There’s a new model 4X4 ute in town, and this one is actually worth talking about: The Toyota HiLux Rugged X. Rather than travel down that same well-worn path they (and every other manufacturer, for that matter) have been down before with model tweaks than barely go skin deep, Toyota has opted to get serious.
Take a HiLux SR5 worth $56,440, throw $7,250 worth of budget into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a HiLux Rugged X. Let’s break down what that extra spend gets you.
The most noticeable thing is a winch-compatible steel front bullbar and alloy bash plate up front, which is hiding a 120-watt LED light bar just below the grille. Along the side is a set of bona-fide slider steps, and the rear bumper (and integrated towbar) is a sturdy steel unit as well. There’s also 2 proper rated recovery points fitted fore and aft, which make makes safe off-road recoveries a much more achievable goal.
There’s also a snorkel, 75kg-rated sports bar, moulded tub liner and a premium interior for your money. In other words, there’s much, much more than just a crappy sticker pack and some blacked-out details.
Take our word for it: chrome definitely doesn’t get you home. Steel is the material of choice for solid off-road protection. It’s heavy, but it works. Australian 4WDers have long ditched shiny and flimsy plastics and opted for steel barwork, using aftermarket solutions for better off-road capability. This can often drastically improve your clearance off-road, but also improve protection. Coming into contact with terra firma is inevitable when you’re taking on more challenging technical drives, especially when you’ve got an unmodified (or lightly modified) 4WD with a decently long wheelbase.
Compared to a ‘normal’ HiLux, the Rugged X has greatly improved off-road clearance. This isn’t as simple as just quoting the ground clearance number on the specs sheet, good off-road clearance is a multi-faceted thing. Clearance and approach angles around your wheels, likely points of contact underneath and sill clearance are all important. And in these areas, despite having the same running height as a normal HiLux, the Rugged X is a solid improvement.
And when you do start to hit, there is steel ready for the impact. And it’s smartly designed: The sliders steps slide you over obstacles, rather than getting hung up on them. The sliders are very solidly mounted onto the chassis as well, we have no doubt they are strong enough to support the full vehicle’s weight (and be used as a jacking point). The bullbar and rear bar also afford great protection, with improved clearance.
In normal non-rugged guise, we rate the HiLux as one of the (if not the) best utes for good 4X4 capability. Good suspension travel, best-in-class off-road traction control and a decent underbody design all combine for a great system off the bat. This is only improved with the Rugged X additions: clearance is better, and you can drive more confidently with steel in the right places. Tyres are a decent all-terrain option, in a practical 265/65 R17 size. They still aren’t up to the grade of a quality aftermarket all-terrain option, but they are pretty good nonetheless.
Gearing and throttle response is all still very tidy and well organised for good off-road driving. Other little things like visibility and steering feel are all really well dialled in for off-road work. Where all HiLuxes lose points off-road is when the rear locker is engaged. Having a rear locker is awesome, and certainly helps with off-road performance. But in this instance, engaging the rear locker turns off traction control completely. This means while your rear end is mechanically locked together, the front is now completely open. And when your traction control is as good as this one, it’s like one step forward and two steps back.
Make no bones about it, the extra bits bolted onto the HiLux Rugged X means it’s got an extra 177kg over the 2,075 kg a normal SR5 automatic weighs. It’s a bit of weight, but that’s simply the price you have to pay for additional protection and off-road ability. All of the action under the bonnet remains the same: 130kW @ 3400rpm and 450Nm @ 1600-2400rpm. It’s a fair amount of performance, delivered with a fair amount of civility. Torque is willing to get working early in the rev range, which lets the HiLux feel more at home off-road rather than on the highway.
The 2.8-litre motor does a noble job of shifting the extra heft, and doesn’t do a bad job. But at the same time, the HiLux does get outgunned in this respect by other utes on the market, so a few extra ponies definitely wouldn’t go astray. The six-speed automatic is fairly smooth and well-behaved, and does eke the most out of the motor when on the blacktop. In order to keep the front end sitting correctly, the front springs have been stiffened up, and the HiLux Rugged X still steers and shifts along fairly well. It’s not the best in class in this regard, but we reckon it’s good enough.
Is it worth the extra spend?
This is a fairly personal question. No doubt, you can easily justify the extra money in the Rugged X. The factory accessories that have been bolted up are good quality and are very functional out in the bush. For us, having proper rated recovery points front and rear is a serious milestone for a 4WD ute. The front bar certainly doesn’t offer the same protection as something with hoops, but it’s a solid and strong unit nonetheless.
On the other hand, you could shop around and get some gear fitted for a bit less money than Toyota is asking. But, sourcing and fitting the gear all takes time and effort. We’re dusting off the calculator at the moment, and seeing what kind of price a similar fitout would cost at some of the big aftermarket companies.
Regardless, there is a lot to be said for having this kind of gear all fitted up and ready straight off the showroom floor. There is some serious kudos leading to Toyota for doing this kind of work, especially during such a strong spate of sticker packs and silly names amongst the current crop of 4WD utes.
The other great thing about this HiLux is the scope for additional modification: the bullbar is winch compatible, and moulded guards mean you can play around with tyre size and offset a little more before rubber starts protruding past the guards. The under-bonnet setup, like any other Toyota with the 2.8-litre diesel, is also ripe for additional mods: there is space for the auxiliary battery, and even a fuse terminal for the additional wiring.