Australia’s best-selling vehicle, the HiLux, just flies out of Toyota’s showrooms and is offered a dizzying array of models that are topped by the Rugged X.
The HiLux has long been considered one of the most capable and well-rounded utes on the market. Eager to see what it was all about in its latest and most off-road focused form, we recently spent a week with a 2019 HiLux Rugged X. We tested it both on the road and along a number of treacherous trails and were left seriously impressed with what it can do.
Beneath the eye-catching exterior of the HiLux Rugged X is the SR5 model. In fact, the HiLux SR5 serves as the base for the HiLux Rogue and HiLux Rugged models which, along with the Rugged X, can be best considered as trim packages for the SR5 rather than all-new models.
With the exception of the tradesman-oriented WorkMate, all Aussie HiLux models are powered by a 2.8-liter turbo-diesel engine delivering 174 HP and 420 Nm (309 lb-ft) of torque when coupled with the standard six-speed manual transmission. Our tester featured the available six-speed automatic, whose torque is a little bit higher, at 450 Nm (331 lb-ft).
The Rugged X features a four-wheel drive system which ordinarily operates in two-wheel drive mode on dry, paved surfaces but offers both four-wheel drive high- and a four-wheel low-range mode. There is also a rear diff lock and both ‘Eco’ and ‘PWR’ driving modes.
Stepping up into the Hilux you are welcomed with a nicely-trimmed cabin. There are heated leather seats at the front and a smattering of black plastic parts. Most of the surfaces feel good but are not what you’d call premium. That’s no surprise, however, considering the Rugged X has been designed with off-roading in mind, as evidenced by the rubber floor mats.
The off-road credentials become much more apparent from the outside. Toyota has equipped the ute with a steel front bumper that incorporates fog lights and an exceptionally-bright LED light bar. The bumper also incorporates a steel scuff plate and two bright red recovery points should you ever find yourself stuck.
Adding to the vehicle’s rugged prowess are 17-inch black and silver wheels wrapped in all-terrain tires, black fender flares, and the all-important rock rails, an absolute must for climbing over rocks, trees, and virtually anything else you may find when taking the Toyota away from the street. Other distinct parts include a snorkel, a sports bar in the bed, and a steel rear bumper with two additional recovery points. There is also a tow bar.
No mechanical modifications have been made over the Toyota HiLux SR5 meaning the Rugged X is no rival to the Ford Ranger Raptor with its trick suspension. This is a little disappointing but all is forgiven when you actually start to drive the thing.
Putting the HiLux through its paces
Our first few days with the Rugged X was limited to typical on-road use, where most examples will live out their lives. Measuring 5,380 mm long (211.8-inches), 1,885 mm wide (74-inches) and 1,815 mm tall (71.4-inches), it is a brute, but feels remarkably maneuverable considering its size.
The seating position is high, providing you with a commanding view over traffic where, let’s be honest, the Rugged X stands out with its graphics and off-road trimmings. I was particularly taken aback by how SUV-like the HiLux felt handling everyday driving duties. The steering and brakes are both nicely weighted and the diesel powertrain offers reasonable grunt off the line and great overtaking power. It’s also not particularly loud or harsh high up in the rev-range.
With ‘Rugged’ in its name, I set out on a little off-roading adventure with some friends to see what the ute is capable of when you leave the city and try to make good use of those various accessories.
We headed out of Melbourne to Toolangi State Forest where there are dozens of different trails from tame to frightening where even extensively modified 4x4s could encounter difficulties. The first test was a steep descent with huge undulations and rocks that would really test the 251 mm (9.8-inch) of ground clearance which, curiously, is actually less than the 279 mm (10.9-inches) enjoyed by the standard SR5.
With the hill descent control feature enabled and a handful of spotters guiding me down, the Toyota breezed down the hill with little fuss despite one of the rear wheels occasionally hanging up in the air in some more difficult sections.
The day’s tests also included a number of climbs up hills of varying difficulty and a handful of water crossings. The Rugged X never encountered any issues. If the going did get tough, it was simply a matter of putting it in all-wheel drive low range mode and engaging the rear diff lock and all was well.
As the Toyota HiLux is one of the most capable off-roaders in its class, it is a little surprising that there aren’t different driving modes depending on the surface. In addition, the HiLux doesn’t come with a center diff-lock like the Mitsubishi Triton GLS with its Super Select 4WD-II system because it doesn’t have a full-time 4×4 system in a bid to save fuel. This never held the HiLux back, but on more difficult terrain, I suspect it might need a bit more effort. It’s also worth pointing out that all the obstacles I overcame were also cleared by a friend’s SR5, so while those unique parts look good, they don’t really add any additional off-road prowess.
Very enticing, indeed
In Australia, the 2019 Toyota HiLux Rugged X starts at $66,936. That is roughly $6,500 more than the SR5 on which it is based. Is it worth it? The answer is probably yes.
The distinctive parts adorning the exterior of the Rugged X may not aid all that much when you take the ute off the beaten path unless you’re crossing water and can put the snorkel to good us or if the recovery points can get you out of a sticky situation. Or, you could get the SR5 and spend the remaining $6,500 on aftermarket parts to mimic those of the Rugged X. Thus, all things considered, the range-topping HiLux is quite good value.