Since the late ’70s, the Toyota HiLux has been one of the most popular and respected four-wheel drives sold in Australia. There. I’ve said it. Be that because of successful marketing campaigns promoting the unbreakability (hey, it should be a word) of the vehicle, or the fact that it simply continues to prove to be reliable on job sites and in off-road settings. Even the resale value is strong which clearly shows there is a deep respect for the old Luxy in this country. The Navara on the other hand has not gained the same level of enthusiasm here. People still buy them, and people still like them… but the same passion for the brand just doesn’t exist.
For images, video and the full Unsealed 4X4 experience, read it here.
On paper, it is hard to work out why that is. The previous D40 model was, on release, one of the most comfortable dual-cab utes money could buy. At one point, Nissans were also the most powerful 4X4 utes available. But there were issues, which even Nissan acknowledged prior to the release of the NP300. The big question we have to ask now is: Has Nissan ironed out those bugs enough to make the Navara stronger than the HiLux?
Nissan has gone down the smaller-capacity twin-turbo route, and has also decided to install coil-spring suspension in the rear end. Big design changes, in other words! Toyota has stayed true to its design – offering essentially a face-lifted vehicle with (in this case) a smaller 2.4L turbo-diesel engine. Will this stubbornness pay off for loyal fans, or has Nissan raised the bar to dizzy new heights? Well, enough cryptic questions… let’s get them dirty!
DEX DISCUSSES PRACTICALITY
By definition, dual-cab utes need to be practical. They have more asked of them than nearly any other automotive variant on the market. Think trade work, the shopping run, taking a load of garden waste to the tip… and then being left to handle the important camping and 4X4 duties, too. From the get-go, the HiLux has the more practical interior. The hard plastic lining would be easy to keep clean, and the simplicity is something to be admired. It felt like a commercial vehicle in every sense of the word, but to call it ‘utilitarian’ would be extremely unfair. This sector of the market certainly has come a long way since the days where apprentices would be sitting in the back seat with their knees wrapped around their chests.
In many other ways though, the Navara on test was more practical for our way of life. The factory sliding tie-down points are sensational. Allowing the ability to secure any bulky items in nearly any position is a massive advantage for an everyday vehicle. As was the factory-fitted tub liner, which wrapped around the tailgate. When closed it could actually be used as a mini makeshift table – thanks to the deep upper lip (a neat feature we discovered at happy hour around the campfire that night).
The leather seating occupying the interior of the Navara should also be easier to keep clean compared to the pov-pack HiLux, and as we have already mentioned it is a ‘nicer place to be’ in general. Oh, we have to make mention of the sliding rear window Nissan wisely decided to include. This is a seriously handy feature for reversing; or times when you might have stinky pets (or photographers) in the back.
EV TAKES THEM OFF-ROAD
I’ll paint the picture for you… driving along a windy and rutted dirt road doing just under 40km/h, climbing up from a picturesque valley when all of a sudden the back end of the HiLux wanted to overtake the front end. We had no weight in the tray, and as a result the vehicle felt dangerous unless put into four-wheel drive. The stability control light would flash violently, then things would settle down again.
This didn’t happen in the Navara. It felt planted and compliant… ‘sporty’ even. So I’m going to give the nod to the Navara for touring and dirt road driving conditions.
On more serious terrain though, that changed. The low-slung side steps on the Navara made it challenging to drive over rocks and ruts, whereas the HiLux (with fantastic traction control) felt genuinely capable. Even with old-school leaf springs in the back-end compared to the exciting new coil-sprung rear end of the Navara. As the Navara featured a factory-fitted rear differential lock, it would crab sideways while trying to climb obstacles – the supple coil suspension definitely didn’t help here. Having said that, I can’t wait to drive an NP300 with good aftermarket suspension fitted as I can see serious potential. If you want a vehicle for rough-and-tumble style off-roading though, the HiLux is a more solid performer.
SAM DOES THE SHOPPING RUN
I somehow got the short straw here, getting to spend time on the blacktop with these two 4X4s (rather than off-road). Never mind… you can’t win them all I suppose.
The first thing that caught my attention with the Navara was the interior. It looks like they have taken design cues from the many trendy soft-roading SUVs they build, and the end result in the Navara is really nice. Perhaps not suited to rough-and-tumble, but it’s well laid out; and very nice to the touch. Keep in mind this is the top-spec model, with nice (and comfy) leather seats and lots of flashing lights and buttons. Bottom-spec (RX) models still benefit from the nice interior layout, albeit with cloth trim and no touch-screen.
God bless the old HiLux, in comparison. It sports the same old hard plastics reminiscent of earlier models, feeling like it’s made to last, rather than appease. There is a touch-screen multimedia interface (which honestly looks like a cheap Aldi iPad) glued onto the dash, with annoying buttons that are part of the touch-screen. The top-spec SR5 model is pretty similar, including the old-school gate shifter and silly-looking touch-screen. It’s a recipe that hasn’t changed over the years… and why would Toyota change it? The HiLux is a seemingly self-propelled sales juggernaut.
On-road, the HiLux is a definite improvement over the previous generation. The new diesel engines (there are 2.4 and 2.8 litre models) give you punchy, linear performance, and they’re noticeably less clattery than the old 3.0 litre. The new six-speed gearbox is great, as well. The Navara, on the other hand, also gives smooth, spirited driving – in a very different manner. You really need to start spinning that 2.3 litre mill for it to start pushing psi and power – making it feel a bit peaky and undecided through the gearbox. It gives greater fuel economy, but I would personally sacrifice that for the drive the HiLux delivers.
In terms of on-road ride, the Navara is a winner. Both utes make obvious concessions on smooth rides in the name of load carrying, but the five-link coil setup does deal with undulations much better. Not to say the HiLux is bad, however; a longer and flatter leaf pack does make advances over the older model. It goes to show that the rate of change in this segment is incredible; think about the rough, loud and slow D22 Navaras and LN HiLuxs not so long ago – and compare them to these new models which are so much more refined and car-like on the road.
TOYOTA HILUX WORKMATE
ENGINE: 2.4L Turbo-Diesel
POWER: 110kW @ 3,400 rpm and 400Nm @ 1,600-2,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-Speed Auto
TOWING CAPACITY: 3,000kg
NISSAN NAVARA ST-X
ENGINE: 2.3L Twin-Turbo Diesel
POWER: 140kW @ 3,750 rpm and 450Nm @ 1,500-2,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 7-Speed Auto
TOWING CAPACITY: 3,500kg
Sometimes when you review two vehicles, it quickly becomes painfully obvious that one is the stronger performer. Something minor can irritate you nearly immediately, or one just simply works better. This was not one of those tests. Calling a winner is hard. For my needs, the HiLux would be better suited though. It felt solid, and I loved the no-frills nature of the base model. But it was kind of slow, and felt skittish on fast dirt roads unless in 4WD. The Navara is a lovely vehicle to drive on-road. The interior is a joy to sit in, and the coil-sprung rear end rode well. The engine felt stressed however… one thing all testers can agree on. So this is a hard call. If you are planning on driving tougher off-road conditions, the HiLux gets the nod. But we can’t deny how comfortable and easy the Navara is to drive. Read between the lines whatever you will there…
Words by Evan Spence, Photography by Brett Hemmings