By on October 10, 2008

After hearing all the stories, legends, and Top Gear specials on the fabled Toyota Hilux, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on one. While I was in Afghanistan, I heard that a Hilux dragged itself and four American soldiers over forty miles to safety while only able to drive its front wheels when its rear drive shaft was blown off. Another ran for over 100 miles with no oil and a leaking head gasket after being shot by an AK-47 in the mountainous highlands. Talk about a letdown. Driving the Hilux sucks.

On initial inspection, the Hilux looks like the related and beloved Tacoma, only more basic. We’re talking steel wheels, no fender flares, and a really, really garish swath of red and beige graphics down the side proclaiming you’re driving a Hilux, it has four-wheel drive and our graphic artist still listens to REO Speedwagon. The Hilux’s front fascia demonstrates the classic Japanese caught-in-a-explosion surprise look, with the rest of the four-door bodied version showing classic proportions, complete with rustic latch-closed tailgate. Boring, yet functional.

You don’t buy a Hilux for how it looks. You buy a Hilux for how it operates. After searching around the floorboards for my dropped Motorola radio, I got a good feel for the Hilux’s brick shit house construction quality. The fit and finish of the dashboard, all the way down to the transmission tunnel, would make a Lexus owner, uh, happy. The panels fit perfectly– to the point where I began to second-guess whether certain portions were molded-in rather than screwed together. Don’t let the pleasing textures fool you; that durability arrives from some of the worst plastics to ever melt out of the Land of the Rising Sun. Everything in the Hilux derives from gray polymers that will only bio-degrade when our sun goes super nova.

The rest of the Hilux’s interior setup comes straight from the Yaris. It’s functional enough for children yet to graduate from beginner’s Lego, complete with giant rotary HVAC knobs, a CD/cassette radio, and a digital clock from Tron. Manual windows, locks, mirrors, seats, and well, everything else remind you of the Hilux’s higher calling: work. Power packages are available, replete with machismo elevating fender flares.

Rounding the roundabout in an “unnamed” Middle Eastern nation, I couldn’t bring myself to admit that I really didn’t like the blazing white four-door truck. I’ve heard the stories, seent he Top Gear episode, talked Toyota with the Mullahs. Yet the pickup truck’s killer rep (machine gun mount and all) does not alleviate the simple fact: the Hilux really makes for an thoroughly unpleasant drive.

The Hilux sampled was powered by a 2.7L VVT-I four-cylinder engine, pumping out 160bhp. For reasons I can’t quite grasp, Toyota has paired one of the most robust engines ever built to the most stupid transmission in existence. The four-speed automatic refuses to shift, even when the tippy throttle has been mashed to the carpet. Kick downs come at random and unwelcome times. Merging on the motorway at a heady 120kph provided entirely unwelcome thrills, as I didn’t know if I was going to get a surge of torque, or languish in the median with the engine moaning in the sub-3k rpm band.

Instead of a manu-matic function found on North American Toyotas, the company’s fitted a zigzag transmission pattern reminiscent of an old Mercedes-Benzes– with a mental disability. This setup allows you to drop down into, and hold onto, any gear (as long as its one of four). Yet when I selected a lower gear, I had to wait, wait, then wait, before a massive surge and a clunk. At which point, the truck FINALLY lurches down a cog, with the engine note moaning out like a Saharan Banshee. Leave it in “Drive” and deal with the slow and power-sapping shifts.

The problem now lies in the questionable robustness of the gearbox from Hell. In the searing heat and humidity of my undisclosed location, the transmission staredt to slip, and rev when pressed hard. The inability of the automatic to deal with extreme temperatures closely associated with its birth place (Hades) raises serious concern about the Hilux’s legendary reliability. That said, the five-speed manuals are a joy to shift, with their long-throw, precise bolt action feel. Reports from the front reports that they’re impossible to kill, no matter how badly you shift.

The roman chariot style rear suspension and front struts cause the Hilux to buck and snap as if it were trying to throw its occupants into the dunes. Yet within this bouncy calamity, I discovered a structure as stiff and rattle free as a Porsche Cayman; perfect for off-roading in a war zone. Around corners, the Hilux steers limply, and understeers badly, just like every other pickup on the market.

