it's limited to 420Nm as the six-speed manual derivative), increases of 54hp and 100Nm (20Nm manual) over the 2.4 which significantly improve the pick-up's performance - the fastest 2.8 Hilux, which is weirdly the lower-torque manual model, runs 0-62mph in 10.1 seconds (auto 10.7 seconds), fully 2.7 seconds up on the quickest 2.4's time of 12.8 seconds - but yet this new mill doesn't harm the Toyota's economy or CO2 figures to any notable degree. It's also designed to be a quieter, smoother engine than the 2.4, which should please those private buyers wandering into showrooms to have a look at the Hilux.

But it's the top dog, tested here, which is aimed squarely at those customers who might buy the Hilux for school runs and trips to theme parks/the countryside/the beach, rather than a branch of Jewson's/the middle of Kielder Forest/the hard-shoulder roadworks on the M4. It's the Invincible X, available as a 2.8 only and, even with the automatic gearbox and pearlescent paint (925) fitted, it comes in at sub-40,000 including VAT (it's available from 32,533 ex. VAT but, really, the X isn't supposed to be bought as a fleet workhorse). And while all 2021MY Hiluxes have revised looks front and rear, the Invincible X gets its own design of radiator grille, front foglights, wheel-arch trims and tailgate finishing to make it stand out even more - job done from the Japanese firm, because this is a cracking-looking big pick-up in this spec. Inside, the cabin is plusher than on other Hilux models and fitted with lots of toys, although we'd still say the interior of the Toyota isn't quite on a par with those you'd find in the Ranger, Amarok and Mercedes-Benz X-Class. So can it drive well enough to force its way into this desired top echelon of one-tonne pick-ups in the 2020s?

How does it drive?

While it is aimed at public consumption, it's worth pointing out that the 2.8-litre automatic Hilux is just as practical as any of the CV-oriented models. It'll take 1,010kg in its load bed (hence why it's a 'one-tonne' pick-up; as its kerb weight is well beyond two tonnes) and the Toyota can haul 3,500kg of braked trailer, the maximum possible in this class. It has an 80-litre fuel tank for good range between fill-ups and there's the usual '2H, 4H, 4L' selectable AWD, that should ensure the Hilux is just as good off-road as it has ever been.

It is on the roads, however, where the company has made strides in improving the refinement of the Hilux. Not only is that 2.8-litre engine much more potent and quieter, but the suspension has been tuned to make the ride quality more comfortable too. The Hilux remains on leaf springs at the back, a decision made for durability. Given it is sold all over the world, in some remote and hostile landscapes, then leaf springs are far less prone to breakage from rocks and the like than multilink set-ups, which is why people love these Toyotas so much in places like the middle of Africa and Australia's Outback. But the manufacturer has made the leaf springs' mountings more advanced, has lengthened the items themselves slightly and then has tuned the dampers on the Hilux to be at their best with nothing in the load bed. This is different to the norm, as pick-up makers tend to set the vehicle up with a full tonne of weight in the back.

We didn't have a chance to test the theory that Toyota puts forward regarding the 2021MY Hilux being just as good fully laden as it is running empty, but we can certainly vouch for a huge improvement in the way the truck drives on public roads with nothing in the load-bed. The ride quality has taken a massive upswing in quality, the Toyota less likely to shimmy and skitter about on washboard surfaces. True, larger expansion joints and sunken manhole covers do send enough of a jolt through the frame to remind you of the pick-up's two-piece superstructure, but in general the Hilux Invincible X always feels far closer to 'capable SUV' in terms of its ride comfort than it does to 'rugged ladder-frame beast of burden'. The engine's superb too, perhaps a bit noisy beyond 3,000rpm and mated to a six-speed automatic that isn't a shining paragon of self-shifters, but torquey enough to make rapid progress in the midrange and certainly much smoother in terms of vibrations entering the cabin. At sub-2,500rpm, it's also incredibly subdued in operation - this teams well to minimal wind and tyre noise, as well as good steering and excellent brakes, to make the Toyota a genuine pleasure to travel in.

We then put the Hilux through its paces at an off-roading centre just off the A27 to the west of Arundel, in Sussex, and the owner of this challenging facility expressed his surprise at what the Hiluxes were traversing on nothing more serious than a set of road-going tyres. That's right, the Invincible X doesn't roll on dedicated mud-plugging rubber. Despite this, when running in its low-ratio 4L mode, the 2.8 powered its way through very deep water splashes, through claggy swamps of mud and took on some ridiculous axle articulation that saw full wheel lift, and it didn't bat an eyelid. It was said that the Hilux would have easily done the majority of the course in 4H, which is very impressive, and there's a new Auto LSD feature which makes the truck mighty effective on the rough stuff, even in 2H (rear-wheel-drive) mode. Toyota has also listened to its customers and lowered the idling revs on the Hilux from 850- to 680rpm, to make it better to control in low-speed, off-road manoeuvring, and it has further added speed-sensitive steering (it's light off-road to reduce driver effort and fatigue, and then it weights up at higher speeds to provide good precision on tarmac) and an indicator in the cluster which shows you the angle of the front wheels while you're venturing deep into the scenery. Yep, it is as tough and capable as ever off the asphalt; it's just that the 2021MY Hilux is also far better on the main highways than it has been at any point in its five-decades-long history before this point.

Verdict

The new 2.8-litre engine, the new exterior appearance and the new suspension tunings do much to transform the 2021MY Toyota Hilux Invincible X from a truck which made up the numbers in this class to one which is pushing the segment leaders all the way. There are some slight ride and refinement issues still lingering here, as well as a cabin which doesn't move far enough away from its hose-down CV origins, for us to mark the updated Hilux down as the absolute go-to choice in this sector, but equally it's certainly among the best one-tonne pick-ups you can buy right now.

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

5 5 5 5 5 Luggage Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 8 Dec 2020









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2020 Toyota Hilux 2021MY UK test. Image by Toyota GB.2020 Toyota Hilux 2021MY UK test. Image by Toyota GB.2020 Toyota Hilux 2021MY UK test. Image by Toyota GB.2020 Toyota Hilux 2021MY UK test. Image by Toyota GB.2020 Toyota Hilux 2021MY UK test. Image by Toyota GB.

2020 Toyota Hilux 2021MY UK test. Image by Toyota GB.2020 Toyota Hilux 2021MY UK test. Image by Toyota GB.2020 Toyota Hilux 2021MY UK test. Image by Toyota GB.2020 Toyota Hilux 2021MY UK test. Image by Toyota GB.2020 Toyota Hilux 2021MY UK test. Image by Toyota GB.








 

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