First Drive: 2016 Toyota Hilux

After nearly 50 years and over 18 million in global sales, with around 34,000 sold in Europe in 2015, Toyota's best selling pickup is now in its 8th incarnation and ready to take on the world.

I was going to write that there are so many improvements to the new Hilux that you would need a short break in the Lake District to read about them all, but that would give the impression that the old Hilux was rubbish and required a complete overhaul, which wasn't the case at all. 

The new eighth generation Hilux follows its predecessor in offering customers a choice of body styles: Single Cab, four-seat Extra Cab and the five-seat Double Cab. It builds on the model’s established strengths, redefining toughness for business users with its new, stronger ladder chassis, a reinforced deck structure, improved all-wheel drive capabilities and a greater towing capacity. 

I’ll continue about its improvements later, but more importantly, what’s it like to drive?  

Well, the first part of our test route was off-road around the High Wycombe Estate.  The course that was laid out wasn't specifically made for the Hilux; it was all proper tracks, ditches, inclines, declines and muddy sections.  

Selecting drive is easy, even up to 31mph, as there's a dial next to your left knee which selects 2wd high, 4wd high and 4wd low, and if things get really sticky then you have the option of a locking rear diff.

As we threaded our way in between trees and through streams, the Hilux didn't hesitate once, and when required, ’Downhill Assist Control' worked brilliantly in both high and low ratios slowing the Hilux down to a controllable speed down the muddiest, twisty and root ridden sections.  Even on road tyres it surprised me what it was capable of. Downhill Assist Control is a handy piece of kit as it works in both forward and reverse gears in circumstances where engine braking alone is not enough to reduce speed.  The system automatically controls brake fluid pressure to maintain a constant, low descent speed, without the driver operating the brake and accelerator pedals.

On top of that add Toyota’s Hill-Start Assist Control, which prevents the vehicle from moving backwards during an uphill start, and the Hilux proved to be a very capable 4x4,. Whether we were clambering up slippery slopes or heading down them, it always felt sure footed.

On another part of the estate we had a river crossing which looks really exciting - but it couldn’t be further from the truth.  Dropping the Hilux into the deep water with a steady throttle, it easily and without hesitation pushed the deep water forward creating a bow wave - boring!

By the way, if you're looking at the photos and thinking the track looks easy, that’s because I didn't get out to take photos on the really technical sections, I was having too much fun!

On the road the Hilux was surprisingly quiet, the only rattle I could hear was that of my half empty box of Tic-Tacs that was rattling agains my keys in the centre cubby area.  They say that the intrusion of engine, wind and road noise into the new Hilux’s cabin has been reduced to class-leading levels. I have to agree; I won’t bore you with details, just to say that amongst other things, expansion foam is injected throughout the bodyshell and foam is used in all seal points to prevent the transmission of noise, and it works really well.

Meandering around the undulating leafy lanes of Oxfordshire, the Hilux felt quite at home as the new 2.4ltr engine gave a responsive and dependable hum of a modern day diesel.  Whilst the new suspension is supple off-road, on road it feels taut and well put together, even unladen the Hilux is very stable, yet comfortable which is all down to the new chassis, suspension and course electronic wizardry in the name of Toyota’s Pitch and Bounce Control system.

Toyota Safety Sense is available on new Hilux (standard on Invincible and Invincible X models and an option for Active and Icon grades), providing a Pre-Collision System with pedestrian detection function, Lane Departure Alert and Road Sign Assist (cruise control in place of RSA on Active grade).  All of these functions are controlled by a camera and millimetre-wave radar.

At speeds between 6mph and 106mph (its top speed) the Pre-Collision System detects cars on the road ahead and monitors the risk of a collision.  When it thinks a collision is likely, it triggers visual and audible alerts to the driver and prepares the brakes to deliver extra stopping force the moment the brake pedal is pressed. If the driver fails to react and a collision becomes unavoidable, the system automatically applies the brakes, reducing vehicle speed by around 25mph (40km/h), potentially bringing the vehicle to a stop.  I have to trust Toyota’s bumf on this, I wasn’t brave enough to test it!

The system can also detect potential collisions with pedestrians, with automated braking operating at relative speeds of between 6 and 50mph and reducing vehicle speed by approximately 18.5mph. I could go on talking about Lane Departure Warning, Road Sign Assist, reversing camera, which is handy for a truck with such a long bed, but I won’t, let’s just say that the Hilux is packed with all the safety features you’d expect to see on a high end saloon, never mind a pick-up.

Even though the Hilux is famous for its quality, durability and reliability, to get an understanding of existing owners thoughts and needs, Hiroki Nakajima, the Hilux's Executive Chief Engineer, decided to visit as many countries where Hilux is sold as possible.  Of those 172 countries around the world, he visited around 110, to hear first-hand from real users and witness for himself the conditions in which Hilux was being driven.

Apparently he learnt that many owners were under the opinion that Hilux had lost some of its toughness.  As a Chief Engineer, he knew this had nothing to do with the vehicle’s road-going capabilities. He then realised that, while they had related toughness with technical durability, the users’ idea of toughness had far exceeded durability alone, and that they had come to expect similarly high levels of on-board comfort and safety to enhance the vehicle’s day to day use.

So, based on a thorough re-evaluation of the current model, the entire development team became passionate about creating a pick-up that would greatly surpass it in every sense, but especially in terms of toughness, which stands out as the core benchmark for Hilux over the years.

Arriving back to the High Wycombe Estate for a spot of lunch with the Toyota team, I concluded that the new, 2016 Hilux is going to be a winner

Ok, there were a few niggly bits that I didn’t like. The steering wheel for instance, it doesn’t tilt high enough for my long legs to get underneath, so clambering in and out is a bit awkward.  This might have something to do with the fact that the driver’s seat hip point has been raised by 10mm, making it possible for a wider range of people to find their ideal driving position.

Then there’s the iPad inspired tablet on the facia, never my cup of tea as they just look like an afterthought.  In the Hilux it’s facing squarely to the rear of the car, personally I would have preferred if it was tilted towards the driver more, but it’s still perfectly readable.

Overall it was a great truck to spend a morning in, and it performed faultlessly both on and off-road. 

As I’ve already mentioned, I have no doubt that the 8th generation Hilux will be a continued success for Toyota… though I’d love to get my hands on one for a week or so, just to be make sure!