NOTHING’S more fun than a pickup truck. All, right, hot hatchbacks are neat, too, as are sports cars. But for the sheer thrill of driving something that can haul the Earth on its back, revel in tortuous terrain, go anywhere and look awesome doing so, a truck is pretty much unbeatable.
Of course, some trucks are better than others. And the Toyota Hilux is tops among them, able to haul the Earth on its back, revel in tortuous terrain, go anywhere and look awesome doing so. Hyperbole? Years back Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson and James May drove a fully kitted one to the North Pole, remember? The North Pole. Now the fact that our loaner unit pictured here, the top-spec 3.0 G A/T variant (priced at P1.505 million), comes in the same bright red paintjob as the Top Gear North Pole Hilux only makes the connection way cooler.
While there are newer trucks sold locally, most of which pack more modern features and techs, the Hilux remains not only a strong contender but is, in fact, the top-seller among pickups of its size. It may lack some of the fancy stuff—reverse camera, leather seats, or even electronic 4×4 mode shifting—but its basic equipment and sturdy construction shine through. Certainly, flaunting a Toyota badge does not hurt it either.
Its 3.0-liter, common rail direct injection diesel engine is definitely one of the Hilux’s attractions. Spinning 161hp at 3,400rpm and 343Nm of twist from a low 1,400rpm all the way to 3,400rpm, it has more than enough oomph to haul the truck briskly from a stop or from a cruising speed, so passing slower traffic is always anxiety-free. The gobs of torque, coupled with what apparently are the ideally spaced gear ratios of the electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission, mean very relaxed high-speed cruising—at 100kph the engine ticks over at just a little over 1,900rpm. The result is miserly fuel use; in my weeklong stint with the Hilux it logged consumption in the low teens (city slog and a trip up to Clark in Pampanga). This, let me stress, comes with really strong pull.
The Hilux does not ride like a sedan, for sure, but it still is comfortable. It does not buck or seem to hit its bump stops (if, indeed, it has any), so the rear end does not suddenly jump when the truck rolls over bad road surfaces. The double wishbone with coil springs front suspension and leaf springs in the rear are well damped, the assorted parts, along with tall 265/65 R17 tires, cushioning against ruts and holes and unfinished road works that identify Metro Manila landscape.
As a truck, the Hilux has slow steering, meaning it takes an extra half-rotation or so to get full lock when you turn the steering wheel from one direction to the opposite. It’s cumbersome when parking or driving through city streets, but I’m sure this works perfectly off-road—where you don’t want the steering wheel to jerk in your hands and snap your wrist.
Riding comfort extends to the cabin furniture. The Hilux’s fabric-covered seats definitely are not the best out there—no leather or stitching or electric adjustment—but they’re well padded, soft but still supportive. A couple of backseat passengers I had (actually kin who are no strangers to review units I routinely bring home) assured it is comfier in the Hilux’s rear than in other pickups. Really, if there’s anything to bitch about in the truck’s cabin, it’s that it’s too beige—seats, door panels, parts of the dash, carpeting—beige, beige, beige, beige.
Admittedly, though, the beigeness makes the Hilux’s interior look airier, even if, to begin with, there really is no shortage of leg-, hip- or headroom for five passengers. And despite the lack of a complex multimedia system—actually welcome—the audio unit in the Hilux 3.0 G is no cheapo job, with a touch-screen panel and USB and aux connectivity. Audio control buttons reside on the steering wheel.
No griping about the Hilux’s styling, too. Though it has been around for almost a decade, the truck does not look dated. Its relatively narrow windows/thick body proportion anticipated modern trucks’ cut. Toyota’s constant refreshes, including a major update a couple of years back, made sure the Hilux still has a youthful, fun vibe.
Especially if it comes in Top Gear North Pole red paintjob.