Toyota's recently launched, fifth generation RAV4 is said to build on its 25-year legacy with its charismatic design, improved performance, advanced technology and fuel efficiency.
Admittedly some – particularly those who love the blue oval – will claim bragging rights for the last couple of years, but as any wily accountant will preach "you can do anything with numbers".
In Toyota's case, the Hi-Lux story is a pretty big job, selling over 104,000 units here since its launch in 1976. This is mirrored by worldwide sales of over 16 million units in 170 countries since the series 1 Hi-Lux was built by Hino in 1968.
With 10 years passing since the last Hi-Lux re-launch some new product was overdue and it looks like the wait was worth it. The eighth generation of the truck offers something for everybody, whether it's a high country cockie from Otago, a hobby farmer from Helensville or a posse of posers from Ponsonby.
The new range on offer has expanded to 21 models, split through four specification grades. The S and the SR can be considered working utes. Meanwhile, the SR5 and SR5 limited are dual purpose vehicles and will suit those looking for a mobile office during the week and a family runabout on the weekend.
Drilling down further you will see nine 2WD versions complemented by 12 with 4WD. Five of the 2WDs carry the designation Pre-Runner and fill a gap in the previous range that let the blue oval brigade in over the last two years. Pre Runner tells the cognoscenti that this vehicle has the chassis configuration of the 4WD, with the same ground clearance and improved visibility, but only 2WD running gear – so these will suit those seeking the macho look but who in reality are only ever likely to climb a kerb on the school run.
Toyota NZ expects to sell around 5500 units with a 60:40 split between 4WD and 2WD: 90% of these utes will be double-cabs and around a third will take the auto transmission.
Looking down the specs – starting at the front – the choice of engines sees the old faithful V6 4L petrol, joined by an all new diesel recently shown in the new Prado. The 2.8L GD sees four cylinders knock out 130kW power and a lusty 450Nm torque which is available from 1600-2400 rpm.
Transmission choices range from a 5-speed manual at S level, through to 6-speed manual and auto boxes as the specification grade increases. At the rear end, new leaf springs – 100mm longer and wider apart – give better towing and load carrying abilities, with the former up to 3.5 tonnes in some models.
The chassis of the vehicle also sees a great deal of detail work: the truck is 75mm longer, 95mm wider and has 65mm greater clearance. That frame is also stiffer, cross member sizes are increased by 30mm and there are an extra 120 weld points. This is further supplemented by greater underbelly protection over a 30% greater area and with a 40% greater thickness.
The new Hi-Lux also ticks the safety boxes with a five star ANCAP rating, achieved by the fitment of seven air bags, vehicle stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution and a trailer sway control system. Additionally, all well-sided models are fitted with a reversing camera.
From an occupant's perspective, the cabin is well up there with a lot of the SUVs in the market. There's a choice of cloth or leather and a host of features like touch screen, Bluetooth and high quality audio. However, unlike some the move to a car-like interior is tempered, as Toyota has remembered that this truck will be the work vehicle for many people. Individual vehicles can be customised with a range of 200+ Toyota accessories that carry the same warranty if added at the time of purchase.
More importantly; how does it drive? During a two-day stint in the Manawatu and Tararua ranges in November it certainly didn't disappoint. On the road, the diesel pulled like a train, the transmission was as smooth as James Bond and the ride was compliant with a hint of firmness. The cabin was quiet and the comfort was comparable with a typical SUV.
Off-road the truck certainly came into its own. Travelling private tracks up to the landmark windmills, which had been waterlogged the day before, there was no drama. Just point the truck where you want to go, select low range 4WD, engage diff lock and go there. Coming down steep gradients, select hill descent, job done!
Particularly noticeable was the ability of the vehicle over heavily rutted and washed-out areas, no doubt helped by the amount of wheel articulation which is increased by 20% over earlier series. On the open road it is extremely well-behaved with car-like manners in the ride and steering and with a seating position that offers great support and a panoramic view of what's going on.
In summary, 10 years seems a long time, but it looks like it's been worth the wait, with pre-orders indicating the diehard Hi-Lux fans think so too. The enduring love affair of Kiwis with the Hi-Lux will lead to the boys from the blue oval bleating "bugger".