Johannesburg - Last week we unpacked the new Toyota Hilux range in detail, in terms of specification and derivative availability. Now, we are bringing you a scoop driving impression of the range-topping 2.8GD-6 Raider 4x4 Auto derivative that went on sale last week.

We tried something a little different with our Hilux test, handing the keys over to someone that has not spent much time behind a bakkie steering wheel before. I dreaded the worst kind of feedback from my colleague, who is accustomed to driving a compact, comfortable SUV on a daily basis.

The good news is that my colleague was simply blown away by the sheer presence of the bakkie, and its luxuriousness. Large, impending, purposeful; her Hilux drive was described to me as one of the most pleasurable experiences behind the wheel of a vehicle, apart from a little bounciness in terms of ride and handling, which is to be expected in an unladen workhorse.

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It was, however, keenly pointed out that Toyota has done away with fitting a vanity mirror on the driver’s side sun visor; a major no no according to my colleague. But, vanity mirror aside, I managed to wrangle the Hilux back for a few days to see what it is like to drive in traffic, to and from the office in the Johannesburg CBD, before taking a few dirt-road drives where possible.

The latest additions to the interior of the range-topping Hilux make it a rather sumptuous place to sit, particularly considering that at heart it is a workhorse.

A rigid and robust ladder frame chassis, with tried-and-tested suspension technology (double wishbone upfront and leaf spring at the the back) is not going to win any ride and handling contest, but its proves competent at changing direction and stopping and soaking up potholes.

Compared to the Ford Ranger Wildtrak I test drove last year, I found the Raider to ride with a little more composure over speed bumps and when braking on an undulating road surface too.

Being an automatic, driving the high-torque bakkie is as easy as can be, and even if you are not familiar with ‘bakkie dimensions’, you will find it easy to place in a lane or park in a mall shopping lot.

I did find, however, that a decent 360-degree camera system would make manoeuvring the bakkie easier. Sure, bakkies are not normally fitted with 360-degree cameras, but the Mercedes-Benz X-Class we had on test a little while back had them, and if Mercedes sees it fit for its bakkie, there is no reason why the best-selling bakkie in SA should not have such a system (even as an option).

Another key item missing from the test car was a leather interior. It comes with sleek Dakar edition-inspired black fabric seats, which look cool while they are new, but we would like to see what they look like after 10 000km. If you do buy one, talk to your dealer about leather fitment as an option.

Apart from my want for a nice camera system and leather in the Raider 4x4 Auto, there is not much else missing from the cabin. You get a decent air-conditioning system, electrically operated windows and mirrors, an adjustable steering wheel and multi-adjustable driver and passenger seat. Its stability control system also works well in reining in torque to the wheels on slippery surfaces.

The vehicle’s upgraded audio system takes some time to learn and become familiar with, and I did find it rather slow to respond at times, but it is capable of supporting iPhone and Android phone apps. The coolest ‘feature’ for me, though, is a nifty LCD screen in the middle of the instrument cluster that plays a short clip of a sporty Hilux each time you switch the ignition on. It is a gimmick, sure, but it is a cool gimmick on a bakkie.

On the road, you are sitting in a nice commanding driving position, while the lack of a clutch pedal means a more relaxed drive. You still get a diff-lock, and shift-on-the-fly 4x4 modes, which you can engage when tackling off-road trails.

I drove the Hilux, mostly, in 2H (rear-wheel drive mode) and found it to be responsive to inputs on the road and on the dirt. Where the dirt surfaces got a little too slippery, 4H (four-wheel drive mode) added some confidence to go a little faster.

You can shift gears manually in the Raider 4x4 Auto, apparently, but whenever I went into manual mode by tapping the shifter to ‘manual’ it reverted to 4th gear. It is also a bit too slow to respond to shift commands, but can work well when you need to select particular gears in off-road circumstances. Rather just stick the gear shifter into auto mode when driving on the daily grind and let the engine carry you on its wave of torque.

The 2.8GD-6 (130kW and 450Nm) diesel engine fitted to the bakkie is the same unit that has been doing duty in the Hilux since the range was launched a few years ago. Thanks to its turbocharger, it feels meaty and able to haul. It is also surprisingly frugal too, because I genuinely expected to average around 11 to 12 litres per 100km on the test cycle.

It used 9.5l/100km over a period of a week in a combined cycle.

VERDICT

Toyota’s Hilux is a best-seller for many reasons; its build quality, its reliability and its resale value. But it is also a best-seller because it is backed up by one of the largest networks of dealers and workshops in the country. You know that when you buy a Hilux, you are buying something that is going to last, and that if you need to change vehicles at some point, you can take it back to a dealer and receive fair value for it. In an increasingly competitive light commercial segment, the Hilux has all the right stuff to make it a number-1 vehicle. 

Sure, it is getting pricey now, with our test car coming in at around R621 000, but you do get a whole lot of capability for your money. It comes with a 9-services/90 000km Service Plan and 3-year/100 000km warranty.

I’d have one in a heartbeat, in black, with beefy off-road wheels and tyres, please.

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