The wonderful world of cars means that there is a vehicle for pretty much any purpose you can think of, and the sheer variety of that world means that there are as many jacks of all trades as there are masters of one.
In the case of go anywhere-ability, it’s often difficult to avoid mentioning the Toyota Hilux. Since its introduction in the late-1960s, the venerable pickup has built a reputation over the years for ruggedness, reliability and durability in some of the toughest conditions. On a recent media drive of the latest incarnation in the range, it was clear that what we subjected it to was merely child’s play for the tough truck.
It’s not a new generation, so what’s all the occasion? The answer lies under the bonnet – the 2.5G variant has joined its 3.0G sibling in getting Intercooler Variable Nozzle Turbo (VNT) technology added to its 2KD-FTV common rail turbodiesel unit, pushing output numbers up to 144 PS at 3,400 rpm and 343 Nm from 1,600 to 2,800 rpm.
This is an increase of 42 PS and 83 Nm over the non-VNT car, while that peak torque is available over a wider rev range. The updated engine is also now to be found in the Fortuner 2.5G.
The VNT optimises the flow of exhaust gases into the turbine according to demand conditions by altering the opening angle of the vanes – at low revs the vane opening is narrow, increasing exhaust flow and pressure so the turbine spins faster, improving low end torque.
Apart from the intercooler, which cools intake air temperature for better combustion and therefore more power, there’s also a fuel cooler which lowers the temperature of the return fuel to the fuel tank, maintaining its viscosity and preserving the reliability of the fuel system.
No exterior changes, save the addition of a new bonnet scoop to help channel better air flow to the top-mounted intercooler; the item was previously seen only on the 3.0 litre version. The interior remains simple and functional, the only change being a new two-DIN audio system that offers Bluetooth, USB and Aux connectivity and MP3/iPod compatibility, with six speakers as standard. These are also to be found on the Fortuner.
There’s the option of going with a DVD-Audio Video Navigation (AVN) system with the 2.5G variant, which adds GPS as well as a reverse camera on a large 6.1-inch colour monitor.
In a time when steering wheels are becoming increasingly festooned with buttons and switches, it is refreshing to see one devoid of any in the Hilux 2.5G, adding to its functional, largely mechanical nature. Also worth a mention is the fact that a limited-slip differential comes as standard, distributing power more effectively between the two rear wheels in low traction conditions.
Our 380 km drive took us from Shah Alam to Belum Forest Reserve in Pulau Banding, Perak through a mix of highway and trunk roads. We also had the opportunity, en route, to take the updated Hilux away from the tarmac to tackle an off-road trail that snaked up a 670 metre high hill. Coupled with occasional rain and light and heavy traffic, you might agree that as far as preview drives go, this one was pretty thorough.
For the sake of comparison, UMW Toyota Motor also brought a fleet of non-VNT cars along. Having driven both, I can report that the performance increase is evident, most so when overtaking.
Naturally, the VNT car pulls more strongly from lower revs, confirming the higher torque figure, but also at the top end of the rev range, the older car runs out of puff sooner while the VNT car continues to build up speed – useful for short bursts of acceleration. I was definitely more confident of executing safe and swift overtakes in the latter.
There didn’t seem to be any change in the engine note or its sound levels – clearly audible but not excessive, and the turbo emits its characterful whistle. Power delivery remains for the most part smooth and purposeful.
While the two-DIN touchscreen system responds well and adequately quickly to one’s fingertips, the screen isn’t very bright, and the glare from the sun can make the interface quite difficult to read.
Naturally, brake pedal feel is not the same as that on a regular car. While the brakes themselves are as effective as any in hauling the 1.9-tonne vehicle to an assertive stop, the long-travel pedal requires quite a bit of effort before the bite comes – just takes a bit of getting used to.
As befits a big 4X4 like this one, the steering is low-geared so that it doesn’t wobble excessively when you hit the rough stuff, but it isn’t so vague as to compromise accuracy.
The VNT Hiluxes among the convoy were fitted with all-terrain Bridgestone Duelers for the off-road bit later in the day, which on the initial highway blast naturally yielded quite a bit of tyre roar, and while grip levels on tarmac were reduced slightly, they didn’t ruin the ride comfort much, which has to be said is not as choppy as you might expect at speed.
Then it was time to engage low range on the chain-driven transfer case and take it off road, and the Hilux was now truly in its element. In the rocky, narrow climb up a hill to a turn-around spot, the surface undulations did little to disturb its body composure and balance, and the increased torque meant that it was capable of creeping up very steep gradients at very low revs, which brings a rather satisfying sensation.
To summarise and conclude, the already versatile Hilux has definitely received a long-awaited and welcome improvement in the form of the added Intercooler VNT to its 2.5 litre engine – the increased power and torque makes the vehicle more useable in all situations and restores an element of parity with contemporary competitors.
As for pricing, the Hilux Double Cab 2.5G Intercooler VNT costs RM94,988 for the manual and RM99,988 for the automatic, while the Double Cab 2.5 Standard manual is priced at RM86,788.
Completing the five model Hilux range are the 2.5 single-cab manual gearbox version at RM76,288 and the top-of-the-range double-cab 3.0G, which goes for RM107,267. These prices are OTR for individual private registration with insurance, for Peninsular Malaysia.
Colours available for the Double Cab 2.5G and 2.5 STD are Dark Steel Mica, Silver Metallic, Medium Silver Metallic and White. The 3.0G has the same shade palette, but drops Medium Silver Metallic to make it three colours, while the 2.5 single cab only comes in white.
The pricing for the Fortuner variants are as such – the 2.5G automatic goes for RM171,288, while the dressed-up 2.5G TRD Sportivo version is priced at RM174,772. Those wanting to go the petrol route still have the 2.7V to pick, and that one goes for RM179,007; opting for the 2.7V TRD Sportivo brings the sum up to RM182,465.