(Editor's note: Ben Harrington is from the U.K. and reviews those pickup trucks we don't yet have in the U.S.)
When the world's biggest car television show, "Top Gear," does its darnedest to destroy one of your vehicles, and fails, what's a manufacturer to do?
The seemingly indestructible car is, in fact, a pickup truck: the Toyota Hilux. So Toyota has made the most of this and labeled the top of the Hilux range the Invincible.
Although we've only been officially able to buy the Hilux in the U.K. since the fourth-generation model was launched in the mid-1980s, its history actually stretches back eight generations to 1968. More than 18 million worldwide sales later, the Hilux (short for "high luxury") is undoubtedly an important vehicle for Toyota globally; with each version, they have to get it right.
How It Looks
From a styling perspective, it's taken a huge leap forward over its predecessor. Where many modern mid-size pickups are adopting a brash, flat-fronted appearance, the 2017 Hilux is altogether more dynamic and sleek.
The bonnet slopes downward while the front bumper projects upward, both directing focus toward that curved, slatted grille — which in turn melds into some large wraparound headlights.
The wheel arches are smoothly contoured, as opposed to being either stuck-on plastic cladding or sharply creased metal. Some real effort has been put into making the Hilux about not only function but form, too.
The same can be said of the cabin. It's ergonomically designed toward the driver, common in many "normal" cars but less so in pickups. The plastics used are of a good quality, and the large Touch 2 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system that comes as standard on all double-cab Hiluxes is easy to use and navigate.
A rearview camera is also standard fitment on the Hilux Invincible, but front and rear parking sensors are part of the optional $590 (plus value-added tax) Parking Pack. The seats are large and comfortable, as you might expect, and a two-way adjustable steering wheel makes finding the optimal driving position simple.
The biggest change this latest Hilux has seen is its new Economy With Superior Thermal Efficient Combustion 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder diesel engine. This replaces the somewhat antiquated 3.0-liter KD series engine that previous Hiluxes were powered by. All U.K. Hiluxes are powered by this new engine; you just choose to mate it to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, which also includes a somewhat unnecessary Sport mode.
How It Performs
Despite losing almost 37 cubic inches of displacement, the ESTEC engine still produces 150 horsepower and, perhaps more importantly, torque is up to almost 300 pounds-feet, plateauing between 1,600 and 2,000 rpm.
It's also a lot cleaner, which will have been the driving force behind its development. Although engine stop/start technology hasn't been incorporated, the manual Hilux is reported to return as much as 40 mpg combined; the automatic 36 mpg. CO2 emissions are 185 and 204 grams per kilometer, respectively. We should note that it's no quieter, though; there's still a fair amount of diesel clatter.
There is a very tempting button in the cab labelled Power Mode. The factory Hilux owner's manual reads, "Use when high levels of response and feeling are desirable, such as when driving in mountainous regions or when overtaking." In truth, it adds precisely no more power — it just makes acceleration a little more responsive.
The good news is that, although the Hilux isn't much of a performer in a drag race (we got zero-to-62 mph in a little more than 12 seconds), its towing capacity is now an impressive 3.5 tons and it can carry around 2,300 pounds in its bed. That keeps it right up there with the best of the competition and ahead of both the popular Mitsubishi L200 and Volkswagen Amarok.
How It Solves Problems
Anyone living in a colder climate will also be grateful for the Hilux's Power Heater button. This essentially allows the engine coolant to get to operating temperature more rapidly, thereby passing lovely hot air into the cabin. It sounds like a simple solution to the notoriously slow rate at which diesel engines warm up.
With a locking rear differential, an all-wheel-drive auto disconnecting differential and hill descent assist as standard — as well as approach and departure angles of 31 degrees and 26 degrees respectively — the Hilux is seriously good when it comes to its off-road capabilities.
What's possibly more satisfying, though, is how comfortable the Hilux is on the road. The double wishbone front suspension and leaf-sprung rear soaks up bumps and scars, leaving even unkempt roads feeling much smoother. It manages to do this without being too soft and wallowy, though, even with an unladen rear end that can often tend to bounce around.
Outside of the U.S., at least, the Toyota Hilux has been king of the pickups pretty much forever, with starting prices for new a new Hilux around $25,000 for the Active single-cab models. Every manufacturer seems to be launching a pickup these days, however, so this latest Hilux had to be good — and it is.
Cars.com photos by Ben Harrington