Based on its exterior, you'd think that Toyota was kidding. Not much has changed from the previous Hilux at first glance, save for a new upper front grille (with a topmost bar that accentuates the multi-reflector headlights), faux mesh lining for the lower front grille, a redesigned front bumper that looks like it pays homage to the superheroes in Alex Ross' works (read: square jaws) and foglights with diameters that are the size of headlights on some motorcycles.
Ditto also for the cabin, as the general layout, colorway and five-person seating setup is practically the same as the previous Hilux. But when you plop unto any of the light khaki-colored moquette seats, you'll find out the changes. The head unit has a new layout and a plug-in jack for external MP3 players; unfortunately it's not made for iPods. The audio entertainment is much better than that in the previous model, but needs a lot more improvement on both treble and bass. You have two electrical outlets (they're both in the middle dashboard area) and unobstructed side views from all doors, but the one-touch driver's side window power assist only goes down.
Whether in the cabin or on the bed, the P 1.431 million Hilux G A/T 4x4's storage abilities are a big plus. Loading and unloading stuff unto the bed is easy, despite the unit lacking a bedliner and tie-down points. In fact, on Christmas Day 2008 the Hilux's bed managed to handle pots and pans filled with food, eight cartons of eggs, a cardboard receptacle the size of a DHL Jumbo Box (full of over 14 edible viands and spices), a balikbayan box full of Christmas gifts, over 35 assorted cooking utensils, three tarpaulin covers, an aluminum baseball bat, a small stool and a tin box full of Danish cookies. However, it would be much better if there was a lower stepboard area (similar to the rear bumper of the Nissan Navara) incorporated into the rear bumper. Short people will have a hard time getting up and into the bed; at least the rear bumper has rubber lining so people won't slip on bed ingress and egress. Inside-wise, the IMV cabin layout makes sure that interior storage need not be a problem, be it in the middle dashboard, under the farthest aircon vents, within the doors, behind the front seats or in the center console. Speaking of the center console, its storage capabilities are arguably the only blemish on an otherwise excellent cabin for small item placement. Being neither shallow nor deep, it only fits two paperback copies of the Twilight series of books, plus a wallet bursting with bills and plastic (read: credit cards and ATM cards).
The diesel 3.0L inline four banger does a decent job of moving its 1,883 kg curb weight anywhere, but doesn't have the hair trigger acceleration of the Nissan Navara or the Ford Ranger. Nevertheless, the a/t is willing to downshift at one-half throttle effort; at the aforementioned throttle motion, you can overtake vehicles on the highway. But for inclines, three-fourths (or even flat out) effort on the gas pedal is recommended. You get into the powerband early (1,500 rpm), with partial boost at 2,250 rpm and full boost at 3,300 rpm, top speed reaching 179 kph and fuel consumption (seven days, mixed driving) recording a decent 6.97 km/l.
The Hilux's off-road ability is at par (or even better) than that of the Nissan Navara and the Mitsubishi Strada, keeping the revs at a decent rate (2000 rpm onwards) no matter the terrain and never bogging down. Although the transfer case requires you to stay in neutral and motionless in order to transition to 4H (Four-High, for high range gearing) or 4L (Four-Low, low range gearing), the mechanical limited slip differential makes the wheels move easily over all types of non-tarmac paths, just as long as there's wheel-to-ground contact. The Bridgestone Dueler H/T 840 255/70R15 C 112/110S tires that came with the unit, though, had little grip on fine (read: muddy and sandy) surfaces, so this writer contented himself with going through over hard earth, pebble roads and river crossings where the ground at the bottom of the water is full of stones.
Moving all that curb weight (and the unsprung weight of people and cargo) will take its toll on handling and braking. There's body roll, but not as bad as that of the Isuzu Global D-Max or the Ford Ranger, and the ride is bumpy (especially over uneven tarmac and dirt) but generally comfortable overall. Steering is light in feel but poor in feedback, and braking ability feels like it takes (almost) forever to stop the unit. Parking brake grip doesn't have much bite either, requiring a near 35-degree angle to get decent hold on inclines. At least the side mirrors offer vision up to the second lane of sight on both flanks, the third brake light is incorporated into the tailgate's upper middle area (right above the grab handle), and looking out the rear glass is easy because the rear glass panel is tall and wide. It makes long backing and parallel parking somewhat easier. Another fine safety point - the foglights' brightness can substitute for the headlights anytime.
Since the Hilux's introduction as a member of the IMV line, most of its manufacturer competition took to either building pickups for urbanites to look ruggedly buff or for frequent out-of-towners to haul stuff. Once they were launched, Toyota took note of what they did and put in their own take on its newest pickup, creating a direct-to-the-point but fun balance between passenger car comfort and cargo loading.