The Hi-Lux legend was forged way back in the days before the notion of a lifestyle pick-up ever occurred to anyone. But with this latest model, Toyota is aiming for more of the all-important SUV character.
To do this, it has stiffened the truck’s frame and given it a more upmarket cabin. There’s a new 2.4-litre diesel engine, too, which brings efficiency up to date – but over the piece, this is still a work truck at heart. In the way it looks, feels and sounds, it’s as strong as an ox, and its mighty off-road capabilities remain untouched by the march of progress.
That engine has 148bhp and 295lb ft, allowing the Hi-Lux to tow the legal maximum of 3.5 tonnes. Toyota expects most buyers to choose the auto option tested here, which means 36.2mpg and 204g/km (the manual improves on both figures by about 10%, and costs £1250 less).
The box works smoothly, only getting flustered if you absolutely floor it, but even then it gets you moving briskly enough. Similarly, the engine raises its voice under hard acceleration, but overall there’s nothing to complain about – even if it’s not up to SUV standards of refinement.
The same can be said of its door mirrors, which create a bit of wind noise at speed. But that’s because they’re big, which means you get a good view in them. This is a 3.5-tonne tow truck, remember…
Besides, work truck or not this new Hi-Lux is generous inside in the space it gives you to stretch out and relax. The driving position is very good, and equally roomy rear seats mean its family car credentials are totally credible. It’s all trimmed out with good quality materials, too, which are definitely more SUV-like, though of course the SUV market is moving on apace too and the likes of Bentley and Maserati are unlikely to lose much sleep over anything you can get your VAT back on.
Still, with cruise, air-con, DAB and a 4.2” media system, the mid-range Icon model tested here is no mug. Spend another £2500 on the range-topping Invincible and you get climate, 18” rims and a posher dash, and Toyota expects most punters to do just that.
Either way, the Hi-Lux now steers with more precision and rides less fussily, though there’s the inevitable bouncing from the rear springs if you run it unladen on rough roads. They need to be able to hold up a tonne, don’t forget – though that doesn’t stop them flexing well over rough terrain, where a proper dual-ratio transfer case and live rear axle with locking diff mean it’s as much in its element as ever.
None of this is the stuff of modern SUVs, though. So how does the Hi-Lux shape up in its bid to compete as a family car?
The answer is that if you need, or want, or just fancy a truck, or of course if the prospect of making a killing on tax has reeled you in, this latest version of Europe’s favourite pick-up means making less compromises than ever.
Those compromises do still exist. The Hi-Lux is a big beast whose sheer length you may find awkward, and while a pick-up bed may be handy for builders it needs to be accessorised with some sort of cargo cover if you want to use it like a conventional boot. Overall, it doesn’t drive as well as the best modern SUVs, either.
But in every way, it gets closer than ever. And if a pick-up is on your radar, it surely gets close enough to make a rock solid case for itself.
Toyota Hi-Lux Double Cab Icon
On sale: Now
Price: £25,880 (excluding VAT, commercial vehicle price)
Engine: 4 cyls, 2393cc, diesel
Power: 148bhp at 3400rpm
Torque: 295lb ft at 1600-2000rpm
Gearbox: 6-spd automatic
Kerb weight: 2095kg
Top speed: 106mph
Economy: 36.2mpg (combined)