Harder looks for Hilux - but what about hi-po punch?

Hardened looks and off-roading ability is coming for Hilux – but will it ever take the high-performance route favoured by rival brands?


LIKELIHOOD that Toyota will follow Ford, Holden and others into the emergent superute category seems slim, but is not impossible.

This comment from the brand that has led the new car market for a solid 30 years comes as it prepares to unleash an update of the country’s best-selling one-tonner until it was bumped three years ago by the Ford Ranger.

General manager of product Spencer Morris says the idea of high-performance Hilux as a foil to the impending Ford Ranger Raptor is appealing, but the factory has not indicated it has any such programme on the boil.

“There’s lots of speculation, but we have no immediate plan to do a TRD. WE have talked to TMC (Toyota Motor Corporation) about it, but there is nothing on the horizon at the moment.”

Toyota New Zealand definitely sees merit with having image leader editions of its Hilux.

That’s why, in tandem with the release of a lineup with modest detail changes introduced in Christchurch today, it has announced after-market availability of a Gladiator beef-up in three stages of application – pricing from $8090 to $19,298 - that progressively enhances off-road-ability but is mainly about hardening up the look.

A kit that can be retro-fitted to all Hilux was previewed by a concept of the same name that Toyota here unveiled at the mid-year Fieldays.

That’s one push. Another tilt for improved street cred will come in the first quarter when TNZ adds in an SR5 Cruiser, which also has a bespoke body kit and a new nose styling that bears resemblance with the US-market Toyota Tacoma, with a vertical fog light cluster and boxier grille design.

This new look is from a Hilux Rocco just unveiled in Thailand, where all Hilux are sourced, and will eventually transfer to all wide-body – that is, the high-standing four-by-four and PreRunner editions – over 2018. It is the single biggest styling change to the truck since Hilux launched two years ago.

TNZ has yet to release an image of the SR5 Cruiser, but has confirmed the Rocco is the donor. The Rocco images here (it's the red rig) were made publically available by Toyota Thailand.

There is talk that the Rocco could be offered internationally next year as a Hilux TRD.

The thought of a Toyota Racing Development model might seem tasty enough to fuel speculation about Toyota having a foil for the Raptor, which is expected to eschew the regular Ranger’s 147kW/470Nm 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbodiesel for gruntier 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel.

Another potential rival within this new heavyweight division could also be a 300kW-plus twin turbo petrol V6 version of the Holden Colorado four-by-four doublecab, under development not by GM itself but by Walkinshaw Group, which also produces HSVs for Holden.

In the past Toyota here and overseas has had TRD Hiluxes – but of differing spirit. The TRD limited count model sold here last year was, for instance, a styling exercise – whereas Australia, four years ago, had a proper rocketship powered by a supercharged 4.0-litre petrol V6. That latter rig was discontinued due to poor acceptance.

Morris and TNZ general manager of sales Steve Prangnell say there is no suggestion the hi-po petrol six could be brought back – indeed, the regular petrol V6 has just been dropped from the mainstream Hilux lineup going forward, leaving the 130kW/450Nm 2.8-litre turbo diesel as the mainstay mill.

“We’ve never done an engine in a TRD Hilux here,” said Morris.

Would it be of interest, given that the ute culture in booming and rival brands are looking to fizz up their performance?

“Well, that’s always something we would consider if the opportunity came along. But we have no immediate plans for that,” Morris said.

“It’s very much a niche … if a market develops, we’d have to consider it.”

It is also speculated that the Rocco might also provide new-to-Hilux safety technologies including autonomous emergency braking.

Morris could not comment on that, but said Palmerston North-domiciled TNZ has requested AEB for Hilux.

“We have asked for this. I expect to get it, but we don’t know the timing yet.”

AEB is a central feature of an active assists package Toyota calls Safety Sense. The updated Prado, which is also now launching, also picks up AEB and it is coming to Highlander. Morris says TMC has indicated that AEB can be engineered into the ute. It’s just a matter of when.

“We are adding it whenever we can get it. The reason it we don’t have it is not because we do not choose to specify it … we specify it as soon as it is made available because we want to make our cars as safe as possible.”

Meantime, there is high hope for the Galdiator (right), given that dressing up Hilux is a favourite practice for owners.

TNZ estimates virtually all owners add extras and speculates that the average accessory spend is round $2500 – though it knows of one example that had almost $32k worth of options added when new. TNZ says it earns around $30 million per year selling accessories to all Toyota models, with most going into SUVs.