2021 Toyota HiLux SR5 Review: Is the new HiLux just more of the same?

2021 Toyota HiLux SR5 Review

Toyota HiLux has copped its first update in years but has Toyota done enough to keep this thing at the pointy end of a newer pack?

This is the first major update to the HiLux since it was released in 2015 and while there have been some big changes to things like the engine, in other areas it feels like time has largely stood still. But for the HiLux faithful that won’t matter because they’ll be clinging to the power bump and ignoring everything else.

And that power bump seems like a pretty good place for us to kick off this review. The 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine was poked and prodded and both more power and torque found hiding away in the corners. Power is up to 150kW and torque has grown to 500Nm (as long as you’ve stumped for the automatic transmission).

The extra oomph hasn’t transformed the HiLux into a powerhouse but it has made it easier to drive everywhere. Whether you’re around town or overtaking on the highway, the HiLux just feels fitter, rather than faster, if you catch my drift.

There haven’t been any changes to the transmission; it’s the same six-speeder as before. And, not having driven the manual version, I can’t speak as to how it feels. Remember that if you go for a manual HiLux you’re only getting 450Nm of torque.

While we had the HiLux it spent time on the highway, country back roads, some slow-crawl dirt roads, and around town and it was comfortable and easy. We even towed a trailer load of rubbish weighing around 700kg for 100km and the HiLux didn’t notice it at all.

2021 Toyota HiLux SR5 Review

Speaking of towing, the HiLux has had its braked towing capacity raised to 3500kg but like all these 3500kg ratings you’ll need to dig into the detail because you won’t actually be able to tow the full 3500kg and fit anything in your vehicle. We’ll write up a separate story crunching the numbers. Stay tuned.

What I did notice though was that the engine braking wasn’t amazing. Down steep hills I was constantly having to brake to keep within the speed limit. Even manually dropping down a gear or two the thing would try and run away and you’d need to ride the brakes. It’s not in the same league as the new D-Max which has amazing engine braking, for instance.

2021 Toyota HiLux SR5 Review

So, while the engine definitely feels stronger it won’t blow you away, but it’s a step up many using the thing for work and camping duties will appreciate, and it works well with the six-speed automatic transmission.

The suspension was also tweaked and I’ve got to say where the old HiLux was like a pogo stick until it had a weight in the tray, this new one is a lot more comfortable when you’re not lugging a load. It still doesn’t like sharp edged hits at low speed where the thump will jiggle through the cabin but it’s now a much more comfortable vehicle to drive.

And it turns in better too and generally just feels more stable when you’re driving without a load. And that was the one area the HiLux needed to improve its game, having fallen a long way behind vehicles like Ford Ranger, VW Amarok, and even Nissan Navara (after the third update of that thing, anyway). It’s now closer to the front runners but still lacks the overall refinement of its key rivals, but those who want to use it for work won’t care, they’ll appreciate the improvements.

2021 Toyota HiLux SR5 Review

We didn’t do any hardcore wheeling while we had the HiLux because it was the on-road performance we wanted to get to grips with as that was what Toyota said it had improved. The other reason was because the tyres were on-road oriented they were like slicks on the lumps and bumps we did drive across. All you need to know is that the HIlux was good off-road before and it’s still good now, and is better on-road now too.

So, engine, ride and handling tweaks, check. But the elephant in the room is the issue HiLux has had with dust and DPF. Now, it reckons it’s sorted out the dust issues and has suggested more frequent cleaning of the air filter, and for owners to consider turning around their snorkel heads in dusty conditions. Toyota blamed dust electrostatically sticking to the mass airflow sensor. And a service bulletin back in 2018 even suggested mechanics spend two minutes blowing compressed air through the intake system to clear it of dust. Hmm.

But what about the DPF? Well, that’s harder for me to comment on because I only had the HiLux for a week and it didn’t go into limp home mode. Toyota recently increased the warranty on its DPFs and that’s undoubtedly good news given the problems it’s had. While the DPF didn’t fail while I had the car, it did perform three regenerations in the week I had the vehicle which I thought was pretty odd indeed. I’m wondering if Toyota has reduced the threshold on its DPFs before a regen is performed and, if it has, I wonder what effect that might have on the longevity of the DPF because remember, these things have a lifespan.

2021 Toyota HiLux SR5 Review

Back to some of the changes. On the inside, our tester was fitted with the SR5 + Premium Interior which means leather seats and electric adjust for the driver’s seat. Yep, that means cloth is standard which is interesting given that all of this model’s competitors get a leather interior as standard.

The seats are comfortable enough and there’s good vision all around. The dashboard is full of hard, scratchy plastic and is dominated by an 8.0-inch infotainment screen with hard controls rather than the touchscreen only of the old model. You now get Apple and Android connectivity but the display isn’t as high-resolution as you get in some competitors and it washes out horribly in full sun.

The back seat will fit three adults but two will be more comfortable and there’s enough angle on the backrest that it’s not horrible for longer drives. It’s also one of the few rigs that offers air vents for the back seat.

2021 Toyota HiLux SR5 Review

The tray is the same as before with the tie-down points part way up the sides of the tray. What baffled me was the lack of a tub liner. Sure, most people will fit their own but for the money, most of the competitors are offering tub liners of varying quality.

2021 Toyota HiLux SR5 Review

Look beyond the marketing hype and the new Hilux is more of a step forward than a giant leap. Toyota has done the stuff that needed doing urgently, like the engine and the ride but left much of the other stuff alone. That won’t bother rusted-on HiLux fans but given the dizzying array of choices, I’m left wondering whether it couldn’t or maybe shouldn’t have done more…who am I kidding, this thing will sell like hotcakes whether it should or not.

The end.

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