FIRST DRIVE | Putting the new Toyota Hilux through its off-road paces
You can guarantee that Gerotek testing facility in Tshwane will expose any deficiencies a vehicle may have.
From its high-speed, dynamic sections, to the Belgian paving and corrugations of the suspension track, it is a punishing automotive torture chamber that can and will shake down subpar engineering.
The Armscor-owned venue also features a range of formidable off-road courses, some carved into the hills, in which an eerie, resounding silence makes a person feel slightly uneasy. At Gerotek, nobody can hear you scream.
It was the chosen proving ground for the updated 2020 Toyota Hilux this week. And if you needed any more description as to the calibre of the place, consider that while we were doing our business, a contingent was simultaneously putting a military vehicle through its paces.
The revised styling of the latest pick-up caught their attention, just as their machine piqued ours. Observers will spot the added visual artillery with ease: it is unmistakably different, not merely the recipient of tweaks to the door handles or mud-flaps.
A reminder that this current, eighth-generation Hilux was first launched in 2016. Everyone will agree that the current version is a far-cry from the initial contender, with its questionable under-bite that many lamented.
Customers will also notice that the workhorse-orientated SRX version has been culled, replaced by the Raider grade in the middle, while the utility-aimed S and SR derivatives continue below it.
Driven here is the flagship Legend model grade, which wears the changes rather well. Note the redesigned headlamps, more assertive grille and bumper treatment, two-tone, 18-inch wheels and liberal body cladding.
An RS accessory package is also available for the Legend. But before you whip out your racing suit, we should mention that RS in this case stands for roller-shutter: ticking this option box adds a motorised load-bay cover, in addition to a rubberised liner and what Toyota calls an assisted tailgate.
But if those connotations of the RS acronym stirred the spirit, take heart that the 2.8 GD-6 engine powering the Legend has been massaged to give more.
A larger turbocharger, plus a cylinder block claimed to be higher in rigidity and a new exhaust manifold ups power by 20kW and 50Nm, the latter applying to the automatic derivative only. Total output is now 150kW and 500Nm.
The additional grunt was demonstrated on a steep 45-degree slope, up which the Legend trundled steadily, without breaking a sweat, in low-range, with the four-wheel drive system ensuring unflappable traction. Then we drove in the opposite direction to check if the hill-descent control function worked, which it did, dutifully actuating the brakes on behalf of the driver, working with the laws of gravity.
It sauntered happily over most obstacles we encountered – the only part of our drive that necessitated engaging the differential-lock was a slippery-sliding mud bath, formed after the previous night of showers.
Toyota says that retuned spring rates, shock absorbers and suspension bushes have made it more competent on the bitumen. Our seat-time was limited to this off-road stint and we hope to glean more about its purportedly improved daily driving mannerisms on a road test soon. But its prowess in conquering the wilderness remains irreproachable.
There is more in the way of technology, too. The cabin sports a new, eight-inch infotainment system with the essential Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility. All models in the range feature the Toyota Connect system with on-board Wi-Fi, including 15 GB of complimentary data. Toyota Connect is linked to a smartphone application, with services that even include being able to renew your vehicle licence online.
The Legend packs a suite of driver assistance systems, including a pre-collision warning function, lane-departure alert and adaptive cruise control. Not new for the segment, though certainly a first for the Hilux.
Pricing for the Toyota Hilux double-cab Legend ranges between R696,200 (2.8 GD-6 2WD automatic) and R765,300 (4.0 V6 4x4 automatic). A more affordable 2WD manual model is imminent.