Driven: Toyota Hilux Extra Cab Review

Ask any member of the public what they know about the Toyota Hilux and they’ll tell you that it’s indestructible. And they’re right; BBC’s Top Gear tried repeatedly to kill an old Hilux, quite genuinely, and succeeded only in proving how tough it is.

It’s surely no coincidence that it’s the best selling pickup truck in both Australia and South Africa, territories where you need dependability as well as ability.

It loses out in the UK though, the double-cab pickup market dominated by lifestyle vehicles that can be used as a viable family car when not expected to be carrying a tonne of goods around – assuming they ever do.

But are we missing a trick by focussing only on double cabs? Is a more utilitarian option the better choice? We take a look at the extended cab version of the Hilux, in commercial Active spec, to see if less is more.

Toyota Hilux Active Extra Cab

Toyota Hilux Extra Cab: Exterior

Bereft of all the bling, the Hilux somehow still manages to look right. Not a million dollars, not gloriously sexy. Just… right. If the unpainted grey bumper at the front isn’t a pointer that there won’t be anything unnecessary on this truck, the steel wheels will give the game away,

But, far from looking cheap and basic, they make the Hilux more purposeful. There’s an honesty about those 17-inch wheels that suggests it’s ready to get dirty and go wherever you need it to go.

The cab section, with its half-sized rear ‘suicide’ doors, looks better proportioned than the double cab. Every Hilux is the same length, regardless of the cab type, so that results in a longer load bed that’s almost exactly a third of the 5,330mm length of the truck, leaving a nicely balanced design.

The nose gets a lot of criticism for being perhaps a little dull, and it certainly lacks the overt aggression of the lifestyle trucks that dominate the roads, but it still suits the back to basics visuals of the rest of the Hilux. The revised Hilux due later this year will fix that, adding some bling and masculinity, but I’m not entirely convinced that’s for the better.

Toyota Hilux Active Extra Cab

Toyota Hilux Extra Cab: Interior

Toyota’s interior design has only recently started to catch up with the rest of the industry, so this Hilux has a cabin that’s certainly less smart than some of its rivals. In this entry-level Active trim, it’s also got a couple of reminders of the equipment you could have had if you, or your fleet manager, hadn’t tried to save a little money.

Chief amongst those is the panel where a large infotainment screen would normally sit. The panel is still there, but there’s just a small LCD display in the centre with some buttons to surround it. There’s no navigation or even DAB radio, so you’re limited to analogue radio or a single CD, all played out through just two speakers.

It jars against an otherwise uninspiring but functional design that works perfectly in the field. Chunky heating and ventilation controls can be operated while wearing gloves, and most buttons are big enough to prod without needing to be too accurate, which is handy when bouncing across a field.

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Even the steering wheel and gear lever are covered in plastic, rather than leather, which makes it a cinch to keep clean with nothing more than a damp cloth. The only visual excitement is a somewhat incongruous ‘aluminium’ section on the steering wheel.

It’s the victory of function over form that provides the appeal, though. Allied to comfortable seating in the front, with plenty of room all round, and some usable jump seats in the rear, and you’ll begin to wonder why you needed all the extras in the first place.

Toyota Hilux Active Extra Cab interior

Toyota Hilux Extra Cab: On the Road

Riding on all-terrain tyres, you wouldn’t expect the Hilux to be the sharpest tool on the road, and it’s not. However, while it lacks outright grip on tarmac thanks to those tyres, what is there is utterly predictable and therefore safe and secure.

On faster roads, the ride settles down nicely and leaves the Hilux feeling like a competent road car, although the tyre noise never dissipates. Slow down to urban speeds and the back bounces and shakes around, especially when unladen. It’s no worse than any other pickup, though.

There’s just the one engine option, which is an asthmatic 2.4-litre turbo diesel. This produces just 150hp, which is barely enough to keep the Hilux moving with other road traffic. A 0-62mph sprint time of 13.2 seconds on this manual gearbox model is as pedestrian as modern vehicles get, although the automatic model is marginally quicker.

