Dakar edition features, such as the bull bar, celebrate Giniel de Villiers success with Toyota on the gruelling Dakar Rally.
Dakar edition features, such as the bull bar, celebrate Giniel de Villiers success with Toyota on the gruelling Dakar Rally.
But Dakar bling cannot disguise the fact that the Hilux is growing old.
But Dakar bling cannot disguise the fact that the Hilux is growing old.
Leather seats raise the luxury feel of the cabin.
Leather seats raise the luxury feel of the cabin.

ROAD TEST: Toyota Hilux 3.0 D-4D 4x4 Dakar Edition

In the one-ton bakkie arena, no name is as hallowed as the Hilux.

With its reputation for ruggedness, and helped by Toyota’s vast dealer footprint, the Hilux flies out of showrooms as fast as Toyota can build them in its Durban factory – it is in fact South Africa’s all-time best-selling vehicle.

The iconic bakkie came to our offices for a revisit recently, sporting a limited-edition Dakar edition that commemorates Giniel de Villiers finishing second in the 2013 Dakar Rally in South America. It features various bits of Dakar-branded bling including the stainless steel nudge bar, roll bar and side steps, along with smoky grey alloy wheels and a black tonneau cover.

In the cabin, the Dakar package includes red stitching on the black leather upholstery and carpets, plus a reverse camera.

SHOWING ITS AGE

There’s nothing mechanically new on the current-generation Hilux which has been on the market since 2005, and was upgraded in 2011, but it’s been a few years since we road-tested one and we wanted to see how Toyota’s best-seller stood up to competition from the likes of Ford, Isuzu and Mazda, which have recently launched newer-generation one-tonners.

Our test steed was the top-of-the-range diesel version, the Hilux 3.0 D-4D double-cab 4x4 Raider selling for R473 700 and powered by the tried-and-trusted four-cylinder turbodiesel engine packing outputs of 120kW and 343Nm.

This was class-leading musclepower back when this Hilux was launched in 2005, but eight years on it finds itself at the bottom of the power pile trailing its competitors (see list of rivals below).

And it’s not only on paper that the wrinkles are beginning to show. Compared to its rivals (we’ve driven them all) there’s noticeable turbo lag to overcome in the Hilux and the D-4D engine easily gets stuck in a dead spot if the revs drop.

NOT A RELAXED DRIVE

As a result it’s not a very relaxed drive and takes a bit of work by the driver to keep the engine in its powerband, not made easier by a notchy five-speed manual transmission that doesn’t like being hurried.

The 1840kg towing capacity (braked trailer) has also fallen behind the game, with rivals such as the Isuzu KB offering up to 3500kg.

However, there’s still plenty of gutsy grunt available and the diesel engine is well suited to off-roading, where it makes light work of climbing steep hills, and the high compression ensures good engine braking down steep descents.

In really rough terrain the Hilux copes very well, thanks to its low-range gear, all-wheel drive and rear differential lock. Together with its lofty 227mm ride height and generous entry and departure angles, there aren’t many off-road obstacles this rugged bakkie can’t handle.

SELF-LOCKING HUBS

Going from two to four-wheel can be done on the move and the front wheel hubs are self-locking. However, shifting between two and four-wheel drive requires operating an old-fashioned gear lever instead of the easier push-button method found in some rivals.

Coil springs are fitted at the front in place of the the torsion bars found in older-generation Hiluxes. This has lessened the kidney-shaking somewhat, although the ride’s still bouncy without a load in the back.

As part of the 2011 upgrade the Hilux’s passenger quarters were made more plush and car-like.

The dashboard is hard plastic instead of the classier-feeling soft-touch type but it’s neatly finished, while the leather seats raise the cabin’s luxury feel.

WELL KITTED

The Raider comes smartly specced with standard features including electric windows, air conditioning, automatic headlights, trip computer and remote central locking. There are front, side and curtain airbags for a softer landing in a crash, and vehicle stability control with antilocking brakes to help prevent such calamities in the first place.

Entertainment and connectivity have joined the 21st century and Raider models have a display audio system integrating the RDS radio, CD player, and iPod and USB connecting ports. The system will display iPod cover art, track listings and song titles, phone numbers via the Bluetooth mobile phone connection as well as radio stations on the colour screen.

EASY ACCESS

Ergonomics are well considered too, with the radio and ventilation system mounted high up on the dash for easy access to the driver. However, an irritation was that the air recirculate function would often switch on by itself.

The steering wheel is height-adjustable to suit different-sized drivers, though would be better if there were reach adjustment too. Passenger room is very generous and rugby-sized passengers will fit comfortably in the rear, while access to the rear seat is also good through wide-opening doors.

There’s plenty of cabin stowage space including a large lidded bin between the front seats, and cupholders that fold out from the dashboard.

All Hilux models are sold with a three-year or 100 000km warranty and five-year or 90 000km service plan.

VERDICT

Despite the introduction of more powerful and modern new rivals – most of which also undercut it in price – Toyota Hilux remains the country’s best selling vehicle thanks to its bulletproof reputation. It stands as testament that an eight-year old vehicle – albeit upgraded two years ago – can still top the sales charts.

However, the old faithful’s age is beginning to show, particularly in the engine department, and buyers who aren’t bedazzled by brand loyalty will find better performance elsewhere. - Star Motoring

PRICE:

Toyota Hilux 3.0 D-4D DC 4x4 Raider Dakar Edition (120kW/343Nm) - R473 700

ALTERNATIVES

Ford Ranger 3.2 DC 4x4 XLT (147kW/470Nm) - R467 600

Mazda BT-50 3.2 DC 4x4 SLE (147kW/470Nm) - R440 700

Nissan Navara 2.5 dCi DC 4x4 LE (140kW/450Nm) - R475 900

Isuzu KB 300 DTeq DC 4x4 LX (130kW/380Nm) - R454 900

VW Amarok 2.0 BiTDi DC Highline 4Motion (132kW/400Nm) - R464 700

Mitsubishi Triton 2.5 DI-D 4x4 DC (131kW/400Nm) - R419 900

Follow Denis Droppa on Twitter.

Keep in touch with us on Facebook.