Our correspondent and two fishing friends find the refreshed Toyota Hi-Lux is more than a match for New Zealand’s rocky terrain and a mountain of gear.
It’s one thing tip-toeing around the highways and byways of north Norfolk, sometimes with the dog in the back and a bit of shopping, but it’s quite another spending weeks on the road in New Zealand with two fishing pals whose idea of packing light is to wipe the side of the kitchen sink before bringing it along. Pals whose idea of keeping the car tidy is to wipe their feet before they get out, who think it’s interesting to curiously press all the buttons at once just to see what those buttons do, who collect interesting rocks and whose waders are a biological hazard zone.
It’s also quite another to drive that car hundreds of miles, fully loaded, up hill and down dale, along tarmac roads, gravel tracks and riverbeds. That kind of journey allows you to get under the skin of a machine, to work out if it really is as good as they say it is. They? As I said it is. Because I reviewed the Toyota Hilux in 2017 and said it was excellent. Was I right? Is the 2019 refresh just as good?
It was some stroke of luck that we ended up driving south from Christchurch airport in a brand-new 2019 model Toyota Hilux, the open road and several weeks of fishing ahead of us, all our luggage in a capacious load-bay behind. A turn of fate might have had our faces pressed to the glass of a quarter-million-mile Subaru that only went straight when you turned the wheel half left. That was the machine I’d had for the few days I was on my own visiting relatives and, ahem, checking out some of the rivers I’d take my friends to.
I had had another, larger car booked for the three of us, but it was stolen the night before collection. A desperate ring-round bumped me into a company that couldn’t help, ‘except perhaps with a new Toyota pick-up’.
‘That’ll do,’ I said.
‘That’ll do nicely.’
I couldn’t quite make financial sense of £300 per week for a brand-new double-cab pick-up, but, apparently, Toyota NZ can. It’s the best advert of all to have guys like us in cars like that, all ending up as impressed as we were.
The load bay was massive. I pack lightly, with one holdall and one camera bag. Ronnie looks at the allowance on his Club ticket and tries to use all of it. Patrick is somewhere between. However, unpack the fishing kit, throw in a week’s worth of food and booze and you’re starting to test the limits of most cars. Not the back of a Hi-Lux, with its lockable lid — a blue whale has less room inside.
I also couldn’t quite believe how civilised the Hi-Lux was for a four-wheel drive wearing all-terrain footwear. The lack of road noise might have been partly down to New Zealand’s high-quality tarmac, low speed limit and keen-eyed coppers, but, even so, it drove quietly and effortlessly.
For a while, I wasn’t as impressed with the jiggery back-overtaking-rear ride we got on corrugated dirt roads, but then I worked out I wasn’t in 4WD. One turn of a switch and the thing morphed from a skittish cart into a planted and pliant rally-monster.
Low-ratio 4WD and Diff Lock remained unemployed get-out-of-jail cards for uses way beyond the rigours of anything we showed our car: dry riverbeds, monsoons and mile after mile of loose- gravel roads.
My only (small) caveat was the mildly underwhelming and gruff-when-pressed engine, now a 2.4-litre (replacing 3-litres) unit in need of a gym session and some testosterone pills. Still, you trade lack of puff for a leaner drinking habit: 35-plus miles per gallon isn’t bad for such an enormous machine.
Toyota NZ’s marketing strategy is a good one. We all three came away with the conclusion that when we become full-bore trout bums living on the road in a wherever-I-lay-my-Parachute-Adams-that’s-my-home kind of way, the Toyota Hilux will be the machine to live out of.
On The Road: The Toyota Hilux
Priced from: £23,090
Combined fuel consumption: 39.8mpg
0–60mph: 12.8 seconds
Top speed: 106mph
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