Some say the latest generation of top double cab 4×4 bakkies, retailing for more than half a million rand, has gone all soft and limp-wristed.
Blast from the past
Back in the day, bakkies were made for hard work, and to handle tough 4×4 conditions all day, every day. So we decided to put this theory to the test and pit a 1979 Toyota Hi-Lux 4WD against the latest Toyota Hilux 2.8GD-6 4×4 Raider D/C AT.
Urban legend claims that a kidney belt is obligatory when you drive a Toyota Hilux with solid front and rear axles. This is not an urban legend. It’s real. With solid front and rear axles, supplemented in a 1979 Hi-Lux 4WD by leaf springs (front and back), it is probably the most uncomfortable ride we’ve ever experienced in a vehicle. On a bumpy road, you don’t drive along. You bounce from one undulation to the next. “But you must remember that those bakkies were used for work, and with a heavy load on the ‘bak’, the drive was a lot more comfortable,” remarked an observer when we mentioned the hard ride. He was correct, of course. In 1979, the Hi-Lux 4WD was not a lifestyle accessory, it was a hardcore workhorse that could go anywhere.
Even the spelling of the name was different. In 1979, it was spelt Hi-Lux, with two capital letters. Now it’s slightly less masculine… Hilux. Obviously the cabin is a Spartan business compared to modern vehicles. That said, in our sister magazine CAR’s road test of the 4WD (June 1980), the cabin was described as follows: “With its modern layout and neat finish, the cab interior is very much that of a luxury bakkie.” Around town, the 4WD is not easy to live with. There’s no power steering, no air-conditioning, and no infotainment system. The two-litre 18R engine produces 64kW and keeping up with the general flow of traffic can be a challenge. The vague four-speed gearbox also requires a different driving approach; you have to slip it gently into the next gear, at a most gracious pace. On one occasion, we had to park the Hi-Lux in a very tight underground parking area. This turned into quite an entertaining process for some spectators, with the Hi-Lux requiring a 14-point turn to embed itself into the parking bay. Besides not having power steering, the turning circle is a massive 11.8m. As a point of reference, the new Hilux double cab’s turning circle is 6.4m.
Interestingly, the 4WD is 4.7 metres long. That’s just half-a-metre less than the new Hilux double cab in this test. The older Toyota’s ‘bak’ is massive. From a cabin point of view, the latest Hilux is a proverbial Rolls-Royce that transports its occupants in sumptuous, climate-controlled luxury. The new bakkie’s independent front and rear leaf spring suspension can carry more weight than the 4WD, but it is substantially more comfortable than the ’79 version. Obviously, the overall comfort is on another planet compared to the older lorry. But one thing is for sure: every kilometre spent driving the old 4WD was an absolute experience, and a wonderful privilege. This bakkie, after all, is the holy grail of Hilux 4×4s. But let’s get down and dirty, and hit the road – and off-road track – in the two bakkies.
On the tar
The 130kW of power and 450Nm of torque, coupled to a smooth six-speed auto shifter, makes for a most relaxing, comfortable ride on tar in the top-spec Raider double cab. With all that torque on tap, gaps can be taken with only a small prod of the accelerator pedal. Add the comfy interior and ride, and travelling long distances and navigating peak- hour traffic in the city is a cinch. The same does not apply to the Hi-Lux 4WD. The older Toyota is at its happiest at 90km/h, and we purposefully steered clear of any highways during our time with the vehicle, rather sticking to quieter detours. As we’ve mentioned before, trying to chase the 1979 model through the gears is a bit like asking a weight lifter to pretend to be a ballerina – it’s much more comfortable cruising along at a sedate pace. An interesting aspect was the braking system. With a disc and drum set-up, the old Hi-Lux’s braking set-up was one of its most impressive qualities. Having driven a few old 4x4s recently, the Hi-Lux’s brakes were most effective, stopping the bakkie in a confidence-inspiring, no fuss manner.
Off the road
We headed to the Hobby Park 4×4 trail in Krugersdorp to put the two Toyota bakkies through their off-road paces. Mindful that we were in a collector’s private 1979 Hi-Lux and a new one which retails for close to R600 000, we obviously steered clear of mad-cap grade 5 obstacles such as the venue’s infamous ‘Survivor’. Instead, we found some grade two challenges. But to get to those obstacles, we had to traverse some rough dirt roads, and in the Hi-Lux 4WD the ride was rather unpleasant. We found ourselves wishing for a 500kg load just to make the ride a tiny bit easier on the kidneys. In the new Hilux, in its air-conditioned cabin, colleague GG van Rooyen hardly noticed the bad dirt road. And so we arrived at the 4×4 section. In the 4WD, we had to exit the vehicle, manually lock the front hubs, jump back into the cabin and select low range via the second gear lever. Admittedly, we had thought this selection, on a 4×4 that is nearly 40 years old, would be a tricky business. But it was anything but difficult – simply move the second gear lever to the 4LOW position, a light illuminates on the dashboard, and you’re ready to 4×4.
