ROAD TEST: Meet the workhorse that moisturises
Not long ago the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon dominated our sales charts. Petrolheads had their own souped-up versions, with fire-breathing V8s motivating the sleek sedans adorned with flashy body kits and big alloy wheels.
Look at the sales figures today and there's a new breed that reign supreme.
The Toyota HiLux has been Australia's automotive king for the past three years and is in the box seat to remain on top of the dais - with the Ford Ranger a close second.
While mainstream versions remain the bread and butter for manufacturers, few buyers keep their dual cabs stock standard.
After-market accessories have gone gangbusters as ute owners kit out their machines for camping, outdoor adventures and off-roading.
Offerings such as the $61,690 HiLux Rugged are an indication of manufacturers meeting the market. There's been a proliferation of high-end utes reaching showrooms over the past year and a quick look at your supermarket carpark to see the amount of dual cabs with awnings attached is a good indication of what's in vogue.
Being the toughest of the high-end HiLux models, this variant gets the best of off-road gear.
Inclusions are 17-inch alloys, towbar with seven-pin trailer wiring harness, snorkel, steel bull bar with integrated LED light bar and bash plate, tub sports bar, leather seat trim and heated front chairs, pumped-up wheel arches and body side mouldings.
Opting for the automatic transmission is an extra $2000.
Based on the SR5, these Rugged variants are made in Thailand (like all HiLuxes) and the heavy duty parts fitted in Melbourne.
For the same coin you can get the more luxury-focused Rogue models, which have 18-inch wheels (Rugged models have the smaller wheels for improved off-roading), a different nose and grille, a heavy duty sports bar and hard tub lid.
Toyota upgraded its warranty coverage to the now industry-standard five years, from three, on all vehicles bought since January 1. Servicing is typically among the cheapest you'll find, and it should set you back $1080 over three years. One bugbear is service intervals are short at six months/10,000km.
Resale of Toyota off-roaders is outstanding. Whether it's a HiLux, Prado or LandCruiser, they hold their value well.
Toyota has maintained its five-star safety rating this year for the latest HiLux models, which come equipped with the Safety Sense driver-assist features.
Our test car didn't have the new kit, but updated models available from August 1 will come standard with life-saving tech such as autonomous emergency braking with day and night pedestrian detection and day cyclist detection, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, radar cruise control and road sign assist that constantly monitors speed zones.
Models with the new tech will add about $800 to the price. It's well worth the extra spend.
Surprisingly refined for a ute, the HiLux Rugged banishes visions of dusty, featureless trucks of the past.
The leather trim, glossy finishes across the dash, push-button start, colour touch-screen with digital radio and in-built satnav deliver the much-needed luxuries that are becoming more common in modern utes.
There is still no digital speedo or the smartphone mirroring apps Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Seat heaters have only one setting (most other manufacturers have three levels of buttocks warming). Fair enough really, you're in a tough ute - turn it on, get warm and then turn it off. One issue, the absence of back-lighting on the buttons makes it difficult to ascertain which seat you're heating in the dark unless you commit the position to memory.
Operations are simple, with no need to revisit the manual for instructions. Buttons are well labelled and uncomplicated, while there is plenty of common sense storage in the console with dual cup holders (another pair pop out from the dash), as well as bottle accommodation in the doors.
Given it's a diesel, the HiLux is impressively smooth. Tried and tested, the 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel (130kW/450Nm) may not be the most powerful in its class but it works effortlessly.
A power button improves the acceleration response, and collectively the HiLux manages anything thrown at it - on or off road. Unladen it has a tendency to bounce around on average bitumen roads.
Off the black stuff is where this model does its best work, with improved underbody protection, tow hooks and a snorkel for river crossings. At night the spread-beam driving lights do a stellar job of lighting up the road.
Over some long highway journeys, the HiLux delivered fuel consumption of about nine litres for every 100km - pretty good going for this kind of ute.
Off-road is where I want to head and this HiLux comes with everything I need straight from the showroom.
It's a Toyota so I know it's in for the long haul. Looking super tough from the outside, luxuries aren't forgotten on the inside with leather trim and colour touchscreen.
HSV COLORADO SPORTSCAT $68,500 D/A
More capable than the HiLux, the HSV can't quite match it in terms of overall polish. Powered by a 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel that has plenty of grunt (147kW/500Nm). Tow rating is 3.5 tonne, while the payload is 876kg.
FORD RANGER WILDTRAK $69,500 D/A
Refined offering and under the bonnet is Ford's 157kW 2.0-litre twin turbo diesel/10-speed automatic/dual-range 4WD. It's got AEB with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise, 3.5-tonne towing and 954kg payload.
There is no better example of manhood. The Rugged is a big leap from the SR5 auto on which it's based. It stands out on the road but has surprising refinement.
AT A GLANCE
TOYOTA RUGGED X
PRICE $65,990 drive-away (HiLux range topper)
WARRANTY/SERVICING 5 years/ unlimited km wt'y, service $1080 over 3 years (good)
ENGINE 2.8-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 130kW/450Nm (muscular)
SAFETY 5-star, 7 airbags, 2019 models have AEB, lane keep assist, radar cruise (good on latest models, average pre-2019)
THIRST 8.6L/100km (excellent, 9 on test)
SPARE Full-size alloy (brilliant)
TOWING 3200kg, payload 748kg (OK)