Will it be a case of the triumphant three for Toyota? During the Australian launch of the brand’s new Halo HiLux utes Chris Bowen took the ballsy sounding Rugged X, Rugged and Rouge models for a decent run through South Australia’s Flinders Ranges. Here’s what he found out.

The newly badged, freshly (from some angles) designed and accessorised HiLux utes are certainly a breath of fresh air for the much-loved nameplate. Australia’s number one selling vehicle has long held the tradition of being a workhorse, occupying vast swathes of our land almost exclusively. After a major update back in 2015 it has continued its merry path of domination. But let’s be honest, while it has a reputation that precedes it, there has been plenty of stiff, and to put it bluntly, superior competition around.

The three new variants give the ute more of an aspirational edge, without completely transforming it into an all-out desert racer. I guess what we now lack in hyped up sedan-based utes is now being replaced by 4×4 dual-cabs that are the man’s version of a Tonka truck. There’s a stack around and more to come, we have Ford’s Ranger Raptor, Holden / HSV’s Colorado SportsCat and Volkswagen’s Amarok V6 Ultimate, just to name a few.

The HiLux hero range doesn’t offer any serious upgrades to the running gear, power output or technology. However, on the technology front, at these kinds of prices Apple CarPlay should exist as should driver safety assistance software such as AEB, but it’s still sadly lacking. But in a win for Australia the newbies on the block are designed and developed in Australia with a lending hand in some cases from Japan and where they’re constructed in Thailand. The bits and pieces added on the SR5 and SR based utes are mostly sourced from Australian outfits and bolted on at a facility in Port Melbourne.

Model Breakdown

The Rouge is intended for the stylish urban type and will be sold in markets globally. The front end is not as aggressive as the other two but still adds a certain strongarm appearance to the vehicle. In fact, all these models seem to rid the 2015 design’s protruding jaw look, which is a good thing. The rear tub is accented by the same sports bar found across the range, while a hard tonneau cover comes as standard. Being a premium variant it scores the same upmarket interior found on the Rugged X.

The Rugged X is the ultimate tradies ute for a Toyota fan thus far. A steel front bar is integrated into the chassis that includes a factory fitted 24 LED lightbar. Lightbars are a popular aftermarket option, so with one quarter of all SR5 owners already spending on average $2000 on goodies post purchase, this is a huge benefit. Plus, it light’s up a campsite or road like some of the best, as was evident when we crept through the Wilpena Pound Resort for an overnight stop.

Joining the off-road party are a 5mm thick bash plate, snorkel, effective side rock rails, red front and rear recovery anchors and steel rear bar and tow bar.

Despite the rock climbing exterior, the Rugged X does produce an upmarket interior, for a HiLux. Leather-accented seats, new instrument cluster, touches of metallic black and black headlining make for a dark, albeit different, interior.

The Rugged model, minus the X, is based on the HiLux SR and sits at the bottom end of the line-up. It gains all the off road going additions of the X but with a downgraded interior with cloth seats, basic instrument cluster and a more traditional steel bull bar.

Ins and Outs

All these new models share the same part-time shift on the fly 4×4 system as their SR and SR5 models. The familiar 130kW / 450Nm (six-speed automatic) 420Nm (six-speed manual diesel engine sits up front. For what it lacks in kW it makes up in torque, I find it to be a surprisingly versatile engine. It feels robust and confident, while being far from a class leader. It follows the HiLux mantra, just gets the job done.

The Drive.

Essentially these cars are just as capable as a SR5 or SR modelS on and off the road. The Rugged and Rugged X models do score slightly uprated front suspension to accommodate the extra weight of the front end. But the drive program did prove to me how capable this kind of dual-cab really is these days.

A one-hour drive loop saw me tackle tracks I’d normally baulk at, with some serious mountain climbing and treacherous drop-offs. Many of the surfaces around Wilpena Pound and the Flinders Ranges are covered in axe sharp shale like rocks. I’d only just joked with my co-pilot that it was a miracle the fully inflated Bridgestone Dueler tyres hadn’t punctured. Shortly after the rear right wheel was torn by the violent surface. But such things happen in this kind of environment.

At a dry rocky creek bed, we were encouraged to literally bottom out the ute over a stack of boulders. While the experience just felt wrong and certainly seemed damaging from the driver’s seat the HiLux survived. A quick survey under the manual Rugged X revealed no damage to the rock rails, with only marginal superficial scratches.

The HiLux ride on calmer dirt roads through some extraordinary Flinders Ranges territory through to Parachilna on the Old Ghan rail proved a little jittery and tiresome after a while. A load in the rear would settle down the ride. Although the extra weight added by the Australian fitted items has reduced the payload, something to keep in mind.

On the long straight open roads back to Port Augusta it was a relatively comfortable affair. Road and engine noise is well insulated and for what is a workhorse orientated ute is commendable.

The Price.

Top spec utes are starting to cost big bucks, but perhaps the prices are reasonable if you don’t go straight down to ARB and add some of the included features. The Rugged X is priced from $61,690 for the six-speed rev-matching manual and $63,690 as an automatic. The Rogue comes in at $61,690 before you add $2000 for an automatic. While the SR based is a more reasonable $54,990 manual with the same $2000 automatic option. Fuel economy varied anywhere on this trip from 10.1L/100km to 11.5L/100km, not bad given the conditions and the way we drove.

EFTM Rubber Stamp of Approval.

With a factory backed warranty and a permanent inclusion in the HiLux range it’s a solid effort from Toyota Australia. The utes now actually look the part and feature off road gear that may tempt some. Pricing is obviously the most contentious issue at play for many, but no one is forcing you to go the extra yard with your wallet. For HiLux loyalists I’m sure this new trio will temp many, if not for bragging rights alone. I award the Rugged X, Rugged and Rouge models the EFTM Credit Rubber Stamp of Approval.