2008 Toyota Hilux Review

2008 toyota hilux review

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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  • Fortunerman Fortunerman on Mar 25, 2009

    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 :)

  • Zykotec Zykotec on Oct 31, 2010

    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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  • Theflyersfan If you ever want a review on a 2022 Mazda MX-5 GT RF, I'll be more than happy to type up a few thousand words and add in some great pictures in front of Churchill Downs for y'all!In a nutshell, I agree with this review. I didn't have a chance to try the Recaro seats because the only test drive available was with another GT that someone backed out in buying so it was being used as a demo. But from what I was told, if you're larger than a 38 waist or taller than 5'10", it gets tight. But with the standard seats, and I'm 5'10" and maybe 20 pounds from the 38 waist, I fit fine. Now getting in and out with the roof up after shoulder surgery (especially leaving the surgery center with most of the right arm under a nerve block) is the total opposite of graceful!!! The look on the nurse's face when the MX-5 pulled up and I'm partially wrapped up like a mummy was priceless.I've had mine since the middle of April and have already put 6,700 miles on it, including round trips from Louisville to Chicago and the Philadelphia suburbs. Averaged 38-39 mpg at a steady 75 mph, and it wasn't a torture chamber. The metal top helped a lot. The standard seats are a bit thin on padding, and there was a bit of squirming by around hour 8 on the Philly drive, but it's possible. But even though this design was released in 2015, I still get compliments from total strangers at stoplights, carwashes, gas stations, restaurants, etc. The Soul Red Metallic paint just makes the car pop. I wish it was available with the Terra Cotta leather (the gray above is available with it), and that it didn't have the standard all in black, because it gets thermonuclear in there with the top down and the sun beating on you, but a minor quibble. But it's just fun. Pure driving fun. The best stick shift in any car today. Solid brakes, excellent handling, a sane amount of power to where you aren't going to get into anything reckless and stupid. After a 12+ hour day at work, there's nothing better than dropping the top and driving the 20 minutes home with the better than I thought it would be Bose stereo playing Moby into my ears through the headrest speakers. Mazda has already announced there will be an NE model so I can't wait for that. It'll be interesting how they will keep the weight down with the expected changes to eke more MPG out of what is already an efficient car.