Amazingly, selection of 4LOW proved more troublesome in the new Hilux. Featuring the twist dial instead of the second gear lever (or donkey lever), we selected neutral, turned the dial to 4LOW… 4H engaged easily enough, but 4LOW refused to engage. We selected Drive and edged the Hilux forward. We selected reverse and edged it backwards. But 4LOW still evaded selection. Eventually we edged into the first obstacle, hoping the gearbox would get its act together. At least the obstacle wasn’t too difficult. With much better approach and departure angles, and less Tupperware in the way, we made our way forward in the older Hi-Lux, selecting a line through the obstacle at will. And remember, this version has no electronic driving aids such as traction control or a rear differential lock. It all comes down to mechanical grip and those solid axles deliver in this department, more readily keeping wheels in contact with terra firma, ensuring momentum is maintained.
Sure, the non-standard Cooper Discoverer ST Max mud terrain tyres and aftermarket Old Man Emu suspension also played their part here, but the sheer mechanical grip is quite impressive. The engine is not the most powerful, no. But the combination of low-down torque and workmanlike transfer case ensures that the 1979 Hi-Lux is highly capable in an off-road environment. In the new Hilux, our approach was quite different. We had to take it really easy and pick the ideal line to avoid the lower nose picking up damage. On the climbs, the traction control reported for duty and did a grand job of pulling the big Hilux through. By the third obstacle, low range finally engaged on the new bakkie. This was a good thing because this was a steep, rutted decline. Here, the new bakkie’s fancy electronics again came to the party, reducing the Toyota’s speed to a crawl down the obstacle. Near the end of the decline, though, that low nose and the weight distribution of the bakkie heading down the steep obstacle did cause the engine protection plate to gently nudge a rock.
In the old Hi-Lux, there were no such clearance issues: you chose your line, let the engine do the braking and added some brake pedal as needed. To sum up: the old-school Hi-Lux is still extremely competent off the beaten track. The new one can get the job done, too, but in stock standard trim (like our test unit) the chance of damage on a bakkie costing nearly R600 000 is a risk we’d probably not indulge in too often. A few modifications will change the game though, and a better approach angle, suspension lift and more off-road-oriented tyres will decrease the chance of damage.
The old-school Hi-Lux hails from an era where 4×4s were hard, uncomp-romising workhorses. In 1979, ‘leisure’ and 4×4 were not nearly as intertwined as they are today. Everything about the old-school Hi-Lux is about function, not form. Modern cars have a little triangle sign next to the fuel gauge to show the driver which side the fuel filler cap is located. In the 4WD, you have to get out and check where it is. Sure, in modern terms the older Hi-Lux is flawed in several ways. But in its day, back in 1979, it represented the cutting edge of 4×4. We really enjoyed our time with the old legend. It also represents the birth of a 4×4 legend. Since 1979, millions of Hilux 4×4s have been sold around the globe. The Hi-Lux 4WD is, inter alia, the holy grail of Hilux 4×4 models. The reputation of the first Hilux and the 4WD derivative certainly cemented the popularity and status of the current bakkie. That reputation played a big role last year when the Hilux was South Africa’s top-selling vehicle, recording 35 428 units. That is bestselling vehicle overall. The Hilux legend continues.
2017 Toyota Hilux 2.8GD-6 4×4 Raider AT
Engine Four-cylinder turbodiesel
Capacity 2 755cc
Power 130kW @ 3 400r/min
Torque 450Nm @ 1 600r/min
Transmission Six-speed auto
Fuel consumption (actual) 9.3 litres/100km
4WD system Part-time (2H, 4H & 4Low)
Electronic aids Traction control, hill assist control, downhill assist control, vehicle stability control, trailer sway control, rear differential lock
Suspension front Independent, double wishbones
Suspension (rear) Leaf springs and rigid axle
Brakes (front) Ventilated discs
Brakes (rear) Drum
ABS Yes, with EBD
Wheels (original) 17-inch alloy
Tyres 265/65 R17 all-terrain
Turning circle 6.4m
Ground clearance 225mm
Fuel tank 80 litres
Length 5 335mm
Width 1 855mm
Tare weight 1 949kg
Turning circle 6.4m
0-100km/h (claimed) 10.8 seconds
Top speed (claimed) 175km/h
1979 Toyota Hi-Lux 4WD
Engine Four-cylinder petrol
Capacity 1 968cc
Power 64kW @ 5 000r/min
Torque 138Nm @ 3 600r/min
Transmission Four-speed manual
Fuel consumption (actual) 10.2 litres/100km
4WD system Part-time (2H, 4H & 4Low)
Electronic aids None
Suspension (front) Leaf springs and live axle
Suspension (rear) Leaf springs and live axle
Brakes (front) Ventilated discs
Brakes (rear) Drum
Wheels (original) 5.5J steel
Tyres (original) 7.00 x 15 light truck
Turning circle 11.8m
Ground clearance 225mm
Fuel tank 61 litres
Length 4 725mm
Width 1 690mm
Tare weight 1 338kg
0-100km/h 24.1 seconds
Top speed 130.3km/h
Price (June, 1980) R6 980
Price now (approximate) R100 000
Special thanks to…
Deon Venter, CEO of 4×4 Mega World, for the use of his private Toyota Hi-Lux 4WD. A recent acquisition for his Klerksdorp-based Toyota collection, the vehicle will soon head to Venter’s workshop in the town. Although this Hi-Lux is in pretty good nick, Deon’s technical boffins will restore the Toyota to better-than-new condition. More info: megaworld.co.za.
