Thursday April 10 2014

The new Hilux is up to task

The  writer got to test the modified Hilux

The writer got to test the modified Hilux pickup to give his verdict. PHOTOS BY RACHEL MABALA 

By Peter Mutimba

Back in 2003, Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson set out to disprove the “myth” that the Toyota Hilux is indestructible. So he devised a series of “challenges” that the Hilux needed to pass in order to be declared truly invincible. This British motoring journalist who I believe might really just be a demolition expert then proceeded to utterly and comprehensively destroy that poor Hilux.

First, he dropped an entire caravan on it from about 50 metres. Then he drove it down a flight of stairs, deliberately crashed it, into not one, but several solid walls, and then into a tree. (The local church slapped a hefty fine on him for that. Turns out It was a very old, very valuable tree).

He was just getting warmed up
He then sent a wrecking ball through it, parked it in the ocean for about six hours, set it on fire, and then, just for good measure, demolished a building on top of it. Surely, no vehicle can survive such a battering. And yet with a few minor repairs and no spare parts added whatsoever, the pick-up was running. You might think I am making this up but I promise you, I am not. On this back drop, I set out to test the new Hilux. Is it still the tough, indefatigable marathoner it was billed to be? Obviously, I cannot think of any insurance company that would be insane enough to cover wanton destruction, and I do not have $44,000 (about Shs112m) clamouring to be spent, so the tests were going to be pretty standard.

What Toyota Uganda gave me was the 2013 model. A 2.5 litre, turbo charged straight four with a five speed manual gearbox. I have got to say, it looks good. Toyota obviously took their time to improve the aesthetics. But make no mistake. Vehicles do not get any more macho than this. My imagination tells me, if this were a man, he would be a big beer drinking rugby player, that lists slapping contests and free for all street brawling as his favourite pastimes.

The one we tested had been altered by an Australian company named Minecorp. They take the Hilux and pump it full with safety equipment specific for the mining industry. It came with snorkels for when the engine is submerged under water, titanium enforced roll cages, fire extinguishers, a spare wheel carrier and lots of extras you will definitely not find in a normal road vehicle. Everything else however, like engine size, performance and interior is pretty much the same as the standard pickup. In the basic model that Minecorp has not touched, you even get a few toys to play with like the Bluetooth connectivity.

As far as handling is concerned, the chassis is solid, and because the Hilux is not too high riding, cornering at speed does not challenge your sense of self preservation. The steering wheel, though a bit weighty, still manages to chuck the car into corners with relative ease and there is hardly any body roll to write home about. It really is easy to drive. The gear changes are also fluid, the clutch is soft and the brakes are responsive, but not in that uncomfortable way that threatens to send you through the windshield.

Ample space
What’s more, you get acres of leg room at the back so you can fit three properly sized people there in relative comfort. I daresay, the seats in this Hilux may even be more comfortable than the bucket seats in that Fortuner I drove recently.

Not a rosy affair all through
There are a few drawbacks though, chief among them being ride comfort. When you inevitably hit a delightfully bad patch of road, you are going to notice.
There is a reason for this. At the front, you get that complex, but very efficient double wishbone suspension. At the back however, because this vehicle is going to be carrying weight throughout its lifetime, you get spring leaf shock absorbers.

These are the kind you find on light trucks and lorries. They look like five or six flat steel bars set on top of each other. They are extremely durable, but you pay the price for durability with a very bouncy ride at the back.

No luxuries
Also, and I might be nitpicking here, I felt a hint of turbo lag. Vehicles with turbo chargers sometimes suffer from this. When you are fully on the accelerator, the turbo charger is supposed to give you more power, but it takes about two seconds to kick in.
The interior is also pretty basic. You do not get too many luxuries, but that is because of the kind of vehicle you are buying and what you are going to use if for. This is not a luxury accessory by a mile. It is not a status symbol or something you buy out of ostentation.

What you are getting is a workhorse with lots of pedigree. This is a pickup that is going to run on forever and yet hold onto its value. It will carry and haul massive loads, take all kinds of beatings for years and consume so little fuel you will think the fuel gauge is broken. I think this Hilux lives up to its billing.