It results in a truck that pleases and punishes at the same time; the former thanks to surprisingly compliant ride quality and predictable handling, the latter due to the effort you’ll have to make stirring the gearbox to make any significant progress.

Toyota Hilux Active Extra Cab seats

Toyota Hilux Extra Cab: Off Road

While that 2.4-litre engine isn’t quite up to the task on the tarmac, it’s a different matter off-road, where the 400Nm of torque helps shift the 2,065kg of Hilux through the rough stuff. You do need to be careful to engage four-wheel-drive though as the Hilux uses a part-time system, although you can engage off-road mode at speeds of up to 31mph.

Off-road prowess is aided by a suite of electronic aids, including stability control and traction control, and an electromagnetic rear differential lock. Hill-start assist is present too, although there’s no hill descent control on this Active specification. It’s that traction control system, called A-TRC, that sets the Hilux apart from its competitors, as it really is a step up on what’s available elsewhere. If you get stuck in this Hilux, especially with its all-terrain tyres, then you almost deserve it.

There is, as ever, one caveat; if you lock the rear-diff, the traction control system seemingly switches itself off. At that point, you’ve got excellent drive from the rear but a completely uncontrolled front. Unless you’ve got some very specific circumstances, leave it unlocked and let the computers work their magic.

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Approach angle (°)32Climbing angle limit (°)42.1
Departure angle (°)20Ground clearance (mm)289
Ramp angle limit (°)23Wading depth (mm)700
Side angle limit (°)45

Toyota Hilux Extra Cab: Payload and Towing

The Hilux Extra Cab has a lower payload than you might expect, at just 1,085kg. Surprisingly, that’s lower than the double-cab, despite having less bodywork to lug around. With a gross vehicle weight of 3,150kg and a kerb weight of 2,065kg, any additions above a hard top could see the payload drop below the one-tonne requirement for an LCV.

Care must be taken when towing, too. While the Hilux, along with most other pickup trucks, can pull a full 3.5-tonnes, a gross train weight limit of 5,850kg could leave as little 285kg for any payload – including the passengers. Load up the truck to the maximum and your towing limit drops to 2.7-tonnes.

When you are towing, the Hilux comes with trailer sway control across the entire range, helping to ensure stability on the road.

With a load deck that measures 1,808mm long, the shorter Extra Cab body pays off with a load area longer than any double cabs. Tie-down hooks fitted to the deck interior help secure loads, while a solid-feeling window protector adds a few more options to strap lighter objects to. The tailgate also has steel brackets to withstand heavy use but, at the same time, isn’t too heavy to lift up.

Kerb weight (kg)2,065Load bay length (mm)1,808
Gross vehicle weight (kg)3,150Load bay width (mm)1,540
Payload (kg)1,085Load bay height (mm)480
Gross vehicle mass (kg)5,850Load bay capacity (l)
Towing capacity braked (kg)3,500Towing capacity unbraked (kg)750

Toyota Hilux Extra Cab: Verdict

There isn’t long left before the new Toyota Hilux replaces this model, and that’s a shame. There’s got to be a place in this world for a pickup truck that doesn’t shout about its presence quite so aggressively while getting on with doing the tough work as well as anything else.

And it’ll do that work for some time, with Toyota backing its build quality with a five-year warranty, although one that’s limited to 100,00 miles. It won’t break the bank while covering that distance either, with our test model returning an impressive 30.2mpg over the week. Officially, it’ll manage 32.5mpg.

The total cost of ownership is competitive, too. Comparing this Hilux to a Ford Ranger Super Cab XL, the Toyota will cost marginally more in fuel and maintenance, but it claws all that back with significantly lower depreciation costs. That, in turn, means lower leasing costs, with the Hilux costing around £40 a month less than the Ford.

The Ford is brasher, and arguably better looking, but it’s the Toyota’s lack of flamboyance that nails the character of the truck. Honest, capable and trustworthy. It’s going to be a shame to lose that understated nature to the trend for cocksure arrogance.

Model tested: Toyota Hilux Active 4WD 3.5t Extra Cab

OTR price£26,320CV OTR price£21,987
Reclaimable VAT£4,333CV price range£20,428-£48,717