The mediocre steering, really bad transmission, throaty yet moany engine all come together to create a distinctly sub-par on-road experience. In normal conditions, I would pass over the Hilux as a throwback to brush-war engineering, a Neanderthal amongst MENSA members. However, next time I’m shot at or mortared, make mine a manual, and a diesel, and it will save me, you, and possibly the free-world.

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45 Comments on “2008 Toyota Hilux Review...”


  • avatar

    Good to hear from you, Capt. Mike.

    The interior setup isn’t entirely from a Yaris: no centrally positioned instruments.

  • avatar
    ttacgreg

    This sounds like a real winner to me. It seems there is a huge reserve of people here in the USA who want unsophsticated rough tough truckinnes over smooth sophisticated automotive excellence.
    It even has a 4 banger to make it sound like it is fuel efficient.
    Personally, ho thanks!

  • avatar
    ctoan

    Sounds like classic Toyota, for what that’s worth.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    Sounds like a good work truck, especially if you get the manual transmission instead of the crappy automatic.

  • avatar
    netrun

    This is exactly what I think of when I look over into the lane next to me and see a pick-up. The Ford’s and the Chevy’s may have more lipstick on them, but the basics are the same (to me).

    Why anyone would prefer a vehicle like this who doesn’t absolutely need one is beyond me.

    My E320 wagon carries more than most pick-ups, keeps all the cargo out of the rain, drives great, and gets twice the fuel economy to boot.

    Did I mention it looks great, too!

  • avatar
    davey49

    Any chance of a Thailand Ford Ranger test?
    netrun- a truck costs less than your wagon and your wagon can’t tow a travel trailer

  • avatar
    miked

    My daily driver is a rebadged Hilux (Surf). I don’t mind the lack of creature comforts. I’m just impressed that it has 260,000 miles on the original (4-cyl) engine and 5 speed transmission and shows no signs of age. I wish I could buy a new one here in the US. But all our choices are too fancy and too expensive with too many things to break.

  • avatar

    The transmission sounds like the one in my grandparents’ old 1980 Oldsmobile Cutlass aeroback. Once, while driving it, I attempted to overcome its pathological resistance to kicking down by moving the lever from D to 2 (this at about 40 mph, mind you). That saints protect children and fools is the only reason I survived to tell the tail.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    Mike, Nice review, loved the line about the plastic lasting as long as the sun does. However, it sounds like the Hilux is everything it’s supposed to be if you don’t buy the automatic. Who buys the auto? Is it cheaper?

    Toxic,

    I’ll take the Abrams over the 3 series anyday. As they say on Top Gear, “It’s the business.”

  • avatar
    Larry P2

    “… a Hilux dragged itself and four American soldiers over forty miles to safety while only able to drive its front wheels when its rear drive shaft was blown off.”

    That really says nothing about the toughness of this truck. That is an incredibly routine outcome in hardcore offroading. My brother’s Jeep broke its rear axles 20 miles from nowhere and they had to cut down two trees, shape them with a chainsaw, and then bolted them onto the axle housings to make skis to replace the rear tires. It pulled itslef out in front wheel drive over monstrous boulders.

    Just about any straight six will go 100 miles when the oil pan gets knocked completely off.

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    Miked:

    You can buy just such a truck here….it’s called the Ford Ranger XL.

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    @doctorV8:

    Erm, not quite. Ranger is robust and out of date. Hilux is just robust.

  • avatar
    Billy Bobb 2

    “The Taliban also value durability in a truck”.

    (Toyota USA spokesperson)

  • avatar
    toxicroach

    Say what you will about the Taliban, but they have good taste when it comes to low budget high durability stuff, like AK-47’s and Hiluxs.

  • avatar
    Michael Ayoub

    @ Larry P2

    “That really says nothing about the toughness of this truck. That is an incredibly routine outcome in hardcore offroading. My brother’s Jeep broke its rear axles 20 miles from nowhere and they had to cut down two trees, shape them with a chainsaw, and then bolted them onto the axle housings to make skis to replace the rear tires. It pulled itslef out in front wheel drive over monstrous boulders.”

