Toyota has polished its Hilux and Prado offerings for 2018. We travel through the heartland to try them out.
The Hilux ute and the Land Cruiser Prado are two of Toyota New Zealand’s (TNZ) best selling vehicles, so it decided to show off the improved 2018 models by taking media on a two-day road trip through the heartland of the MacKenzie country and central Otago.
The most noticeable update to the 2018 Hilux is the vastly improved ride quality on and off road thanks to the factory addressing quality issues and tolerances with the rear leaf spring suspension. Further, the levels of noise, vibration, and harshness are all markedly improved over the model that was first introduced in November 2015.
Buyers will appreciate this marked improvement in comfort, as we did travelling through the unsealed rural back roads of the McKenzie Basin en route from Staveley to our overnight accommodation at Tekapo.
More good news is that Toyota has finally sorted out the previously confusing towing capacities for this Hilux series.
The tow rating for the high-riding PreRunner 4×2 variants and all 4×4 models is now 3500kg and this can also apply retrospectively to earlier models by simply visiting a Toyota dealership for a new compliance stamp on your tow-bar.
The legend began in ‘82
Bushman and author Barry Crump immortalised the Hilux in television commercials that ran in the eighties and early nineties, and the Hilux still remains as popular as ever in the rural sector. Our first stop on the Hilux drive was in a field near Hororata where we met Ballooning Canterbury chief pilot (and seed potato farmer) Michael Oakley and his 1982 Hilux, as well as his pride and joy, ZK-OAK the largest commercially operating balloon in New Zealand.
The ’82 Hilux looks a bit the worse for wear. It’s done 300,000km, has survived being completely flooded and written off by the insurance company but Oakley bought it back and says it continues to pass warrant of fitness tests many years later. With the help of son Nicholas, a fellow glider and balloon pilot, we prep ZK-OAK for a short flight over the field. The unorthodox landing was bumpier than expected for those inside the 16-person Cameron Z75 balloon basket as Oakley expertly brought it to a halt by tipping the basket on its side.
After packing up the balloon, we met Rolleston-based Rubecca Soper-Hazlett and her late father’s 1982 Hilux which was the recipient of a full restoration in the “Give your Lux some love” competition run by Toyota in 2016.
Soper-Hazlett enthralls the gathered throng with her personal story about the ‘82 Hilux which was bought brand new by her dad and served him well until he died and the truck was sold on in 1999.
It was Soper-Hazlett’s husband who purchased the single-cab Hilux 4×4 flat deck and brought it back from Te Anau where it had become an immobile dog kennel. The extensive restoration by TNZ staff and suppliers saw “Granddads’ Truck” return to just like new condition with fresh parts and panels used where required, and period-correct upholstery, paint, and decals. The engine, transmission and hydraulics for the tip tray had a complete service and a new exhaust system was built from scratch.
“It’s like a new truck, but the bones of the ’82 model are still there. Dad would’ve loved to have some of the accessories it’s got now,” says Soper-Hazlett.
It would be interesting to know what a traditional Kiwi farmer such as Soper-Hazlett’s dad would make of the revamped Hilux line-up for 2018, particularly as TNZ has dropped the 4×4 Extra cab manual ute model entirely in favour of an automatic. The S, SR, and SR5 grades continue, the SR5 Limited is no longer available but a new hero model, the SR5 Cruiser, with a more aggressive and squarer-looking front grille and bumper will be arriving in the first quarter of 2018.
There are five new automatic models, the PreRunner SR extra cab and four 4×4 SR variants being the single cab/chassis, extra cab chassis, extra cab ute and double cab/chassis.
A differential lock is added to the 4×2 PreRunner models for additional traction off-road. S and SR models now have black rather than chrome exterior door handles, and also a PVC floor covering instead of carpet, reflecting their workhorse credentials. A reversing camera has been added to all cab-chassis models. The front fog lights on the SR5 have been upgraded to an LED type, and air vents have been added to the centre console for rear seat passengers. A key lock mechanism has been added to the tailgate of all extra cab ute and SR5 variants to improve security. All 4×4 SR double-cab automatic models now have downhill assist control.
Pricing for the 2018 Hilux starts at $36,390 for the S 4×2 cab/chassis manual and extends to $62,690 for the SR5 4×4 double-cab automatic.
Often referred to as the son of the Land Cruiser 200 series, the 2018 Land Cruiser Prado has been significantly upgraded with new sheetmetal from the A-Pillar forward but the improvements are more than just cosmetic. Toyota wanted a new look for the seven-seat Prado SUV that was more consistent with the 200 series, and it also added more equipment and safety features to the three model line-up of GX, VX, and VX Limited grades.
For 2018 the Prado is now equipped with Toyota Safety Sense which provides a full suite of driver assistance systems including autonomous emergency braking for pedestrians, pre crash safety system, lane departure alert, and dynamic radar cruise control. The towing capacity of the Prado has also increased to 3000kg, up from 2500kg. Prices for the 2018 Prado start at $79,490 for the GX, $88,990 for the VX, and $99,990 for the VX Limited.
Driving from Lake Tekapo to Queenstown via the Oteake Conservation Park shows that Prado’s ability to traverse state highways as well as dirt roads with prodigious grip and maximum comfort has not changed. Travelling through the west Manuherikia track with a lunch stop at Top Hut, some two kilometres from the Omarama Saddle, proves the 2018 Prado still has serious off-road capability beloved by its customer base.
Crossing fast running river fords and rutted stoney stock tracks wasn’t a problem for the Prado thanks to its 130kW/450Nm turbodiesel engine and impressive ground clearance. The ability of its suspension to soak up the worst bumps was appreciated as we traversed the 25km of winding track.
We were greeted at Top Hut by a group of local search and rescue service (SARS) volunteers and all but three of them drove Toyotas; there were two elderly Nissan Patrols, and one Land Rover Discovery parked around the former shepherds’ quarters. Most of the SARS team are local farmers, and are intrigued by the four now not so shiny new Prado models and the accompanying three Hilux 4x4s, but you soon get the impression they prefer more workmanlike vehicles for their daily operation.
One sheep farmer, Wendy, prefers her much loved 2002 Hilux 4×4 double cab. She reckons the newer models are “too high for the bloody dog to jump onto the back of, and how do you sling a sheep onto that” she asks, pointing at the tall 2018 models parked nearby. We thank the SARS crew for the delicious lunch and the fleet of new Toyotas heads off for Queenstown. We’ve got another few hours ahead of us but in the climate controlled leather luxury of the Prado VX it’s hardly a chore.