First Drive: Toyota Hilux Invincible

The Toyota Hilux is something of an anomaly in the UK. Globally, it sells like hotcakes, taking 40% of the total vehicle market in some African countries, dominating sales in Australia, and being relied upon in all sorts of distant and dangerous locations. In the UK, though, it accounts for just one in eight pickup sales.

Part of that is down to Toyota’s lack of a higher power model, with 70% of UK buyers opting for models with more than 175hp. With just 150hp, the Hilux just didn’t cut it.

That’s now been fixed, with the introduction of a 2.8-litre diesel unit that produces a healthy 204hp and 500Nm of torque. There are also some changes to the suspension to improve ride comfort, a restyle that adds some aggression, and some new equipment in the cabin, which Toyota is hoping is enough to steal sales from its more popular rivals.

Toyota Hilux: Exterior

The trend for a huge, bluff, aggressive front end has finally reached Toyota, with the Hilux taking on a large, hexagonal grille that sits above a revised front bumper.

The Invincible X model adds to that with a more dramatic grille surround that flows down to a skid plate, black chrome headlights, a plastic panel on the tailgate, and plastic trim around each wheel arch.

The overall effect, for both the regular models and the Invincible X, is quite significant, transforming the Hilux into a truck that looks modern and purposeful. However, some will mourn the loss of a more gentle, functional face.

Dimensions remain exactly as they did before (the Hilux measures 5,325mm long, within 4cm of the Amarok, Navara and Ranger) but that new front end, while no higher than before, makes it look and feel larger.

The Invincible model tested here sits on 18-inch wheels, with the grille surround in chrome, striking a fine balance between the commercial-focussed Active entry-level model and the lifestyle-friendly Invincible X.

The revised nose of the new Toyota Hilux

Toyota Hilux: Interior

Changes to the interior are few and far between, but you’ll need to step up from the Active grade to benefit from them. Opt for the Icon grade or above and you’ll get a new 8.0-inch touchscreen that operates the digital radio and other functions, and offers Bluetooth connectivity and, pleasingly, both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard.

Step up to the top of the range Invincible X and the system includes navigation, as well as a JBL sound system with nine speakers. The Active spec makes do with a simple FM radio and CD player, although you won’t find the latter on any other grades.

Pleasingly, the infotainment system is surrounded by physical buttons, allowing for quick access to most functions as well as providing a volume knob for rapid adjustments of the radio. That helps to ensure you keep your eyes on the road, minimising the need to look away and at the screen, and also giving something to aim for when being shaken around off-road.

New Toyota Hilux interior
[Invincible X model pictured]

It’s all wrapped up in a very car-like cabin, borrowing design cues from Toyota’s road car range, albeit constructed from somewhat harder plastics than you’ll find in a Camry.

Every model has air conditioning, with climate control on this Invincible model, although it’s only single-zone – your passenger can’t set the temperature to a different level, so you’ll have to agree on where to set it. There’s also adaptive cruise control, heated front seats, a leather-covered steering wheel and steering wheel mounted audio controls on this model.

Complaints are few and far between; we’d like to see a rubberised mat in the mobile-phone-sized cubby hole to prevent it sliding out, and the single USB port seems a bit stingy. We’re also not convinced by the paucity of equipment in the Active spec, but fleet buyers will love it.

Most things can be forgiven though, thanks to the inclusion of curry hooks in the rear. These flip down from the back of the front seats and mean you’ll never need to precariously balance your takeaways on the passenger seat again.

Toyota Hilux: On the Road

There have been some significant changes here, from engines to suspension, in an attempt to allow the Hilux to compete with the best in class.

The headline news is the new 2.8-litre that provides the pickup with the grunt it’s been missing out on. There’s 204hp to play with, and an impressive 500Nm of torque, which improves performance significantly. Pleasingly, it does that without impacting the economy or emissions, although neither is spectacular.

The headline 0-62mph dash drops from 12.8 seconds to 10.1 seconds but where it really makes a difference is when overtaking. No longer is passing another vehicle a fear-inducing matter, the truck picking up speed quickly and making for a safer experience.

The six-speed automatic gearbox keeps up, too, swapping rations when you mostly expect it to. There is a six-speed manual option available, which we haven’t tried, but that sees the engine tuned down to 420Nm of torque.

Driving the new Toyota Hilux

The combination transforms the Hilux, and that’s aided by changes to the suspension. The leaf springs remain at the rear, Toyota ignoring the temptation to go to SUV-like multi-link suspension and sticking with proven and reliable technology. The leaves have been lengthened and the dampers and bushes adjusted, both improving the ride quality for the truck while unloaded.

