2016 Toyota HiLux SR5 Double Cab review

We know the 2016 Toyota HiLux SR5 isn’t the best dual cab in the class, because we’ve tested it against the competition not long after its initial release. We know the styling of the all-new model polarises people – even strident Toyota fans most of whom reckon the front end especially has been beaten with the ugly stick. We also know that the unladen ride leaves a lot to be desired – and keeps chiropractors around the country as busy as a one-legged man in an arse-kicking competition.

Regardless though, Australians still buy the Toyota HiLux in droves…

Reckon the dual cab utility segment needn’t be taken so seriously? The top selling vehicle in Australia in October 2016 was a – drum roll please – Toyota HiLux. Number two? The Ford Ranger. Yep, there’s serious mileage in this segment now, and that will only strengthen with the end of Falcon and Commodore, you would think.

Back to the HiLux. At the risk of paraphrasing my own slightly tongue in cheek video review, there’s no doubt in my mind the HiLux is the most blatant example of people buying a vehicle on reputation rather than intended usage.

I’d argue that’s even more pertinent at the top end of the food chain with pick-ups like Ranger Wildtrack and HiLux SR5. What I mean by that is buyers know what their HiLux is capable of, and in fact revel in it, even if they don’t access that ability often – or ever.

The HiLux can tow plenty of weight, plough through sand, and bash through the bush, but take a close look at any of those disciplines in the flesh and the majority of HiLuxes being used (or abused more to the point) are second-handers rather than 55 grand (plus on-road costs of course) brand newies like this SR5. Talking about beating your vehicle through the scrub is one thing, actually doing it is something else entirely.

While you can get into a double cab 4WD HiLux from $46,490 for an SR diesel, the SR5 diesel we’ve tested here starts from $54,390 before on-road costs. Our test example is bog stock, so what you see here, is what you get at your Toyota dealer.

It’s no longer the most expensive dual cab 4WD on the market, with Ranger Wildtrack (just under sixty grand) and Amarok Canyon (also just under sixty grand) well and truly covering the HiLux. Sixty grand for what is still essentially a commercial work vehicle? How times have changed in Australia.

Toyota could remove the engine and gearbox and replace them with a set of pedals and punters would still line up to buy a HiLux. Ranger might have stolen some ground off HiLux since its release, but it’s still number two on the sales charts behind the HiLux.

In other words, the HiLux continues its reign as the undisputed people’s champion in this country and while brand loyalty might be one reason, there’s more to the story. Namely an extensive dealer and service network, a reputation for rugged reliability, and the commitment from Toyota Australia that if something does go wrong, it will be rectified post haste.

If you live in a regional or remote area, you can sorely afford to be driving anything with a hint of unreliability and it’s the reasons above that most define why Toyota has such enduring cut through in those areas. Toyota haters look down their nose at the product, but the Japanese brand has the last laugh in regard to customer retention.

Rather than the usual road test, we’ve compiled a slightly different set of tasks for this review. First, we towed a hire trailer with a renter HiLux on it. If you’re wondering why, take a look at the video. Then we headed for some typical Aussie beach sand, and finally we found a nasty enough off-road track to put the ’Lux through its paces.

Across these three disciplines, the HiLux excels and reminds drivers of just what it is capable off.

First though, there’s the small matter of styling to discuss. It ain’t pretty. And the interior. It ain’t exactly cutting edge. Even die-hard Toyota fans don’t love the front end especially, but having said that, they will still buy one.

Who knows? The HiLux styling might grow on us as time goes by – I didn’t like the look of the Prado or the 200-Series when they were released but they’ve grown on me over time. For now though, the HiLux doesn’t get anywhere near the best-looking in the segment – think Ranger and Navara.

The cabin is solid, well-insulated and comfortable, but doesn’t feel as up-to-date as the segment leaders. It’s got that hewn-from-oak feel to it most Toyotas have, but there’s nothing revolutionary or cutting edge about it. The infotainment system especially feels old hat, even though it works well enough. There’s no reason to think the interior won’t be as hard wearing as any other HiLux though, and if you’re a HiLux fan, this SR5 is as good as it gets. Dual cabs are getting bigger and bigger, and yet the cabin doesn’t feel roomier than the old model although there’s room for adults in the second row.

The jewel in the crown is under the HiLux bonnet though. The 2.8-litre turbo diesel is smaller than the 3.0-litre oiler it replaces, but makes more power and torque while using less fuel according to the ADR numbers. What’s interesting is the old oiler, would sit between 9.5 and 10.0L/100km no matter what you did or how hard you made it work. Its real world figure was very impressive despite the lack of finesse and refinement.

Interestingly, the new HiLux isn’t as frugal as the outgoing model powered by the old engine, but it is still almost comically efficient in real world terms. Against an ADR claim of 8.5L/100km, we saw an indicated return of 11.9L/100km – still efficient but not as close to the claim as we would have hoped. Some mechanics reckon that diesel engines work their way into their efficiency zone the more you drive them and that might be true of the new 2.8-litre. If you’ve bought one and it’s got more than 20 or 30,000km on it, let us know what you’re getting on average.

First up we hitch up the trailer, where the diesel’s power and torque come to the fore, the balance of the full chassis is reassuring at any speed, and the power steering system makes low speed manoeuvring a breeze. We loved the clarity of the rear-view camera when it came to lining up the tow ball and the general visibility is exceptional.

If you tow a trailer often, you’ll like the way the HiLux gets down to work. Hitching up the trailer with some weight in it does wonders for the pogo-like rear end, a ringing endorsement for actually using your HiLux for work. It improves the ride, so get out there and do it!

Off-road there are certain elements to a 4WDs offering that are non-negotiable if you want your passage to be as easy as possible. The HiLux has them covered. Quality diesel engine? Check. Durable automatic gearbox? Check. Proper low range gearing? Check. Rear diff lock? Definitely a bonus that you won’t need to use often, but it’s present and accounted for.

On sand, selecting low range deactivates traction and stability control properly and allows you to make uninterrupted progress. Unless the sand is particularly soft, you won’t even need to drop the tyres from road pressure, and the HiLux just ploughs on.

We pointed the SR5 at some craggy tracks, which got the wheel articulation working and yet we didn’t even need to use low range or the rear diff lock for that matter. The system is intrinsically competent and you’ll only need those two when the going gets really ugly.

The unladen ride, which is what we’d call average – on a good day – on-road comes into its own off-road where it works through its range of travel smoothly, soaks up bumps effortlessly and rides comfortably.

The HiLux is as capable, rugged and keen to absorb punishment as it ever was. Off-road, we’d call it utterly unruffled no matter what you throw at it. The low range argument will be an interesting one going forward. An Amarok tackled the same off-road work on our day of testing with constant 4WD and no low-range, such is it’s clever traction control systems. For now though, low range is an important off-road tool for any serious work, and the HiLux has a system as good as any in the class.

The 2016 Toyota HiLux is by no means perfect and in SR5 guise it isn’t cheap either. What it is though, is incredibly capable and effortless. Our main bugbear is the unladen ride, which is awful when weighed up against the competition. Look past that though, and you’ll find a pickup that is primed to do any hard work you have in mind.

It doesn’t take much time off the beaten track to work out why the HiLux has been both legendary and popular for Toyota in Australia. I don’t see any reason that will change anytime soon either.