    That sounds so freakin’ extreme.

  • avatar

    a “sub-par on-road experience” yet you give it a 3 star rating?

  • avatar

    I agree with cretinx. This truck sounds like a piece of crap from the review.

    I mean, I do realize it gets points for toughness, and I also realize that this is pretty much the entire point of a truck, but jeez.

    Also, netrun, my mother has a 1999 F-150 and I can say that it is an extremely nice truck to be in. Most Americans don’t really want a truck like this. They buy luxurious trucks because they have massive interior and leg room.

  • avatar
    Samir

    …all of which begs the questions: Why are the USAF’s finest using furrin (i.e., foreign) trucks?

  • avatar
    altoids

    The Toyota War

    A war fought by AK-47s and Toyotas. All hail the mighty Hilux.

  • avatar
    t-truck

    You need to get your hands on a 3.0L Diesel with a manual, 171hp 28/33mpg and yes it will still drive and handle like a truck.

    The Hilux claim to fame is to be sturdy, economical no nonsense transpiration, superior handling is obviously not included on the list.

    So could somebody please remind me why a basic, economic, sturdy truck would not sell in the US?

    For anybody that has not seen the Top Gear videos they are a must.

    Part one: http://www.topgear.com/uk/videos/killing-a-toyota#/uk/video-search?ContentSearchPhrase=hilux
    Part two: http://www.topgear.com/uk/videos/killing-a-toyota-part-2-a#/uk/video-search?ContentSearchPhrase=hilux
    Part three: http://www.topgear.com/uk/videos/killing-a-toyota-part-2-b#/uk/video-search?ContentSearchPhrase=hilux%20

    And while you are at it why not watch them drive a heavily modified Hilux to the magnetic pole: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5rOGmGXcR7M&feature=related

  • avatar
    doktorno

    So are you giving the vehicle with three stars because it did no fulfill the mission for which it was designed or because you were letdown ?

    Was this a used work truck? Hell, I can find the employee to screw up any work truck.

  • avatar
    BlisterInTheSun

    I put about 1000km a month in one of these, and this truck rocks.

    Mine is an up-armored version purchased used from the UN. It has a 2.0l diesel, a bench seat, and a gun port in the windshield. My biggest complaint is the armor kit – this truck is solid and doesn’t make any noise when I do drive it on the one or two smooth stretches of pavement in and around Kabul or any of the northern provinces.

    I have enough room for an AK and two grenades on the seat between me and my passenger. I’ve been hit numerous times (speeding taxis, a guy running head-down with a wheelbarrow, and an obnoxious ISAF convoy run by the Belgians whom I thought weren’t allowed outside of KIA) and I’ve done some hitting of my own.

    Since mine spends a majority of its time either running back and forth to Jalalabad or on the road from Gheshm to Faisalbad, it doesn’t look nearly as nice as your, Mike. Any chance that you use that thing for anything else besides back-and-forth trips to “The Green Bean” and Air Ops?

    As an aside, are you at Bagram or Khandahar? I can’t tell from the pictures.

  • avatar
    DeanMTL

    I remember the Hilux from my youth in rural Greece. It, along with the old Mazda B-series precursors, were the pickups of choice. The old Mazda pickups were even more spectacular – some of them had 40 hp and 2WD but they hauled so much on a daily basis the wheels would scrape the wells.

  • avatar

    @ BlisterInTheSun,

    My location shall remain “classified”. You don’t know whose reading our reviews, after all, maybe certain unfriendly anti-US members are looking for a review on the Hilux as well.

    @ cretinx,

    I gave it three stars because it does what it is supposed to do, but it goes about it in a very rough manner. In combat, I give it 5-stars everytime, but most of our readers are not getting shot at, so I look at it from a buyer’s perspective. The Tacoma shows what polishing and softening this platform can achieve. However, if you want a no-frills work truck….

    And the truck reviewed was brand new, less than 2,000 kms.

  • avatar
    Canucknucklehead

    I owned the exact same truck, a 1985 Toyota 4X4 diesel, bought it brand new for the sum of $12,000 that year. It was at least $2000 more than a Chevy of a Ford. My buddies laughed at me like crazy and told me, “Like, eh, it’ll never start in the winter, eh?”

