Its virtues have been extolled over and over, and it has remained the darling of the local motor vehicle market for decades. What makes the Toyota Hilux so perfect is its ability to reinvent itself, particularly as the special edition Dakar derivative. Bernie Hellberg reports on spending some quality time with everyone’s fav bakkie.
I don’t like boasting about achievements, not my own and not when others do it. But, kudos must go to Toyota for their motorsport achievements at the world’s toughest race, the Dakar Rally. I might even forgive them for bragging, this time…
Making it to the Dakar podium once is a mighty achievement, but representing no fewer than eight times in total is stratospheric.
That particular accolade, of course, belongs to South Africa’s favourite motoring brand a gazillion years running. Specifically, the honour goes to the Hilux. Bred and built right here in the good old RS of A.
Toyota is understandably excited about its involvement in Dakar, and occasionally celebrates its achievements in the race with limited edition Dakar-branded vehicles. The new one, a gem of a bakkie that very much looks the part, is also a bragging item for those who’ve managed to acquire one in the hubbub of excitement that has surrounded the vehicle since its launch in May 2018.
One could argue that 6,000 units of aren’t quite as limited a run as one would like if you’re a buyer. Considering the sheer number of Hiluxes sold by Toyota in a year, however, 1,000 extended- and 5,000 double-cab examples in nine configurations – including 4×2, 4×4, manual transmission and automatic – sounds significantly more restricted. It’s around 10% of volume, and won’t be repeated for this model Hilux, ever.
WHAT WE DROVE
Eight versions use the 2.8GD diesel motor while one sports the top, 4.0 petrol V6 in automatic and 4×4 only. We had the former, but feel compelled to advise that the four-litre, 4×4 model listed above is not straight from the Dakar bakkie, in case you were wondering.
Dakar versions are easily spotted in a crowd. At the front, a large trapezoidal, honeycomb grille, finished in glossy black paint, incorporates two horizontal bars that signal the off-roader’s mean intent. Surrounding this is a dark grey, three-dimensional frame styled to blend into the LED headlamps.
A glossy black accent strip across the bonnet’s leading edge adds interest while a Dakar logos on the lower left of the grille reminds us of the bakkie’s heritage.
Also unique on the car are matching gloss-black lower grille and LED fog lamp surrounds, while a grey metallic skid plate adds drama, and makes it easier to enter and exit the tall Hilux. The black theme continues with similar treatment for the door- and tailgate handles, mirror caps and Dakar body decals.
INSIDE THE TRUCK NAMED DAKAR
To remind you that you’re not sitting in just another Hilux, Toyota have taken steps to extend the exterior treatment into the cabin as well. This includes a black hood lining, metallic black trim accents and black leather upholstery with grey stitching.
The instrument cluster features orange needles and white-faced gauges with a gear design, and boasts a unique Dakar start-up sequence on the LCD. Satellite navigation is also model-specific.
Driving a manual Dakar means that you get Toyota’s new Intelligent Manual Transmission system as part of the deal. This matches revs to ratio when downshifting, making the experience smoother while adding some drama to the driving experience as well.
Particularly on downshifts, where careless use of the clutch could lead to a sudden spike in engine revs.
Three driving modes are available – Eco, Normal, and Power.
Eco softens accelerator responses to make it easier to drive economically, but its effect is minimal, and it is likely only to be used to help you feel a little more environmentally concerned.
The Power button adds a more vigorous response to the driving experience and would perhaps be best kept for when you desperately need a spot of action in your life. And when you don’t care too much about fuel consumption.
Normal mode, with neither the Eco nor Power buttons selected, feels tame and somewhat disappointing when hard acceleration is required at highway speeds. Revs at that speed are about 1,800 – well into the torque band that is strongest between 1,400 and 2,600 r/min.
OFF THE BEATEN PATH
The Hilux needs no coercion to get out and about on the 4×4 trail, and Toyota’s own research shows that most buyers will take their bakkies off-roading at some point. It is also true, however, that most Hiluxes live in the city nowadays, so practicality, unfortunately, trumps off-road capability in most day-to-day cases.
Practical appointments to the Hilux (and by extension the Dakar model) include a bin with lockable tailgate and four lashing points on the inside. It’s close enough to 1.5 metres squared and loads at a height of 89 centimetres. That’s a little awkward for shorter drivers, but is a side effect of the car’s 286 mm ground clearance.
What irked me no end during the test, was the tonneau cover mechanism used by Toyota. It is, unfortunately, one of the most user-unfriendly cover designs I’ve seen, which makes using the load bay for everyday loading and unloading a bit of a drag. I would either pop a hardcover or sliding cover on the back, or go without a cover if this were my personal daily driver.
Another bugbear includes limited rear seat space that is not as generous as in some of its competitors, although the three head restraints, as many seatbelts, and a pair of ISOFix mounting sets make up for this slight irritation with decent safety spec.
Convenience features seldom seen in light commercials are a fold-down armrest with cupholders and a pair of hooks to hang small bags on.
Other convenience items that came in handy during our test include grip handles at every door, a full set of panic grips and a 220 Volt, 100-Watt power point in the front armrest box to go with the 12V/120W sockets up front. Air controls are straightforward, and the ancillaries accessed via touch screen are easy enough to master. Fit and finish is up to the usual Toyota standard.
Besides the obvious benefits to owning a Hilux bakkie, investing in a new Dakar derivative will add loads of street cred to image-conscious drivers who like to be seen driving SA’s class-leading Hilux. For the money, for the prestige, for the heritage, the Dakar is bang on point with the market and will soon be all sold out. If it’s in your sights, you’d better get cracking before you’re caught napping.
Report by BERNIE HELLBERG | Images © DEON VAN DER WALT / BERNIE HELLBERG