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The 2021 Toyota Hilux Is a Window into a Universe Where No-Frills Trucks Live

Autoweek logo Autoweek 6/5/2020 Jay Ramey
a red and black truck parked in front of a car: The Toyota Hilux gets a number of updates for 2021, but this global workhorse is still different from the Tacoma, even though they share components. © Toyota The Toyota Hilux gets a number of updates for 2021, but this global workhorse is still different from the Tacoma, even though they share components.

The Toyota Hilux is a truck rarely seen on these shores, but it's a major player in the rest of the world. More importantly, it's a relative of the Tacoma pickup, which split off from the long-running model in the 1990s. The two trucks are now quite distinct, and American customers would find the Hilux formula a little unusual.

Just how unusual? Let's start with the powerplants: The 2021 Hilux will receive a revised 2.8-liter turbodiesel inline-four, good for 201 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque. Toyota has been able to improve fuel economy on this unit by 11.1%, all while increasing its horsepower— that's a boost of just over 20 hp over the previous version of this engine. But other thrifty powerplants will still be on the menu, including a 2.7-liter gasoline four-cylinder and a 2.4-liter turbodiesel.

In the Tacoma, by contrast, the 2.7-liter four is the base engine, while a 3.5-liter V6 with 278 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque is the top engine choice.

Toyota has also tweaked the design of the Hilux's front fascia, which had been very distinct from the appearance of the Tacoma for decades now, giving the headlights a sleeker and thinner look that the automaker says makes it look "meaner."

a blue truck parked in front of a car: The Tacoma split off from the Hilux nameplate in the 1990s and has carved its own path in the U.S. and Canada. © Toyota The Tacoma split off from the Hilux nameplate in the 1990s and has carved its own path in the U.S. and Canada.

"A stronger on-road presence is achieved by a large trapezoidal grille that dominates the front design and incorporates more pronounced horizontal elements that deliver a wider, more planted look," Toyota says.

When it comes to the suspension, Toyota has tweaked the shock absorbers in the Hilux, adding an improved leaf spring design and new bushings aimed at a more comfortable ride. Toyota has also increased the towing capacity—now 7,700 pounds—for 4x4 versions of the truck.

a car parked on the side of a vehicle: The Hilux interior, however, is quite modern if still work-focused, now featuring an 8-inch infotainment screen. © Toyota The Hilux interior, however, is quite modern if still work-focused, now featuring an 8-inch infotainment screen.

"In 4x4 models with downhill-assist control, an additional traction control feature when using 2WD mode reroutes torque to assist grip in muddy or grassy conditions on worksites," Toyota points out.

The Hilux is still offered in single-cab form as a base option in various foreign markets— the Tacoma ditched the single-cab format a long time ago—and is still available with a manual transmission. That's something you can't get in a Tacoma these days—or a diesel engine, for that matter.

The end result is that the Hilux is meant for a very different end user: one who actually uses the truck off-road, as intended, and one who does not always need a lot of horsepower, opting for greater torque and fuel economy. This kind of specification, along with a still-available single-cab flavor, makes the Hilux a much more focused workhorse.

In case you're wondering if the Hilux would ever make an appearance in the U.S., this is doubtful simply due to the chicken tax, as well as the presence of the Tacoma. Of course, if you're itching for a diesel Tacoma with a manual transmission and a single-cab ... don't count on it. There's just not enough demand for something like that here anymore, which is a shame.

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