The Toyota Hilux Rugged X is undoubtedly a capable off-road vehicle. Enthusiasts the country over have bashed this on every mountain range, outback terrain, and beach dune that the Australian wilderness has on offer. But your everyday bloke - who has helped to make the HiLux the highest selling vehicle in the nation - isn't battling rough and rocky dirt roads at every opportunity (not until the weekend, at least). What these guys are doing, and what I was a culprit of also over the Australia Day weekend, is traversing suburbia and the city streets in a brawny, well-built, and premium driving experience for all occasions.
Sitting in the driver's seat for the first time after an early Friday knock-off from work, I was keen to embrace the full HiLux experience that most owners would also be doing at that exact moment in time - hammering down the windows, blasting some John Denver, and proceeding to rocket (at a responsible speed) down the M1. Working from the inside-out, the interior of the HiLux Rugged X is what you'd expect with most utility vehicles on the market today. The leather detailing is a pleasant surprise to the vehicle's 'Rugged' namesake and the high-grade bucket seats come with your usual multi-directional electronic movements. I obviously didn't need the seat heating, but it would sure be handy for those crisp early mornings come Sydney winter.
Connectivity and display were a breeze to master with many of the touchscreen buttons sharing functionality with the options on the wheel. However, it was a brief yet inconvenient learning process to grow accustomed to the sound control, and I found myself rushing to turn down the volume at the lights only to very quickly weaken the air conditioning.
The natural freedom a ute provides comes tenfold with the HiLux Rugged X. Although the vehicle's leading sales point isn't its outstanding power, it still provided some decent oomph. I found the engine to be fairly vibrational and noisy when put under pressure, to be expected from a truck such as this, as well as a bit laggy for more urgent accelerations. But this shouldn't detract from the fact that the Rugged X's Aussie-engineered 2.8 litre, four-cylinder engine can clearly perform under pressure - such is its requirement off-road and under heavy load. Working up to the upper-echelons of speed and extending the car's 6-speed manual transition was a smooth ride, which was complemented by a sturdy drive and excellent outer-body that handled potholes, divets, and the occasional gutter park with ease.
The Rugged X is a beautiful thing to behold. Decked out with all the bells and whistles such as glossy black door handles, immovable side rock rails, hoopless bullbar, and a snorkel, it's an honest visual pleasure that really doesn't need any more customisation that HiLux buyers are notorious for adding. With a towing capacity of 3,200kg (3,500kg on the manual) and recovery points that can accommodate an 8000kg snatch strap, plus a traditional yet reinforced ladder frame, the Rugged X thrives in a tough environment.
After spending the last couple of years behind the wheel of a Mazda 2 in the much more comfortable city/large country town of Brisbane, tackling the innards of Sydney in one of the most imposing utes on the market was a challenge. Small changes from the lower HiLux ranges, such as the hoopless bullbar and a reverse camera were welcome aids in the effort to parallel park in the back streets of Bondi and beyond on a busy Saturday morning. But once my fear of grazing the roof in shopping centre car parks and de-mirroring inconsiderate parkers on thin streets was relieved, driving this HiLux became a breeze.
With power steering and easy control, learning to sit at the helm of the HiLux Rugged X was an awesome experience in driving freedom. Respectable road power and presence matched with an interior design that was welcoming for any amount of time had me rushing home from the office every day to go for my afternoon power trip in the Rugged X.
For more pricing, perks, and other information on the HiLux Rugged X, head on over to Toyota's website.
For a preview of a more mysterious and niche Toyota offering, see James' trip to Spain with the all-new Toyota Supra.