Attack helicopters, powerboats, a flying shark, dramatic waterfalls and some fridge raiding is all in a day’s work when it comes to launching the new Toyota Hilux in New Zealand it would seem, and all done with some help by the unbreakable bond from their friends.
With all that’s been going on lately, it’s good to be let off the chain to go and truly experience the launch of a new vehicle in the flesh and what better way to travel across the breadth of New Zealand’s colourful landscape than in a new Toyota Hilux.
With a history that dates back half a century and forty-four years of that in New Zealand, you could say that the Toyota Hilux is as Kiwi as the actual Kiwi but (thanks to sales numbers that have topped 140,000 units) nowhere near as rare.
It’s iconic, durable, reliable and unstoppable, it’s also evolved and adapted over the years and now the new 2021 model is tougher and more capable than ever. What’s more, there are EIGHTEEN variants to choose from.
At its heart lies a more powerful 2.8L turbo diesel, with 150kW and 500Nm (an increase of 15% and 11% respectively). It boasts a flatter torque curve across a wide range of revs, from 1,600rpm to be exact and this ensures that it’s great for overtaking on the open road yet still powerful enough to get you out of sticky situations when venturing into the wild. Plus for the record, emissions are down 5% on the previous model.
It has a smoother ride too, particularly when unladen, with the 8th generation’s suspension being further fettled with. An additional leaf spring has been added to all double cab models (apart from the WorkMate) and the helper leaf contact point has been extended. The spring rates, shocks and bushes have been re-tuned and the mounts have been revised. As with the extra power, the result is truly noticeable.
Design-wise, it’s still unmistakably a ute and still unmistakably a Toyota Hilux, however, the new trapezoid grille is large and foreboding (with charcoal, chrome and matte black borders as model differentiators) while the halogen or LED headlights are now more Clint Eastwood style, mean. Up to 17-inch wheels keep you rooted to the ground and should you opt for the (almost – I’ll get to that soon) range-topping SR5 Cruiser, you get LED tail lights, a new bumper and branded garnish.
Inside, the new Hilux’s cabin has seen a marked improvement. It still airs on the side of durability, with plenty of tough plastic surfaces but now has things like a more integrated 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with Apple/Android and again, should you venture up the model line-up, SUNA navigation and a powerful JBL system. There’s a new instrument cluster in town that’s clearer and easier to read and also comes with a 4.2-inch digital display between the two analogue dials that offer extra info including wheel angles for when you venture way out West. And as if all that wasn’t enough, it now comes with Toyota Safety Sense as standard.
Speaking of heading West, the launch event began at the head office in Palmerston North, where, following a couple of cups of joe to help us focus, Toyota NZ ambassador and pal Marc Ellis introduced us to our steeds for the day.
We would be driving through much of the range and heading Northwest to New Plymouth, although Toyota was very cagey as to what they had planned.
To showcase the new Hilux’s road-going prowess, we stuck mainly to the highway as we headed to our first stop, Lupton farm near Waverley. I had the top of the line SR5 Cruiser to play with and set about turning up the sounds on the JBL and being introduced to my colleague’s WAP tune. As expected, the new Hilux did what it says on the tin, it drove well, overtook where necessary and felt comfortable and confident. There’s ample, consistent power and even empty, it sat on the tarmac well.
The Lupton’s are evidently friends of Toyota as they’d laid on some top-notch pies and nibbles and were happy to light up the engine on one of their powerboats – it was almost ear-bleedingly loud, thankfully the JBL system had warmed me into it.
Toyota NZ had created an off-road circuit at the farm that had us testing out the Hilux’s ability to handle some rugged terrain. Steep incline hill starts, hill descents (that were smooth and actually a breeze), slippery grass and muddy tracks – the new UTE didn’t flinch.
Next stop was a photo opp at the windfarm before changing vehicles into an SR5 for another long trek to Dawson Falls alongside Mt Egmont and in particular the Mountain Lodge.
The lodge is a very cool and rather quaint looking place with rooms that ooze character. We didn’t sleep there but I think I shall go back and check it out (or is that check in?). Our hosts there, equally Toyota friends, laid on a smorgasbord of food and were warm and welcoming, unlike Egmont itself that preferred to hide behind clouds and then shower us with some snow – bugger.
Next on the agenda was Cape Egmont Boat Club near Warea (of Atom Splitting Rutherford fame) for the biggest surprise of the day.
Firstly more food, this time seafood and venison provided by Toyota ambassador Matt Watson. Matt is a legendary hunter/gatherer/ fisherman but due to non-ideal water conditions, he too had to call on friends to provide our ‘fresh’ fridge-found food.
Over whitebait fritters, Matt explained the benefits of the new Hilux but equally informed us of its ‘failings’ setting us up for the unveiling of the top of Hilux foodchain – the Mako.
Dramatically suspended under an attack helicopter, the Mako was flown in and landed beside the boat clubs lighthouse, an excellent way to grab our attention for this ‘dinosaur-feasting’ Hilux.
The Mako takes the SR5 Cruiser and monsters it. Cosmetically it comes with Mako decals and custom made running boards. The tailgate has Toyota’s lift/close assist making it finger-tip easy to close, the wheel arches are flared, the wheels are 18-inch alloys with Maxxis Razr rubber and the brakes are larger with yellow braided brake lines. But wait there’s more. Front and rear bumpers are heavy-duty, there’s an LED lightbar up front, the seats are now leather-clad and sportified, the steering wheel has been made to measure for thickness and finish and there’s a unique Mako build plate in the engine bay. Last but by no means least, the suspension has been upgraded to ‘Old Man Emu’ both front and rear – this is serious stuff.
One of the most important revelations about the Mako is that it kinda brings vehicle manufacture back to NZ as it’s produced to order at Toyota’s facility in Thames.
The Toyota NZ Hilux has for decades, held a place in the hearts of rural and city Kiwi’s alike, however, the new tougher and more capable model (plus the creme de la creme Mako) is perfectly placed to not only reinforce this bond but in fact, Toyota believes it will make it unbreakable.