Always check if something doesn’t feel right. It’s a lesson I had a gentle reminder of when I took the new Hilux to the in-laws’ farm on the Coromandel Peninsula. I’ve driven various models of Hilux before and they’ve always been accomplished, reliable utes, so the snap oversteer at low speed in the wet coming up the winding hill on Auckland’s Domain was a bit of a surprise. The traction control deftly reined it in a fraction quicker than I could apply opposite lock – that was unusual as we were only doing 20-25kph.
The second reminder was that on the open road the Hilux was ‘jiggly’…overly so. But I put this down to it being a ute with nothing in that back, and that if there was half a ton of hay and sheep in there it would settle the suspension down. Driving up the Thames coast wasn’t particularly pleasant at times, but you wouldn’t expect the Hilux to be a demon in the corners.
Once at the farm, which has some nice steep tracks, we decided to do a bit of light off-roading, even though the supplied tyres are barely mud oriented – really just chunky road tyres. Some light rain that had passed over the hard-packed clay soon made the going treacherous and we hit a small drainage rut that slid the Hilux sideways towards a stand of manuka that, while sparing us from dropping down a steep bank, wouldn’t have made the paintwork that flash.
I made the executive decision that we should probably stop at that point, as my significant other (who grew up on the farm) knew that the track got worse further on, and we were having small moments of being out of control.
As there was nowhere to turn around, reversing 150m back up the track was the only option. Except that putting it in reverse yielded zero grip and saw us edging perilously sideways towards the trees. “I’m letting some air out of the tyres,” I said, secretly hoping that the embarrassment of having to be pulled out by the family’s digger like one previous visitor who lost his ute down a bank wouldn’t become a reality.
I let out what I thought must be around 5-10 pounds of pressure, gave it a bit of a nudge forward to get us out of the rut then stopped to assess the prospect of reversing this beast up a track cut into the side of a fairly steep slope. There was vertical cutting to hit on the driver’s side, and small stands of manuka, fence posts or steep drop-offs on the passenger’s side.
The Hilux is not the easiest car to reverse, either. In the city it’s a bit of a problem to park because it’s difficult to judge where the rear ends. Driving backwards uphill on a rutted, slippery track no more than twice the width of the Hilux started to look daunting.
The fear of calling in the cavalry was greater than the fear of damaging the Hilux, so we gave it a go. With the new-found grip, low-range enabled, and me craning my neck around, the Hilux pulled backwards up the track with surprising aplomb and a couple of minutes later we were on the safer, flatter grassy area, adrenaline still coursing, though.
After taking the photos you see here, we headed back to the farmhouse and checked the tyre pressures. The suggested tyre pressures are 29 psi for all four wheels. The actual tyre pressures (after I’d removed air) were 30, 30, 30 and 26. No wonder our ride was bumpy and uncomfortable! There was probably 5-7psi too much air in the tyres. The Hilux isn’t useless offroad after all, and needless to say, the ride back toAuckland was a good deal more comfortable.
We’ve established that with the correct tyre pressures it’s going to be a reasonably capable ute, even on road tyres, but getting a real farmer’s opinion on the ute was invaluable after the better half’s brother had a ride up on the farm’s airstrip.
The first problem was the aforementioned reversing. Despite reversing sensors being of negligible cost these days, the Hilux doesn’t have them, and the wing mirrors are not anything special. Farmers reverse frequently to load things into the tray, so reversing sensors would be a huge advantage. Secondly (and this won’t apply to people driving on the road), when you’re traveling 30m between gates and need to keep jumping out of the ute, the constant beeping of the seat belt warning was very irritating. Third, the family has the same model of this ute, but the 2006 vintage with a flat tray. The criticism was that the new ute just has more bulky, plasticky bodywork that’s easy to damage.
As with many utes, there is nowhere to hide anything in the cabin. If you need to park it anywhere, you’ll need to take everything in it with you unless you want to be a target for thieves. There’s also no telescopic adjustment for the steering wheel.
This Hilux has had exterior changes to everything forward of the A pillar, and a new set of tail lights. It’s got plenty of torque, the back seat comfortably sits three, and the 3-litre diesel didn’t seem to be too thirsty on the trip from Auckland to Coromandel town and back – it used just under half a tank.
The interior is sufficiently utilitarian with rubber mats, reasonable sized glove box and central binnacle, and cup and bottle holders available on the dash and in the door. The fold-down rear gate also has 4 cup holders.
Does the Hilux pull through the mire, or is it on a slippery slope to nowhere? The version we tested (the 4×4 non-SR5 manual, dual cab, wellside) probably won’t be the model serious farmers will go for – they’ll want a different tray, and will definitely change the tyres. But for hobby farmers and people whose occupation takes them into the rough areas the Hilux performs extremely well and is a good alternative to Misubishi’s Triton.
- Tough, plenty of torque and capable off-road
- Proven lineage
- Lots of airbags
- Manual gearbox is positive for a ute
- Some of the specs (e.g. towing) don’t match its competition
- It’s a bit agricultural – VW Amarok, although a few thousand more expensive, is much more refined
- Not easy to reverse
- 219 g/km CO2 emissions
- Improved dash, combination meter and steering wheel design.
- AM/FM radio with single disc in-dash MP3/WMA CD player, audio input jack, USB connection, Bluetooth hands-free and Bluetooth audio streaming, Bluetooth phonebook access profile, voice control for audio and phone, 3 line text display, radio text, 2 speakers and security system.
- Rear seat with height adjustable headrests and extra under seat storage compartments.
- Air conditioning with clean air filter.
- High grade seat fabric and vinyl floor coverings
- Deck guard frame with double walled utility deck with outer tie-down hooks with left and right latched drop-down rear tail gate.
- Bod- coloured radiator grille and painted rear step bumper.
- 17″ steel wheels
- 3.0 turbo diesel, 5 speed manual
- Front automatic disconnecting differential (ADD) and standard rear differential.
- Min ground clearance of 227mm.
- Max towing capacity of 2500kg braked and 750kg unbraked
- Vehicle stability control (VSC)
- Electronic brake force distribution (EBD)
- Brake Assist (BA)
- 8 airbags.
- Seat belts with pre-tensioners and force limiters.
- Engine immobiliser
Words and photos: Darren Cottingham and Vanessa James. Pictured: Tristan James and farm mutts.