It’s better, although still firmer than you’ll find on the Ranger or Amarok. The obvious concern is that, as the truck has now been tuned to ride when empty, how will it behave when carrying a load? Unfortunately, we’ve not had the opportunity to put that to the test yet.

Toyota Hilux: Off Road

There was never much wrong with how the Hilux handles itself in the rough stuff, and its reputation remains unsullied – it’s as capable as ever, but a little easier to operate off-road.

Each Hilux is now fitted with variable flow control steering. What that means is that the steering is pleasingly light when in low range or when operating at low speeds, and gets progressively stiffer as velocity increases. Tight spots are easier, and motorway cruising feels more stable and predictable.

Toyota has also tuned the engine to idle at lower revs, now sitting at 680rpm rather than 850rpm. It’s a small change, but makes crawling more predictable, with less surge from the motor.

For less demanding action, there’s also an automatic limited-slip differential. Operating in two-wheel-drive mode, this sends power to the rear wheel with most grip and helps to ensure even grip and consistent acceleration. It requires you to switch off the traction control system before it operates, so you’ll need to know that you might need it, but it works very well and makes a forest track a piece of cake.

Axle twists in the new Toyota Hilux

Axle articulation is strong, with deep axle twist obstacles demonstrating just how far you can push the Hilux, while parking sensors all around can be utilised to figure out just how close you are to a tree stump you can’t see. On that note, while a reversing camera is fitted to Icon grades and above, the Hilux really could do with a forward-facing camera, too.

Approach angle (°)29Climbing angle limit (°)42.1
Departure angle (°)27Ground clearance (mm)310
Ramp angle limit (°)23Wading depth (mm)700
Side angle limit (°)45

Toyota Hilux: Payload and Towing

Let’s cover the basics first; the load bay is the same size as previously, so can accommodate a load that’s 1,525mm long and 1,540mm wide – although you’ll not squeeze it between the wheel arches as, like every pickup, they take up around 40cm.

Also as previously, every model of the Hilux will tow 3.5-tonnes quite happily. Each model also gets Toyota’s trailer sway control, a system that gently applies individual brakes to keep a truck and trailer in line if things start to get wobbly.

The upgrades to the truck, and the larger engine, has reduced the payload capability a little; the Invincible as tested is now rated at 1,085kg, with the Active grade double cab (which retains the existing 2.4-litre engine) able to take 1,105kg.

That leaves the Hilux some 75kg away from the best in class, the Nissan Navara, but 25kg ahead of the Mitsubishi L200’s 1,080kg limit.

Kerb weight (kg)Load bay length (mm)1,525
Gross vehicle weight (kg)3,210Load bay width (mm)1,540
Payload (kg)1,085Load bay height (mm)480
Gross vehicle mass (kg)6,300Load bay capacity (l)
Towing capacity braked (kg)3,500towing capacity unbraked (kg)750

Toyota Hilux: Verdict

The changes that Toyota has made to the Hilux have worked, and worked well. There’s no doubt it’s retained its legendary build quality, but it’s made the truck more accessible, more appealing and more entertaining.

The new engine transforms the truck, giving it the performance – especially in the mid-range – that was always lacking, and without impacting the economy. Officially, that’s as high as 33.2mpg. It is a little disappointing that the new power unit isn’t available outside of the Invincible models, as there are plenty of Active and Icon users who would appreciate the extra grunt.

The new Toyota Hilux

Despite that, the Hilux straddles the fine line between commercial vehicle and lifestyle enabler well, with models to suit industrial fleets and those wanting nothing more than to throw a couple of bikes in the back. The Invincible model will perform well under either set of demands, and is the only model to give you a choice of engines – although the £400 or so upgrade to the new unit will be worth every penny, especially come resale time.

All of this doesn’t come cheap, but Toyota has kept prices mostly in check. There’s been an average 6.5% rise across the range, with some going up a little more and some a little less, but it’s not a huge change. Despite the increase, at £30,803, the Invincible still undercuts the Ford Ranger Wildtrak (£33,586) and all but matches the Nissan Navara Tekna (£30,625), so you can make the argument that it’s good value for money.

Toyota wanted to improve its 1-in-8 market share, introducing the new engine and model changes in a bid to attract lifestyle consumers without alienating its core commercial users. Based on our road and trail test, it should have no difficulty in doing that.

Model Tested: Toyota Hilux Invincible 2.8 D-4D Double Cab Auto

OTR Price£36,900CV OTR Price£30,803
Reclaimable VAT£6,097CV Price Range£22,465 – £33,782