I don’t think there is another new vehicle segment that is as fast-moving and competitive as the 4X4 ute scene. There’s plenty of money to be made, but you’ve got to pump a lot of cash into developing a constantly improved product to stay with the pack.
It’s not a simple case of basic improvements either, and manufacturers won’t be able to get away with special sticker packs only. Volkswagen and Mercedes are bringing V6 diesels back into the schedule in Australia, while the Ranger Raptor gives some hardcore suspension and chassis tuning for a seriously fast off-road ute.
Toyota has taken a slightly different tack again, with their HiLux Rugged X. For them, it’s about proper additions and mods that make sense for the Australian 4WDer and tourer, giving the HiLux a real leg-up against the competition. Here is what we love about it.
Steel, where it counts
It’s heavy, cumbersome and expensive to manufacture. Plus, many non-4WDers seem to think barwork is only there to maim pedestrians in the suburbs. But, there’s a good reason why your chassis isn’t made of composite or thin sheet metal.
When you’re looking for the best in strength and durability, good old steel often ranks as one of the best options. The good news about the HiLux Rugged X is that it’s sporting three well-designed sets of steel barwork. Front, back and middle.
The Rugged X is the most expensive form of HiLux you can buy. But thankfully, that chrome-finished plastic rubbish has been designated for the bin. Toyota didn’t do the other sin, of just slapping a bit of matte black around the place and starting marketing it as ‘tough’. They’ve actually spent time developing mods that make it a better off-roader.
Although the rear bumper looks relatively similar in design to a normal rear bumper, this unit is made of steel, and gives some decent protection to your rear end and exposed corners. Crappy side steps have been binned as well, replaced by a set of proper slider steps. These are designed to slide over obstacles off-road and protect your sills from damage. Plus, you can also use them to step into the car! Amazing!
And of course, the biggest and most noticeable of the barwork is what resides up-front. This hoop-less design doesn’t offer as much protection as a traditional unit, especially around the upper parts of the radiator. Your protection is still quite solid, and you get the added benefit of an integrated light bar and improved approach angles. Which brings me onto my next point …
Improved off-road clearance
The HiLux has been fitted with stiffer front springs to help accommodate the extra weight, but Toyota hasn’t gone to the effort of giving the Rugged X a total lift like the HSV SportsCat or Ranger Raptor. Although the belly is at roughly the same place as before, your overall off-road clearance is markedly improved. The approach angle is now 28 degrees, and 49 around the wheels, compared to 30 before. The departure and ramp overs angles are better as well thanks to the improved design. Steel bits also mean you can use every last bit of that clearance off-road and not risk catastrophic damage so easily.
Additional 12V fitment
It’s not too often you look under the bonnet of a ute these days and squeal with excitement, but that’s kind of what I did when I first popped the bonnet on a new HiLux. No, the modestly powered 2.8-litre motor doesn’t get me that hot under the collar… It was the big space ready for a 2nd battery, complete with rivnuts for mounting. What’s more, just next door is an auxiliary fuse panel, ready for clean and easily diagnosable wiring. I know, it’s not really that big of a deal. But it’s just really nice to see a manufacturer catering for all those folk who are going to be adding some extra gear to their 4WD.
Rated off-road recovery points.
This is probably the most exciting piece of steel for a 4WD writer like myself to see: actual recovery points, properly rated for off-road use. There’s a universe of difference between a tie-down or tow point, compared to a recovery point. The recovery point needs to be able to handle huge shock loads at wide angles, with a decent safety margin. And these units, designed and built by ARB, do just that. You have two points at the front and rear, meaning you won’t need any more.
Aussie-led design and engineering
It has been a long time since you could buy an Australian-made 4X4, and even car manufacturing has fallen by the wayside in recent years. Where real growth and leadership is happening these days is with design, development, testing and engineering.
Toyota has a team of over 150 individuals in Australia who can work on the design, development and execution of a new model to the lineup. With the HiLux Rugged X, Toyota also leaned heavily on other parts of Australian history. Along with ARB recovery points and sliders, an Australian military company called Frontline Australiasia make the barwork, EGR do the tonneau covers and Narva make the light bar.
What is it missing, or what can be improved?
Tyres: The stock Bridgestone Duelers are never going to be a world-beating off-road tyre, unfortunately. But, that can be fixed. Toyota do offer a BF-Goodrich all-terrain tyre from the factory floor as an option, or you have virtually limitless options for replacement wheels and tyres from the aftermarket. We reckon adding a touch of offset and diameter would improve the HiLux even more off-road, and make it look a bit better in the process.
Canopy: This is a no-brainer for someone looking to do some touring. Add a canopy onto the back of a Rugged X will give you the ability to fit out a primo storage and camping setup, giving you an awesome base for a touring rig. You’ll lose the functional, load-rated sports bar, but we reckon that’s all right because you’ll gain a lot more.
Suspension: The suspension is there, yes. But, it’s something that can be easily improved. We’re not talking about just a lift here, even though that will improve off-road clearance. The suspension is definitely on the firm side of things for a ute, and shocks are fairly typical in terms of performance. Depending on your own wants and setup, you can fine-tune the HiLux with some quality aftermarket gear to get it exactly where you want it. That’s what I’d be doing, anyway.
Air filtration: This is a bit of a bone to pick with Toyota, and something we need to mention. We have experienced problems with the HiLux airbox in some previous testing, and have also consulted an expert in automotive filtration on his thoughts on the problem. It seems to be only a problem in very dusty conditions, and something that can perhaps be managed with some minor fixes and a bit more attention. But still, it’s a problem you need to be aware of.
- On-road performance - 75%75%
- off-road performance - 85%85%
- For the family - 75%75%
- for the 4WD tourer - 80%80%
Aside from the documented problems around the airbox, the HiLux is still one of the best options for off-road capability and 4WD touring. Traction control is class-leading, and the additions to the Rugged X only improve it. There are better utes on-road, no doubt. But we reckon off-road is where the party’s at.