In February 1968, The Beatles arrived in Rishikesh, and the next month, the first generation of the Toyota Hilux was launched. Now in its eighth generation, the Hilux was launched in India in 2022, and earlier this year, Toyota held the Hilux media experience drive, coincidently, in Rishikesh.
In the 55 years between The Beatles’ and my arrival, respectively, in Rishikesh, the Hilux has earned quite the reputation of resilience and reliability. This is a car that can be shot at, dunked into water, tumbled down a rocky hillside and will still keep going. It is the very epitome of keep calm and carry on. Since I absolutely love road trips in the high Himalayan regions of Zanskar and Ladakh, I was looking forward to getting to grips with it.
The Hilux is definitely a handsome car, especially when dressed in red. Its chrome accents complement its looks and it has a commanding stance. But finding parking for it, especially during rush hour in a city, might be as intimidating as a well built 6ft person trying to find a comfortable seat in a low-cost airline. But when you do find parking, the front and rear sensors make it easy to squeeze in and out of that parking space.
The first thing I did when I was assigned my car for the media drive was to jump into the cabin and connect my phone. I was going to use this car for a long and, at times, arduous road trip and it was important that Apple CarPlay or Android Auto worked seamlessly and my music sounded good. The Hilux scored top marks in both these areas, with the haptic touchscreen being very responsive and the music sounding deep and clear.
The dual zone air-conditioning is good enough to quickly cool the cab down even when it was 34 degrees Celsius outside and the electric seat controls made it easy for me to find my optimal driving position.
When we started from Rishikesh towards Rajaji National Park, the Hilux was easy to manoeuvre through the crowded streets of the city notwithstanding its 5325mm length and 1855mm width. I found the steering precise. Along the route, we hit a stretch of straight and smooth road alongside a canal and there was a perceptible change in pace when I switched to the PWR (power) mode. The automatic gearbox held on to gears a tad bit longer, going into the realm of higher rpm that led to stronger acceleration. The Hilux sits on the same chassis as the Toyota Fortuner and the Innova Crysta, but the members of this chassis have been beefed up for the Hilux to make it tougher.
The power comes from a 2.8-litre turbo diesel mill that also powers the Fortuner. This engine doles out 500 NM of torque from as low as 1600 rpm and a substantial 208 horsepower.
Soon, the smooth tarmac ended as we drove into the park and the road gave way to loose gravel and rocky sections. Yet the Hilux didn’t lose its composure. It soaked up irregularities with aplomb, only bouncing a bit over the really broken bits of road. The slight slides over loose gravel were done away with by switching the gearbox knob from 2W (2-wheel drive) to 4WH (4-wheel drive high). This sent power to all wheels instead of just the rear wheels.
Toyota India had prepared an obstacle course in the park to showcase the off-roading capabilities of the Hilux. While the 700mm water wading and the steep incline and decline were obstacles that you would expect the Hilux to do without breaking a sweat, what really impressed were the obstacles that showcased the car’s angle of lean and wheel articulation.
The negative incline obstacle tested the car’s centre of gravity by putting the left side of the car higher than the right side. This is the kind of situation you might come across when a boulder is blocking your path on a narrow mountain road and you would have to angle one side of the car on the mountainside and crawl past the boulder. The angle of lean the Hilux can manage by virtue of its low centre of gravity is 35 degrees and while the tilt at this angle of lean felt quite ominous inside the car, the Hilux took the obstacle without a jitter.
The next obstacle was the Mogul: two diagonally opposed ditches to demonstrate the tenacity of the car’s differential locks. What the differential locks do is ensure traction on the wheel that is in contact with the terrain even if the other is in the air. When I hit the first ditch and my front right wheel went into it, the rear left wheel was in the air, but the car dug itself out with the traction on the rear right wheel. At the next ditch, the rear left wheel went down, sending the front right wheel airborne, but again thanks to the diff locks the car pulled itself out.
For passengers, the rear seats are comfortable enough with AC vents at the rear. The backrests are a tad upright, though, and it is certainly bumpier in the rear seats than the front ones due to the leaf springs rear suspension setup. The huge cargo area at the rear is great to transport stuff like cupboards and refrigerators from the city to your farmhouse.
The Hilux is silent and smooth but certainly not subtle. It is a car ready for an adventure even in its most basic form. This is the kind of car you’d buy to go on an adventure and also the kind of car that would make an adventurer out of you after you’ve bought it.
The prices for the three Toyota Hilux variants are: Toyota Hilux Standard 4x4 MT (manual transmission): ₹30.40 lakh, Toyota Hilux High 4x4 MT: ₹37.15 lakh; and Toyota Hilux High 4x4 AT (Automatic Transmission): ₹37.90 lakh.
Rishad Saam Mehta is a Mumbai-based author, travel writer and budding travel video maker.