Hobby Park 4×4 trail, for using sections of the 4×4 trail for our photoshoot and off-road test. More info: hobbypark.co.za
CAR magazine, for sharing its road test of the original Hi-Lux 4WD with us.
More info: carmag.co.za.
Old You have to turn the window winder (yes, with your hand) to make the window go up and down. There is also a quarter window that opens sideways if you don’t feel like winding the window up and down
New Buttons! Press one and, magically, a window winds up and down.
Old Sliding ventilation controls, where you can select how fast you want to blow the hot air from the outside into the cabin. It’s got a heater for cold mornings but back in 1979, air-conditioning was the reserve of upmarket saloons only.
New Climate control. You set the temperature you prefer, and the air-conditioning system will automatically adjust the temperature inside the Hilux’s cabin to your chosen setting.
Old A Rally FM/AM radio came standard with the 4WD Hi-Lux. There are two speakers, and you turn a knob to find different stations. Mind, signal reception is pretty awesome. Sound reproduction is, well, not so good. On the move, driving with open windows (in summer heat) you can hardly hear anything, even at full blast.
New A multi-information display (with a TFT colour screen), RDS, Bluetooth connectivity, six-speakers and remote buttons on steering wheel: it’s all very fancy and user-friendly. Playing your music that is loaded onto your Bluetooth-enabled phone (in your pocket) is easy as pie.
Old Toyota’s 1968cc 18R engine was pretty much cutting-edge (for a bakkie) in 1979. The short-stroke four-cylinder engine with overhead cam drive and twin-choke Aisan carburettor produces 64kW of power and 138Nm of torque at 3 600r/min. Speed was (and is) not its thing. Instead, it is designed to chug along for 500 000km with nary an issue.
New The latest Toyota 2.8GD-6 four-cylinder engine is at the sharp end of modern turbodiesel technology. It boasts a variable vane turbocharger, 130kW of power and 450Nm of torque. But even more impressive than the output numbers is the way the engine delivers the goods; there’s virtually no turbo lag to speak off.
Old: What? You’ve got to manually lock and unlock the front wheel hubs? Yes, indeed!
New Auto locking front wheel hubs.
Old Hip to be square… in 1979, aerodynamic design considerations were non-existent, especially for bakkies. The old-school design is unmistakably Toyota Hi-Lux, and back in its heyday, it is said to have enjoyed plenty of admiring stares.
New Bigger, fancier and shinier, but also more controversial. If there is one element of the latest Hilux’s design architecture that has caused a rumble even among the most ardent Hilux fans, it’s the front-end styling. The much talked about overbite effect is certainly not to everyone’s liking.
Old The thin-rimmed steering wheel featured two buttons… and both operated the hooter. There’s no power steering either, by the way.
New There are more buttons and controls on the 2017 Hilux’s steering wheel than in the entire 1979 Hi-Lux’s cabin! Infotainment system, display settings, cruise control and trip computer can all be controlled from the steering wheel.
Old Vinyl was the standard issue seat cover material for bakkies in 1979. There were disadvantages to using vinyl… including burning the pattern of the seat into your bottom on a steaming hot day. In 1980’s CAR test, the 4WD was noted for “having an adjustable bench seat which takes three people comfortably”.
New The modern fabric trim in the new Hilux is a lot more comfortable than the older style vinyl. The seats are infinitely more comfortable, too, and the double cab can seat five people in the relative lap of luxury (for a bakkie)
Old Old-school ‘donkey’ lever for selection between 2H, 4H and 4LOW. The choice of purists.
New New-school twist dial for selection between 2H, 4H and 4LOW. We battled to select 4LOW with the twist dial, but eventually got it.