2017 Toyota HiLux TRD review

Today we’re going to take a look at something truly exciting that’s been developed by Toyota’s go-fast team, TRD. It’s the 2017 Toyota HiLux TRD.

Wait, what?

Toyota Racing Development hasn’t really worked this new model over to within an inch of its life, and it really hasn’t done anything to make it a much sportier than the standard vehicle. But it is more stylish… right?

Officially referred to by the Japanese brand as the 2017 Toyota HiLux with TRD Accessories, we’ll refer to it as the HiLux TRD from here on. It features a number of additional styling bits that will see it fight against flagship, style-focused utes offered by rival brands.

It’s based on the Toyota HiLux SR5 dual-cab diesel 4×4 model, one of the biggest selling variants, and also the most expensive. And with the equipment package fitted to this model, the price for this version of the HiLux is higher than we’ve seen it since the last, proper TRD HiLux with the supercharged petrol V6 engine.

That’s right, to get the six-speed automatic version we have here will set you back $60,990 drive-away in white, or $61,540 in black. If you want a manual you’ll save two grand.

That sort of expenditure means it isn’t quite as expensive as the range-topping Ford Ranger Wildtrak and Volkswagen Amarok V6 Ultimate, but it is pretty pricey considering it’s based on the standard SR5 spec, albeit with a few extras.

The parts sourced from Toyota Racing Development include a new black grille, TRD lower bumper finisher, a red skid plate to protect the underbody when you’re bush bashing, and four body-broadening wheel arch flares.

There are new 18-inch black alloys tucked under those flares, and they sport the same Dunlop tyres as the SR5 model. The shininess has been removed from the sports bar in the tub, too, while there’s also a tub liner, soft tonneau, tail-light covers, mud flaps and tow kit included.

Look, it’s not my job to tell you whether the styling changes have made the HiLux more attractive or not. But come on. They have.

But because it’s still an SR5 under all the TRD trickery, you still get Toyota’s excellent auto-levelling LED headlights, black side steps, and keyless entry and push-button start.

While the safety situation with the HiLux is decent, it isn’t as good as the Ranger top-end models: you can’t get all the active safety aids like forward collision warning, lane departure warning and lane keeping assistance, and adaptive cruise control. Still, there’s a rear-view camera and seven airbags as standard, including curtain airbag protection for those in the back seat, which is more than we can say for the VW ute.

On the inside there are only a couple of changes, like TRD floor mats.

You still get all the stuff the SR5 has, like climate control, cruise control, a touchscreen media unit with satellite navigation and Toyota Link app compatibility as well as DAB digital radio and Bluetooth, an electrically-adjustable driver’s seat, and a multi-function steering wheel.

No matter what spec of dual-cab model, the rear seat of the HiLux still isn’t as roomy as the best in class, lacking headroom. And we’re still of the opinion that those hard grab-handles aren’t great, particularly when you’re off-roading. But there’s adequate knee- and toe-room, particularly if you’re hauling the kids around rather than bulky work buds.

It may look a bit more special outside, but the interior of the TRD isn’t quite as exciting as it should be. It’s just an SR5 in here.

The HiLux’s touchscreen media system lacks the latest connectivity that you can get in the other two utes we’ve already named: there’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto mirroring.

And the while the Bluetooth is quick to connect and reconnect it’s frustrating when you’re driving, because the system blocks you from making calls to contacts or entering numbers. The only way you can make a call while on the move is via voice commands which is, let’s say, temperamental. It’s an ongoing frustration with Toyota (and Lexus, for that matter) vehicles.

Otherwise, the cabin is decently finished: the controls are all placed reasonably smartly, and there’s decent storage through the cabin. And when it comes to how it drives?

Well, again, nothing has changed. That’s because the same drivetrain is under the bonnet – a 2.8-litre turbo diesel, and no, there’s no petrol or supercharged option from TRD this time around. At least that’ll mean lower fuel bills – the original one was a thirsty thing.

With identical outputs as the regular engine, there’s 130kW of power and 450Nm of torque at the driver’s disposal. Toyota is offering the TRD with a six-speed manual gearbox as well as the six-speed auto we have on test. Nothing has changed with the transmission, either, aside from the new TRD gearknob.

And while the HiLux doesn’t have as much grunt as some of its bigger-engined competitors out there, it does offer good linearity to the way it revs. There’s some turbo lag if you stomp on the throttle, but it builds pace with a nice level of refinement.

The gearbox is well sorted, and there’s a power mode to allow you to push it a little harder if you need. One thing that may catch some drivers unawares is the gradient braking system, which drops back a gear or two to allow some engine braking on descents, and it can be a little noisy in those instances.

The biggest letdown to the HiLux is its suspension and steering.

The steering is very heavy, almost hard work at low speeds when you’re parking the thing, and the fact it lacks front or rear parking sensors means those situations can involve a bit of guesswork. The rear-view camera helps though. It is reasonably direct in corners, and decently reactive too, it’s just at low speeds that it’s a bit of a pain.

The suspension, though, is painful pretty much all the time – well, if you’re not loaded up, that is. It feels quite ungainly over bumps, with the tray trembling as the suspension settles over sharp edges. At highway speeds the ride is a bit more settled, but it still isn’t even close to the best you can get in this segment.

We put a few hundred kilos of slate tiles in the back and the rear suspension appreciated it, settling over the axle with a more convincing character. If you plan to use the tray – which in all likelihood, you might not – there’s a tub-liner, four tie-down points, and a soft tonneau cover. It’s a good sized tray, measuring 1645mm wide (1109mm between the arches), 1569mm long and 481mm deep. It has a 925 kilogram payload in this spec.

When it comes to off-road credentials, the HiLux has plenty. And this spec includes a rear differential lock, electronic transfer case with switch on the fly four-wheel drive, hill-start assist and hill-descent control.

It is a bloody decent thing off road, with excellent articulation and terrific ground clearance – 279 millimetres between the lowest point under the body and the surface below, though it might be a little less than that with the TRD bash-plate under the bonnet.

The plus of the steering off-road is that it offers good feel to the driver’s hands, but the suspension is enough to shake up your insides. It really is uncomfortable.

It wouldn’t be a Toyota without solid ownership potential, but bear in mind that while the company’s reputation for longevity may be well founded, the brand’s three-year/100,000km warranty is shorter than some rivals. And you need to get it serviced every six months or 10,000km, more regular than most other utes you can buy. It’ll cost you $240 per visit to the workshop.

So no, we didn’t take the Toyota HiLux TRD to a race-track. But it’s probably a good thing we didn’t.

If you’re in the market for a ute that will potentially deal with whatever you can throw at it, as well as look the part out the front of the worksite, the HiLux TRD could be right up your alley.

Our advice? If you want the latest tech and safety kit, consider the Ford Ranger before signing on the line for the latest high-spec HiLux.

Click the Gallery tab above for more images by Sam Venn.