First drive: The refreshed Toyota Hilux gets the upgrades that really matter

Toyota has addressed some of the biggest gripes of Hilux owners and then some
by Leandre Grecia | Sep 12, 2020

“Toyota has done almost everything right with this refresh”

I remember when Top Gear tried to kill a Toyota. While the guys didn’t fail that badly, it was a failed attempt all the same—the truck was just damn indestructible. It was with this insanely reliable, no-frills personality that Toyota’s pickups made names for themselves back in the ’80s and ’90s.

Fast-forward to 2020, though, and that’s not completely the case anymore.

The modern-day Hilux is as reliable as ever, but it’s no longer the spartan piece of machinery its predecessors were. While it still doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that more luxurious counterparts might offer, it has come a long way from being that purely utilitarian truck of old.

And with a refreshed model on its way, the truck could only be set to get even better—and that’s what we’re about to find out.

That new Emotional Red finish looks neat. PHOTO: Elaine Lara

We’re here at the Toyota Motor Philippines (TMP) plant in Santa Rosa, Laguna, and the new Hilux is right in front of me, ready for a quick spin. It’s my first time seeing this thing in the metal, and I’m trying to manage my expectations before I actually hop inside for a short drive.

Continue reading below ↓
Continue reading below ↓
Recommended Videos

As someone who regularly drives the current Hilux—my dad owns a 2018 model—I do know a thing or two about it. And with this facelift, I can easily say I like the aesthetic changes. Not gonna lie—I dig this new Hilux Conquest’s look a lot. But has Toyota made the improvements that really matter? That’s the big question I have, and until I get answers, I’m not entirely sold just yet.

After a few more walkarounds, we’re finally handed the keys to the truck. Since we aren’t allowed to drive this thing out too far just yet, I suggest a not-so-secret location where we can shoot the vehicle undisturbed (sort of) and at the same time keep it out of the public eye. We get the green light, so it’s off to the races.

We like the added niceties. PHOTO: Dinzo Tabamo

I step into the vehicle, and as I get in, I begin to see the big changes. Smart entry system, check. Push-start ignition, check. Sadly, there’s still no power adjustment even for the driver’s seat, but that’s basically a nitpick already.

Continue reading below ↓

I plant myself behind the wheel and continue looking around the cabin, and I see more of the upgrades: new leather trim and faux wood-like accents on the dash and the side panels, mood lighting, and a new infotainment system. I’d love to tinker with this head unit already, but first I have to drive.

I fire it up and maneuver out of the car park, and right off the bat, I notice yet another significant improvement: the steering. The power-steering mechanism is supposedly still hydraulic, but it doesn’t matter—compared to my dad’s pre-facelift Hilux, damn, is this steering light. Add to that the addition of a reversing camera, and I think this truck will be a breeze to park.

Maneuvering out of tight spaces will be a cinch with this truck. PHOTO: Dinzo Tabamo

Our small entourage finally leaves the TMP plant premises and we eventually reach the open roads leading to our nearby destination. The new Hilux with its 201hp, 500Nm 2.8-liter turbodiesel, was able to stretch its legs even for just a bit. As expected, I hit high speeds in a jiffy. This short burst isn’t enough for me to say that the 27hp and 50Nm improvements are highly noticeable, though. Only a full review can settle that.

Continue reading below ↓

For now, we focus on is the task at hand. We reach our destination and find a decent spot where we can snap some photos. But since we’re on a public road, I have to stay inside in case we need to make way for any oncoming vehicles. So, while my teammates are sweating under the sun at high noon, I’m here sitting comfy in the cabin and enjoying the cool A/C. Sorry, guys.

Of course, I’ll have to make the most out of my time here, lest I end up looking like a freeloader in this party. I take out my phone and plug it in to try out the new infotainment system. Lo and behold, Android Auto boots up in an instant. This is why I was so eager to play with the new head unit the moment I saw it—it now has Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, among many other new features.

Continue reading below ↓

This infotainment system is actually pretty impressive. PHOTO: Dinzo Tabamo

I skip those features for now and play some tunes instead. To my surprise, the sound quality has gotten better. It’s still a standard 4+2 speaker setup, but the output now is much crisper and clearer than before. I’m the type of person who rarely drives without any music on, so that’s definitely a win in my book.

A few tracks later, I’m signaled that it’s time to shoot some B-rolls, which means it’s time for me and this truck to get moving again. Thankfully, there’s a huge roundabout just down the road that’ll make things much easier. I start driving around the rotunda and that’s when it hit me: The suspension really has improved. By a lot.

A bit of context: I often get to drive on this exact same road and roundabout since I live in the area, so I know what it’s like driving a Hilux in these parts. That’s why I can also attest to how more refined the ride now feels. Granted, it’s probably far from being best-in-class, but I’d like to think taking this thing through EDSA won’t feel like riding a galloping horse anymore.

Continue reading below ↓

What’s more, body roll has been greatly reduced. I can vouch for that after literally driving around in circles for a good 10 minutes or so.

Ride quality has improved by a sizable margin. PHOTO: Dinzo Tabamo

After what seemed to be the hundredth full circle, my teammates finally call me up to take a few photos with our friends from TMP before calling it a day. We all head over to the back, and as I pull the tailgate open, I discover the wonders of the Hilux’s new tailgate lift assist.

I try flipping the tailgate up and down and to my delight, I’m actually able to do so using just one hand. Hilux owners know how heavy this tailgate is, and I’m sure this accessory will prove extremely helpful even for simple day-to-day usage. We would’ve missed it, to be honest, if not for this mandatory group photo.

Following a few camera clicks, we start wrapping things up. Literally. The ladies from TMP bring out some tape and we begin covering up the truck before heading back to the plant. The cat’s already out of the bag, anyway, but what the hell.

Continue reading below ↓

Thank God for the new tailgate lift assist. PHOTO: Dinzo Tabamo

Our time with the new Hilux today was short, but it was enough for me to draw some conclusions.

On paper and in photos, it might seem like Toyota merely sprinkled some extra pogi points on an already good truck. In reality, however, it’s the mechanical upgrades and the added niceties that I find most striking. With a single refresh, Toyota has addressed some of the biggest gripes of Hilux owners—the heavy steering, the burdensome tailgate, the stiff ride—and then some.

Now, I understand that these are changes you wouldn’t ask for in an unadulterated, unkillable workhorse. But like I said, the Hilux just isn’t that anymore. It may have gotten significant price bumps over time—the top-spec variant we just drove is now priced at P1,850,000 (Emotional Red costs an additional P20,000)—but it’s become one of the better-looking, tech-laden, and now more comfortable offerings in its segment, and if these recent updates are any indications, the truck will only keep getting better over time.

Continue reading below ↓

I can’t really tell you definitively if these recent changes are enough to convince Ranger, Navara, or D-Max owners to make the switch, but I can say this: If you’re a current Hilux owner, it’s a no-brainer to upgrade to the facelift model if you’re so inclined. At least in my opinion, Toyota has done almost everything right with this refresh, and I’m willing to bet that the new truck won’t disappoint.

Continue reading below ↓

Continue reading below ↓

Continue reading below ↓

Continue reading below ↓

Continue reading below ↓

Continue reading below ↓

Continue reading below ↓

Continue reading below ↓

Continue reading below ↓

See Also

PHOTO: Dinzo Tabamo
  • Quiz Results

  • TGP Rating:
    /20

    Starts at ₱

    TGP Rating:
    /20
    Starts at ₱