    It did. If it was really cold, I let it run. I never once coddled it, it was a real huntin’ and fishin’ mobile. I rode like a ox cart, the seat was a form of torture and the clutch made for a very strong left leg. It was slower than the second coming. The diesel made so much torque that lo range was really unnecessary.

    I had that truck for 15 years and 450,000 km. My buddies were on their fourth or fifth Ford or Chevy by then, they having fallen apart the day the warranty expired. And like Top Gear, I tried to kill my Toyota.

    Unsuccessfully. My nephew is driving it.

  • avatar

    Honestly I’d rather get an old Hilux ala Top Gear and beat it unmercifully – because it’s an old truck that won’t die. A new truck that won’t die is still a new truck. And then you have to contend with all the flaws which will be ever more glaring when you realize this is a brand-new vehicle you paid a lot of money for. Better to spend a few grand on an oldie and forgive everything in favour of the bulletproof (literally?) mechanicals.

  • avatar

    “We’re talking steel wheels, no fender flares, and a really, really garish swath of red and beige graphics down the side proclaiming you’re driving a Hilux…”

    Huh? Three fifths of your photos show fender flares on what is presumably on your test vehicle, since you’re posing with the vehicle in the first picture. 100% agreed about the awfulness of the graphics on the side, however.

  • avatar

    @ ChrisHaak,

    We have several Hiluxes, and someone stole the keys to mine (which is basic with no fender flares) when I needed to take photos, so I stole my 1st Sergeant’s Hilux, which has a power package and fender flares. They stick the captain with manual windows…. go figure

  • avatar
    pacificpom2

    Ha! what a piss weak vehicle. If you want your HiLux to boogie, checkout TRD’s HiLux http://www.toyota.com.au/TRD/#main/vehicles/trdhilux
    225kw SUPERCHARGED 4.0l quadcam v6

    Put a machine gun mount on that!

  • avatar
    theflyersfan

    I wonder if the same company that made that garish 4×4 sticker plastered on the side of the Hilux is the same maker of the awful “Hybrid” 8′ sticker on the GM Hybrid SUVs. If so, they must be stopped!
    Mike – your mission with the Hilux…read the above.
    From my overseas days, I can say that I do miss just a stripped yet decent pickup truck. I was offroad more than on-road at times, and it’s great to have a truck that you can hose out and it’s good to go again.

  • avatar
    LDMAN1

    Just to help you guys understand where the reputation came from. Watch this
    http://www.topgear.com/uk/videos/killing-a-toyota

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    Better still, go to Youtube and search for Davidsfarm. Yeah it is a bit of redneck fun for a NYT reading guy like me. Find the video that he posted to challenge TopGear’s Toyota Hilux. To counter TopGear’s allegation that Toyota makes the toughest vehicle, David took a Buick Regal and crushed it with at 20 ton bulldozer. Twice!! And it still ran!! And drove!! Check it out!! Toyota EAT THAT.

    While you are at it, check out all the fun he has with cars at the END of their life!! He likes Toyotas; but this was too much of a challenge to let go.

  • avatar
    LDMAN1

    “Rounding the roundabout in an “unnamed” Middle Eastern nation,”… You are most likely in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, as the blue and white “Trading Enterprises” sticker on the back window indicates. Chek the logo on their website http://www.tradingenterprises.com/

  • avatar
    robert_h

    Larry P2 wrote:
    “That really says nothing about the toughness of this truck. That is an incredibly routine outcome in hardcore offroading. My brother’s Jeep broke its rear axles 20 miles from nowhere and they had to cut down two trees, shape them with a chainsaw, and then bolted them onto the axle housings to make skis to replace the rear tires. It pulled itslef out in front wheel drive over monstrous boulders.”

    That anecdote is likely attributable to the design of the Dana 35 rear axle used in many jeeps: if you break a rear axleshaft, there’s nothing left to hold the wheel on. Durability-wise, it’s nothing to brag about. I don’t know if the Toyotas have the same issue, but not all axles are designed this way.

