Ride, Handling & Performance
Interior Comfort & Practicality
Technology & Safety
Value & Ownership
There’s no point denying it, dual cab utes are now the must-have driveway accessory. The popularity of dual cab models shows no sign of receding, in June, the top three selling cars in Australia were utes with the venerable HiLux sitting at number one.
Remarkably, the most popular ute variants tend to be the better equipped and therefore more expensive options like the SR5.
‘Lifestyle vehicle’ is the term now used to describe what the ute represents. Conceived by clever marketing staff, it alludes to a life of adventure seeking when the working week concludes.
It makes sense if you need the flexibility of a ute to carry tools and materials for work, however, for the majority of us, an SUV will do everything we need. We will happily argue an off-roading SUV is more practical for undertaking a wider variety of driving situations.
Competiton at the top end of the market is coming thick and fast. Volkswagen, HSV, Ford, Mercedes-Benz and Ram are all clamouring for a slice of the lucrative $60K plus ute segment.
While already being a smashing success, Toyota has strengthened its HiLux range in an attempt to tap into the thirst for high-spec utes.
The arsenal has been broadened with the arrival of the Rogue, Rugged and Rugged X – models charged with keeping the HiLux in the top spot. We will be driving all of them over the coming weeks.
To kick off, we are testing the 2018 Toyota HiLux Rugged, it’s based on the SR variant and is priced from $54,990 plus on-road costs for a stick shift, moving to an automatic adds $2000 to the bill.
This is a model chasing some love for outdoor aficionados, it needs some dirt under the arches. To aid adventure seekers, the Rugged is equipped with a steel bull bar, snorkel, heavy-duty steel rear bar with integrated step, rear recovery points and side rock rails.
It does look the part, on top of the off-road gear, the Rugged is given a masculine theme with a unique grille design, black side mouldings and 17-inch ‘Tough’ alloy wheels.
Interestingly, the sports bar isn’t just adding to the visual, it’s functional with multiple tie-down points to secure whatever needs to be carried.
To give the Rugged additional versatility, it comes standard with a tow pack that includes the towbar, towball, tongue and a seven-pin flat trailer wiring harness. With an automatic transmission, the Rugged is rated to tow 3200kg.
What sets the exterior apart is the Inferno Orange paint, it helps to clearly differentiate the Rugged from regular HiLux models.
Clearly, the main benefit in opting for one of the new HiLux variants is the convenience of not chasing up third-party suppliers to deck it out. Toyota has done the running around.
The only aspect of the exterior that looks like an afterthought is the tub liner – it’s actually more of a mat that’s contoured to the base of the tray. It leaves the sides of the tray exposed and therefore unprotected. For a few dollars more a spray in liner makes more sense.
Moving to the inside, the cabin is utilitarian with a splash contemporary technology. Agricultural plastics and hard wearing cloth trim dress the interior surfaces. There’s no carpet which serves to reinforce the Rugged’s commercial lineage.
Of course, buyers who purchase the Rugged and use it as intended will find the cabin purposeful and easy to maintain.
The layout of the interior is functional and hard to fault. Pleasingly, the HiLux offers both height and reach adjustment for the steering wheel, this is still a rarity in the segment.
Some handy touches include two pop-out cup holders that reside at the edges of the dashboard, a dual glovebox set-up, bag hooks on the front seatbacks, a well-judged seating position and an infotainment system with satellite navigation.
Where the Rugged reaches thin ice is safety. Autonomous braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist and blind spot monitoring are all unavailable. It’s not a good look at this price, this tech is now standard on cars considerably more affordable.
On the road, the Rugged handles remarkably like the HiLux SR5 we drove last year. It’s pleasant enough to drive unladen with nicely calibrated steering.
The HiLux will never be the agilest car to get around in, it really needs some space.
Out on the highway, it’s comfortable to cruise in. Refinement is reasonably good despite the engine having the old-school clatter that is synonymous with oilers of the past.
The delivery of power isn't as instant as we have experienced in other turbo-diesel Toyota models. There is enough low down punch to keep everyone happy, peak torque comes online at 1600rpm which tends to keep things fairly relaxed. With an automatic transmission, the Rugged has 450Nm to play with, 30Nm more than the manual.  
Heading onto the rough stuff, the Rugged is in its element. Drivers can switch between high and low range 4x4 modes depending on the terrain. Proper low-range gearing makes the world of difference in the slippery conditions presented to us by the Victorian winter.
Grip is a genuine strength of Toyota’s 4x4 models and the Rugged is no exception. The 17-inch alloys on our tester were wrapped in Bridgestone Dueler tyres which did a brilliant job over our off-road test route.
Regardless of the standard spec, hard-core enthusiasts will source some muddies and be tempted to beef up the suspension. The SR5 HiLux has 279mm of ground clearance whereas the Rugged has 253mm. It’s surprising considering the Rugged’s primary brief is to bush bash. The rest of us could probably get away with just adding an R.M. Williams sticker to the rear window.
After a week with the Rugged, we returned a consumption figure of 10.1L/100km. We couldn’t get any closer to the claimed number.
All HiLux variants are still engulfed by the tyranny of short maintenance intervals. Fresh oil is required every 6 months/10,000km. Toyota is extending its service intervals as it rolls out new models, however, an all-new HiLux is still a while away.
Although the short turn around times for servicing can be annoying, Toyota does offer a very competitive capped-price service program. The Rugged’s first six visits back to the dealer are capped at $240 each.
The evidence is clear – Toyota buyers are not the type to stress about warranty coverage. Toyota is sticking with a three year/100,000km package, and why wouldn’t they? Toyota is selling nearly twice the number of new cars as its closest rival, so there is no reason to change a winning formula.
The Rugged is a welcome addition to the already extensive HiLux range. It is well priced for what it is when you consider the accessories are already fitted. The overall value does take a hit when you consider the absence of safety tech.
There are more comfortable choices for those needing a ute as a daily driver and weekend escape pod. This is a ute that will find favour with buyers drawn to the tough looking exterior. The Rugged has a purpose in mind that forgoes the pomp and circumstance that surrounds some of its rivals. At its heart, the Rugged is a ute for the dirty work, it’s not for the poseurs.
2018 Toyota HiLux Rugged Specifications
Price from $56,990 plus on-road costs (auto) Engine 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel Power 130kW @ 3400rpm Torque 450Nm @ 1600-2400rpm Transmission six-speed automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 8.6L/100km Tank Capacity 80L Length 5415mm Width 1885mm Height 1815mm Wheelbase 3085mm Ground Clearance 253mm Kerb Weight 2238kg Turning Circle 12.6m Service Intervals 6-months/10,000km Warranty three year/100,000km