Still tough but trendy

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The Toyota Hilux Legend advances an already winning product. It is still one tough bakkie, just an improved, premium version. 

How things have changed. When I was growing up, bakkies were consigned to plots, farms and manufacturing facilities. The idea of a utilitarian bakkie as a conventional passenger vehicle would have been sniffed at back then. Unsurprisingly, the sight of one on the streets of suburbia was rare. 

Now they are a dime a dozen. And a lot swankier.

The degree of comfort, technological prowess and convenience that these sophisticated workhorses afford their drivers and passengers is now on a par with most passenger vehicles.

But toughness has not been lost in the pursuit of sophistication. Remember that Top Gear episode featuring a bakkie that kept going despite being clobbered with a wrecking ball, crashed into a tree, having a caravan dropped on it, submerged in water and even set on fire? That was a Toyota Hilux.

While I was not about to resort to that type of torture in my testing of the Toyota Hilux Legend 2.8 GD-6 4x4 RS double-cab, I was keen to ascertain whether toughness endured in the new flagship. So, I made my way to true bakkie country and got my answer on the banks of the Vaal river.

Modern, bold expression

Aimed specifically at the leisure user, the Hilux Legend, Toyota’s new flagship grade, comes with more presence. The design language still retains that Hilux ruggedness, albeit with a more modern appearance.

An imposing front fac¸ade features LED headlights and fog lamps, and a black outlined trapezoidal grille integrated with the front bumper, bonnet protector and skid plate.

Style improvements have produced a sportier profile too, courtesy of 18-inch alloy wheels, bold wheel arches and chunky footplate, while rear treatment includes a graphite rear bumper and Legend-specific tailgate garnish.

Improved comfort and functionality

Legend variants receive a bespoke interior, with unique accents applied to the instrument cluster, interior trim panels, switchgear and gear lever. The 2.8-litre Legend GD-6 4x4 automatic comes standard with perforated leather seating and front power seats, keyless entry and push-button start, auto dim rear view mirror, folding side mirrors and Toyota’s safety package – Toyota Safety Sense.

It’s a roomy cabin with decent leg space for three rear occupants. Creating a premium grade means it is packed with tech; 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, JBL 9-speaker audio system, satnav, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. The Toyota Connect telematics system includes an in-car wi-fi hotspot and complimentary 15GB data.

But swanky double-cabs are now firm favourites with families, so its single USB port could trigger a family feud.

Safety boxes, though, are ticked. Side and curtain airbags have been added and the Legend comes standard with a pre-crash system, lane departure alert, adaptive cruise control and park assist. The reverse camera and park assist makes parking this meaty vehicle a cinch.

ISOFIX, trailer sway control, hill and downhill assist are also included in the safety suite.

This premium grade Hilux Legend RS comes equipped with a motorised roller shutter, graphite-coloured sports bar, rubberised load box with 12V power outlet and an easy to open central-locking tailgate. The motorised roller shutter is a doddle to operate; just the press of a well- concealed button.

But it is not all about aesthetics and nice-to-haves. Real power and torque have been added.

Venturing off the pavement

The upgraded 2.8-litre engine now has a revised heavy-duty turbocharger, cooling system and strengthened internal components. A new common rail injection system helps boost output and fuel efficiency.

Power in the upgraded turbo-diesel engine has been boosted by 20kW to 150kW, while torque is also up from 450Nm to 500Nm in the flagship 6-speed auto.

That 500Nm is available over a wide rpm range, contributing to lower fuel consumption.

This 4x4 double-cab is no small vehicle. But the substantial bakkie is an easy drive, and refinements like the variable power steering system to optimise steering response have given it a lighter, more refined feel.

Handling, too, has improved with suspension enhancements bringing greater ride comfort, increased stability and better off-road performance.

While reasonably comfortable, ride quality on the tar in an unladen Legend does not quite match that of rival Ford Ranger Thunder. Loading though improves the choppy ride over lumps and bumps. It has more than enough grunt,  with power mode and sport manual shifting adding to performance.

I’ve always been a fan of Toyota gearboxes and this 6-speed automatic gearbox with its silky smooth gearing is no exception. Putting the adaptive cruise control  to good use on the way to the Vaal, I was met by a level of flooding not seen in decades.

Roads were under water and some folk required airlifting out of flooded areas. I was even witness to an army helicopter landing on what was left of the country road on which I was travelling, to carry out a rescue. 

It was in these conditions and off-road that the Legend really came into its own. As I replotted my course that took me through thick mud, murky water, slippery dongas and hidden boulders, I was immensely grateful to be in this resilient Hilux. 

The area’s sand roads had been turned into muddy rivers and I admit to experiencing some doubt as to the Legend’s ability to forge through the muck. Visions of a tractor hauling me out came to mind. Turns out I needn’t have worried, the Legend’s 4x4 low-range ability saved the day.

It ably tackled a steep muddy incline, a donga that triggered one wheel to leave the ground requiring the use of the diff lock to add traction, and waded easily through some pretty deep water. This is one tough and capable bakkie.

H4 range proved perfect for the dry sand roads I eventually found, the Legend’s enhanced suspension smoothing out what would otherwise have been bone-jarring corrugations.

When I was done sloshing about in mud and water, I returned to the potholed tar “roads” of the area. Some roads here offer rare bits of tar, overtaken as they are by potholes. But unlike a passenger car that requires maximum bobbing and weaving at snail pace to avoid them, the Legend steamrollered its way over these nasties, only requiring intervention to avoid larger craters.

Fuel efficiency was impacted by a majority off-road test, and further reduced by the occasional use of power mode and consistent use of the aircon to ward off the heat and assault from bloodthirsty mosquitoes. Still, I averaged 9.8 litres. Commendable.

Read more
This article originally appeared in the 4 February edition of finweek. You can buy and download the magazine here.

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