Between lockdowns last year, James Fisher took a Toyota Hilux fishing. He was impressed.
It was early March and you could be forgiven for thinking that the end of the world was coming. Pubs had an air of smoking behind the bikesheds, they were open but barely full, with people speaking in hushed tones and clutching plastic glasses; it was legal, yes, but it was also a bit naughty wasn’t it?
Here we were, constantly informed by the news about an invisible entity that was, quite literally, killing us. The world was changing daily, and every week felt like a year and society itself felt like it was on a precipice. What would the next week hold? The next month? It was all so uncertain, so terrifying, so apocalyptic.
Naturally, I did the sensible thing and tried to book a Toyota Hilux.
The Hilux, as we all know, is indestructible. It has been smashed by a wrecking ball, set on fire, and driven directly into a tree, and still turned on. It has been left at the mercy of the tide, was fully submerged, and then turned on. It was left on top of a tower block that was demolished, and when the rubble was cleared away, it was turned on. All of these things happened to the same car.
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More recently, the Hilux was a particular favourite of ISIS, with the terrorist group acquiring so many of the vehicles that the US government asked Toyota just how they managed to get so many. After several years of warfare, ISIS have been destroyed, but no doubt, the Hiluxes are still there. While I doubt that ‘can survive a drone strike’ made it on to Toyota’s marketing materials, it’s an endorsement nonetheless.
So, going back to the end of the world. Months and months of studious lockdown had passed, during which time I placated myself with endless Netflix and the occasional press-up. The summer came around and life tilted ever-so slightly back to normal. Normal enough indeed that Toyota were able to come and deliver me this famous pickup for a week, whereupon I got to grips with a vehicle that history tells us is absolutely necessary if you intend to survive the end of the world.
The first thing you must know about the modern iteration of Toyota’s Hilux is that it is big. So big, in fact, that I knew it had arrived outside my house because a large shadow suddenly appeared across the living room floor. Graciously, the Toyota employee who had delivered it had parallel parked the car with divine accuracy, so much so that I was almost tempted never to move it, knowing full well that the chances of me getting it back into the same tight spot were almost nil.
But, I had a job to do, so took it out for a drive around south-west London I did, and almost immediately became drunk with the power. Despite London not necessarily being a city for big cars, it is a city full of big cars, especially around Wandsworth and its environs. The buses rule supreme, naturally, but in their wake is a constant stream of Land Rovers, Range Rovers, Volvos and their competitors, packed to the rafters with private school children and over-caffeinated parents. It can be an intimidating place.
Not so in a Hilux, which as well as being tall and wide and long, also exudes a toughness that is comforting. Whereas the Range Rovers look big, they are all plush leather and fancy on the inside; the Hilux is a working vehicle, it looks a working vehicle and as science tells us, will cause more damage to anything that crashes into it than it shall receive.
I wouldn’t recommend the Hilux as a city car, but then again there is nothing stopping it from being one. However, its true home is in the countryside, which is where — in one of those things we used to do between lockdowns — I headed to meet up with a friend to go fishing.
An hour and a bit on the motorway was chomped down in relative ease, and there was something very soothing about listening to a diesel engine burble away doing 70 miles per hour, almost like listening to a classic rock song — a memory of the past. The automatic gearbox was good, the ride was comfortable and despite the tough exterior, the interior is actually a nice place to be — digital radio, sat-nav, bluetooth just some of the modern comforts that help a fairly benign journey go quicker.
In the countryside, again there was a certain comfort to knowing that in this car, you would be seen as a member rather than a tourist. Fine, I may have only filled the loading bay with one dead trout, rather than 30 fenceposts and 3 sheep, but it still all felt very tough and grown up — here I was, out hunting and gathering in my pickup truck. The day involved driving down various tight roads, the occasional field and muddy track, and you don’t need me to tell you that the Hilux made light work of it all.
Later that day, it was time to go to the pub and exaggerate the size of our catches, as is tradition. Naturally what began as a 2lb trout became a leviathan of Greek proportions after one or two beers, but the topic of conversation never strayed too far away from the Hilux.
It had turned heads (no doubt from various village members wondering why the sun had briefly disappeared as it drove past), but mostly it was farmers, curious to know whether it was any good, or simply sharing stories of their beloved Hiluxes of previous generations (‘ah, ya see, my Hilux rolled down a hill, exploded, then fell into a pond, got devoured by a kraken, but a bit of gaffer tape and a new battery and it ran for another 20 years’).
The Hilux has the respect of those who use it for work, because they know it won’t ever let them down. Even the new one knows this — sure, it has sat nav and a rear-view parking camera (vital in London), but the doors close with a satisfying metallic clang and it feels tough.
The definition of whether a Hilux is good or not doesn’t depend on whether it’s nice to drive (although it is) or its MPG (surprisingly good), but whether it’s worthy of the name. And as I drove back up the motorway to London the next day with my fish in the flatbed, trailed no doubt by several hundred seagulls, I couldn’t help but think that it absolutely was.
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