  • avatar
    BEAT

    What so special about a PICK UP truck?

    It is the same with the 4 Runner my fellow TTAX

  • avatar

    Hmm, this brings back memories of my 2003 trip to Nicaragua. I was the driver for my group, and our trusty steed: a Toyota crew cab 4×4. Oh yeah, it was a diesel, too, which allowed it to blend right in with the black soot spewing buses that prowl the roads there.

    The only plus I can think of for the driving experience was a pretty forging clutch which made it easy for me to keep my passengers heads from bobbing around with every shift. Otherwise, it was bullet proof as I flogged it dodging the crater-size potholes, donkey-pulled carts, family of four on a single bicycle, and aforementioned ratty buses.

  • avatar
    grinchsmate

    you should have got the manual. and a diesel would have helped. but even better get the landcruiser turbo v8 diesel and two solid axles and an even more indestructible interior.

    but if you must have a hilux get the supercharged one also check out the ads for them, you should find them on youtube, the best ive seen in a long time

  • avatar
    cheezeweggie

    There are still some of us that remember the days of dirt cheap 4-cylinder Japanese trucks. Yes, they rode like crap. They hauled just about anything (within reason)and ran forever – or at least till the beds rotted out. If this thing costs less than 15K with a 5-speed and 2WD, I’ll take one in a heartbeat.

  • avatar
    geggamoya

    Diesel + manual suits this thing much better than petrol + auto.. Also the interior looks not too good. Just slab a straight piece of really hard and nasty(but durable) plastic on there and it would look, and probably be, more purposeful.

    Anyway, the hilux extra cab costs 35.000€ here. Or 43.000€ if you go with the double cab, which raises the tax from 35% to 72%. That’s with the 2.5D + manual( only options) and no options whatsoever. Then again something like a Silverado is around 80.000€ if im not mistaken.

  • avatar
    John B

    golden2husky:

    I’ve met Dave and had a tour of his “farm”. Eccentric is a mild term.

  • avatar

    Wow, what a disappointment. I had such high hopes for the Hilux considering how Jeremy and the gang talked about it.

  • avatar
    westhighgoalie

    Does anyone know how I can get a Hilux, I live In New Hampshire, U.S.A, I’ve looked at the websites of toyota dealers in Canada and had no luck there, I want to park this indestructible marvel of engineering in my driveway, especially the manual diesel version. I don’t care how bad it drives, I want a truck that will take me half a million miles even after I beat it like a rented mule!

    SOMEONE HELP ME FIND ONE PLEASE!!!

  • avatar
    LDMAN1

    Look South. Not North.
    http://www.toyota.com.mx/modelos_specs/hilux/interior_hilux.aspx

    Buy and register one in Mexico. That means getting a residency permit in that country or opening a shell company in one of the border towns and registering it as a company car. Then KEEP the Mexican plates on (OK I hope you are a WASP because you will be pulled over a lot by the INS and the DEA) and ship the car back out every year to comply with US LAW, and bring it right back. Sadly they only do 2wd and NO diesel engine. However, if you sweet talk a local dealer he will most probably get you a diesel 4×4 Hi/Lux in any spec and color you want and register it for you as one off.
    Sure that would be shipping the truck back and forth to Mexico every year but you might want to try to re/register it in TX, NM, or AZ after a few years. Stay away from CA.

    I would also contact these guys http://us.toyotaownersclub.com/

    BTW before you do anything check with the Authorities and a Lawyer. The Feds are not renowned for their sense of humor. Make sure you know all relevant Law and Regulations.

  • avatar

    Pretty funny review. I have a Fortuner, the Hilux’s near twin brother. I agree mostly with the review, although I don’t think the tranny is that bad – but I do agree it’s pretty stupid. Anyway, I bought my truck-turned SUV for its toughness..I’m glad it didn’t disappoint :)

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    Pretty much what the Hilux has always been, allthough I’d also prefer a diesel and manual, for that ultimate ‘everlasting’ feeling. They have never offered any of the comforts you expect in a passenger car, apart from windows, seats and rubber tires. I’m quite sure in a more realistic version of Mad Max there would be more or less only Hi-Luxes.


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