The challenges of a pandemic made it clear that going out puts us at risk.

Thankfully with new and existing innovations, we can find a way through. Learning not only possible became online, but also productive. The home became a safe, comfortable, and commute-free workspace. The living room became a theater thanks to streaming.

One thing that became essential is that you can shop from the safety of your castle. Many businesses -big or small- went online to give customers the option to shop safely and securely. Many small businesses now have started from a need to make money during the lockdown, as the people whose incomes were hampered chose instead to take what they know or their passions and build a business. They became their own bosses.

And now, more than ever, businesses need mobility. You don't exactly want to deliver sushi-bakes out of your hatchback or SUV, do you? There are many options in the market. You can get something like the Suzuki Carry, a versatile cab-over mini truck. If that's too small, you can go a bit bigger with a Euro-4 Mitsubishi L300 FB. Those are good options, but if you want something a bit more conventional and modern to drive, then maybe this Toyota Hilux Cargo could be for you.

The Cargo is a fleet-oriented variation of the venerable Hilux in its latest generation. If you're familiar with the current Hilux, you'll know that this isn't part of the facelifted Hilux that debuted last year. Instead, this conforms to the design of the model that first appeared in 2015. As such, the front bumper is the pre-facelift look, has unpainted bumpers, halogen headlamps, 15-inch steelies with 205/70 tires, and well, not much else.

The looks don't matter as much in this version of a Hilux. What matters most is the purpose with that big steel box on top of the back frame. This is a Hilux Cab & Chassis variant with a single cab (meaning single row); Toyota just commissioned a body builder to design and bolt on a cargo box over the exposed frame of the C&C. Toyota didn't mention the wheelbase of this version, but international market variants do cite that this Hilux has a 3,085mm wheelbase.

2021 Toyota Hilux Cargo image

The 4x2 Cargo is longer than a double cab Hilux (i.e. Conquest or J variants). In total, the vehicle is 5,490mm long, 1,800mm wide, while the box itself lifts up the vehicle's total height to 2014mm. For reference, the Hilux J double cab 4x2 is 5,285mm long, 1800mm wide, and 1700mm tall. So if you're making a delivery, do take note of the extra height of the box if you're entering a mall or other space with low headroom for vehicles.

Looking at the box itself, there's not much to report other than the fact that it's really a box. The fuel tank door is the classic design; I think I first saw this back in the '80s. The rear doors are a 60/40 split (thereabouts) with the main door being about 40 inches wide while the right side door is 20 inches wide. There are bump stoppers to prevent the doors from opening too wide, and there's also a lowered step to make getting in to load easier.

2021 Toyota Hilux Cargo image

The Cargo compartment itself is quite large. Inside it's 2,300mm long, 1,645mm wide, and 1,295mm tall. It's not as long as the cargo area of a cab-over vehicle like an L300 FB. However, the constraints of a Hilux platform with the engine in front and the cab just aft of the axle, it's alright. Heavy loads can be placed in front, while lighter items can be in the back, so handling isn't affected too much. Toyota says the payload of the Cargo is at 1,005 kilograms or just over one metric tonne.

There are some things I need to be critical about. For one, there's a lack of any tie-down points; you can't secure large cargo to the front of the vehicle to prevent it from shifting around. It can be fixed by bolting on anchor points, but the second issue I have is more fundamental: those wheelhouses. Those protrusions into the cargo box are a bit too big and consume quite a bit of space. Even the fuel tank filler also protrudes into the box.

2021 Toyota Hilux Cargo image

Inside the cab of the Hilux Cargo, well, it's a Hilux... albeit more basic. The dashboard is the same as any other Hilux, but there have been some deletions and alterations if you've been inside variants like the G or the Conquest.

The steering wheel is urethane, as is the shifter. Much of the cabin is plastic, and the upholstery is vinyl; it's not premium or luxurious, but that's to be expected. We also can't see any fabric carpeting; it's also vinyl down there. This is important because when you're working or making deliveries, you'll likely be sweaty. The last thing you want is sweat getting absorbed by the seat foam, so fabric upholstery isn't an option.

2021 Toyota Hilux Cargo image

What Toyota did remove are some of the convenience features. The key is without a remote. That means this vehicle is locked manually by tab or by the key. The mirrors aren't power-adjustable, but that's OK. The windows are also wind up; yes, the age-old pawis windows.

But removing the “luxuries” was essential to making the Hilux Cargo cheaper and more viable for fleet and business owners. This Hilux still comes with hydraulic power steering, so it's not difficult to maneuver in traffic. This Hilux has a clutch that's nice and light; again, great when in traffic. This Hilux also has a 2-DIN audio unit with a 3.5mm Aux port, a USB port, and Bluetooth. Anti-lock brakes are standard, as are three airbags; dual front with one more for the driver's knee.

2021 Toyota Hilux Cargo image

Thankfully for our hot weather, Toyota didn't delete the A/C. In some commercial-grade variants, automakers remove the A/C at the request of their customers, but not in this case. Given that it's a single cab, it gets very cold very quickly in this Hilux.

2021 Toyota Hilux Cargo image

Driving the Hilux Cargo around is much more pleasant than I expected. The vehicle is still very much a Hilux when it comes to operation with the steering and the gearshift; it doesn't feel as crude as the specs would imply. It can be driven smoothly and comfortably. You have to be mindful of the extra width of the box. It eats a chunk of the side mirror's view.

There are two things I find strange in the Hilux Cargo from a driver's point of view. The first is the rearview mirror; because the cargo box has no windows, the mirror is pointless. It's essentially a vanity mirror now. The second is the seating: Toyota says this is a 3-seater. Given that the shifter is still in the middle and not on the steering column (i.e. like the L300) that is a problem. The middle passenger (who also has a lap belt) will have to be really thin or have no legs. The middle passenger will also have to sit over the handbrake; that's not a pleasant experience.

2021 Toyota Hilux Cargo image

For power, you're not left wanting. The previous generation Hilux fleet variants used a 102 PS, 2.5-liter turbodiesel. It was down on torque and down on power. This generation of Hilux has a smaller 2.4-liter 2GD-FTV turbodiesel but makes more power at 150 PS and more torque at 343 Nm. The secret is the variable geometry turbo (Toyota uses the term variable nozzle turbo or VNT) and the intercooler; the older 2KD-FTV only had a regular turbo and no intercooler.

The gearbox option is only a 5-speed manual and rear-wheel drive. The suspension isn't particularly comfortable, but that's expected of a truck with four leaf springs underneath. I have to say, the power is quite good and the torque comes in very nice and very early. Max torque is already there at 1,400 rpm, and that's good especially for a vehicle meant for heavy deliveries.

2021 Toyota Hilux Cargo image

The tank has a capacity of 80 liters, so you won't be refueling frequently when you fill-up. Unloaded, fuel economy is at 10.5 kilometers per liter in the city (22 km/h average). We wanted to test the vehicle on the highway, but the quarantine restrictions made that problematic. When we do, we'll add it to this review.

2021 Toyota Hilux Cargo image

Overall, the Hilux Cargo delivers as expected, pun intended. It's a vehicle meant to be put to work and would work well for any enterprise that requires mobility. The key here is that if your driver calls in sick, you -as a business owner- can easily take over driving duties without having to adjust too much.

I think the body builder could have made some adjustments particularly with the cargo area to improve on capacity and functionality, but those are fairly minor anyway. The vehicle retails for PHP 936,000 with the back already installed, but do take note that the DTI's safeguard bond is separate from the SRP. We're not quite sure if the Hilux Cargo units that Toyota has in stock right now are already affected, so you'll have to ask your nearest Toyota dealership to find out more.