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FIRST DRIVE

Gentle giant

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The Top Gear presenters are well-known for their attempts to destroy a 1988 Toyota Hilux. Perhaps they would like to try again with a 2012 model? 

First Drive Impressions

Most of our criticism centres on the five-speed torque converter automatic transmission. “Positively archaic” said one Van Advisor driver after completing a near 100-mile journey through the Welsh valleys. “A leftover from the pre-Suez age,” said another.

The shifts are smooth but there are just not enough of them, and as the speed increases, the gearbox just hangs onto the ratio, refusing to shift up until around 3,000rpm. The only respite comes when the gearbox hits its long-striding (0.716:1 overdrive) fifth gear, allowing the engine speed to settle around 2,100rpm at 70mph.

Power of 169hp and peak torque of 360Nm are not as much as one might expect from a 3-litre common-rail diesel, and the automatic ‘box spoils what is available, however, the peak torque plateau is wide, stretching from 1,400rpm to 3,200rpm, promising good flexibility. Indeed, the engine pulls quite strongly from 1,400rpm, so it would have been good to exploit that with Toyota’s five-speed manual gearbox.

The loadspace lacks any real winning features. The load height is higher than most, there is no lining or protection as standard, while the interior proves that you can’t please everyone. “Fussy instrument markings and too many switch blanks,” said one tester while bearing in mind that this is the top-of-the-range ‘Invincible’ model, with all the bells and whistles. Others in the Van Advisor test team saw fewer problems and commended the interior for its “rugged” feel.

So, what do we like about the Toyota Hilux? Steering and handling was judged to be reasonably good, disguising what is quite a bulky vehicle, and the ride comfort was pretty decent too, both in terms of the seat and the suspension. It’s not a ringing endorsement by any means, but the Hilux has proven its worth over the years.

Now that those years are well and truly behind it, and the competition is significantly improved, it is almost certainly time for a new model, and as pick-up experts Toyota are well placed to provide the market with a real no-nonsense model that can compete on- and off-road in both the entry-level and top end markets.

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