ROAD TEST: We review the 2018 toughest Toyota HiLux trio
TOYOTA has introduced three HiLux models priced above $60,000 to make the top-selling pick-up even tougher and more capable.
The flagship Rugged X - with a desert-racer style bullbar, LED high-beam driving lights, heavy duty tow hooks, side rails and a sports bar that can actually take a load - starts from $61,690 plus on-roads. An automatic adds $2000.
The luxury Rogue model - in auto only - is also $61,690. The cheapest ticket into Toyota's toughest trucks is the base model Rugged, from $54,990.
There is no extra power for the 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel and the steering, suspension and brakes (front discs and rear drums) remain unchanged, so it drives the same as a standard HiLux.
The only minor variation: models equipped with the nudge bar or bullbar get heavy duty front springs to offset the extra weight over the nose.
These are the same springs that have been part of the genuine Toyota bullbar pack since this model was launched three years ago.
The Rugged X comes with 17-inch wheels - rather than the 18s fitted to the SR5 on which it is based - because there is more aftermarket choice of gnarly off-road rubber in 17-inch format. This way, hardcore buyers don't need to shell out for a new set of rims, too.
It may look like a bolt-on accessories pack but all the extras have been in development and torture-tested for the past three years, since before this generation HiLux went on sale.
For now, the parts will not be available off the shelf for people to dress up their existing HiLuxes.
The Rugged and Rogue models are made in Thailand alongside the rest of the HiLux range and shipped to Australia in a partially completed form before the specialised and locally made heavy duty parts are fitted in Melbourne.
All the extra gear adds about 200kg, which in turn has been lopped off the payload. The regular HiLux can carry about 950kg, the Rugged X is limited to 750kg.
During development, Toyota realised there was room for a more affordable version of the Rugged X - which is based on an SR5 - so it added the Rugged based on the next model down, the SR.
The Rugged gets cloth seats instead of leather, a cheaper looking instrument display and the standard Toyota steel bullbar for better protection from animal strikes on rural roads.
Another small detail: the Rugged gets the SR5's smooth ute tub body side, not the SR's tub with external hooks along the top edges.
The top-of-the-line Rogue gets carpet in the ute tub - it's "marine grade" to handle water and dirt. And a fitted hard lid that does a good job of keeping out water and dust.
Instead of a bullbar the Rogue gets a sportier looking nose and grille, new 18-inch wheels, heavy duty sports bar, among other luxuries.
The HiLux earned a five-star score for crash safety when tested in 2015 but if tested to today's more stringent standards it would four stars at best.
Crash-avoidance tech such as radar cruise control (available on the Ford Ranger), autonomous emergency braking (available on the Mercedes X-Class), forward crash alert and lane wander warning (available on the Holden Colorado) and blind spot warning (available on the Chinese LDV T60) are apparently under development but still at least a year away.
To get reacquainted with the HiLux, Toyota held a media preview drive in Wilpena Pound in the Flinders Ranges north of Adelaide.
The sealed roads are long, flat and straight so we can't give you an assessment of how Toyota's tougher HiLux handles bends. Given that it drives identically to the regular HiLux, however, we know it's a safe bet.
It was a worthwhile exercise to be reminded just how quiet and refined the HiLux is - for a diesel - having just clocked up 600km in the noisier HSV Colorado before arriving.
The extra LED highbeam lamps turn night into day, and because they're mounted in the bumper they don't reflect off the bonnet.
Off-road, the HiLux is at home. With the exception of the HSV and the coming Ford Ranger Raptor, it has the best wheel articulation in the class.
The power and torque figures may not look impressive but the HiLux is unstoppable when the going gets tough, chugging up hills, over sharp rocks and decent sized boulders without raising a sweat.
Room for improvement? The HiLux could do with more power, disc brakes at the rear and even heavier-duty suspension, while the inside desperately needs a digital speedo and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and more fast-charging USB ports.
Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5
It might not have extra grunt or off-road racing suspension but Toyota diehards will love it.
Toyota HiLux Rugged X
PRICE From $61,690 plus on-road costs
WARRANTY/SERVICE 3 years/100,000km, intervals are 6 months/10,000km, cost is $1440 over 3 years ($240 per visit)
ENGINE 2.8-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 130kW/450Nm (auto)
THIRST 8.6L/100km (auto)
SAFETY 7 airbags, rear camera
TOWING 3200kg (auto)
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling