Oh how the mighty remain mighty! In these trying and uncertain times, if there is one thing you can bet your last Rand on, it is that the Hilux will dominate sales figures across the board. Even in the hardest of economies, Toyota seems to win with the Hilux time and time again. Part of the success is a consistent product improvement even if only in packaging and grade structuring, which is partly the case being made with the new Hilux Legend 50 RS being reviewed here. The other part is a significant power hike but more on that later.
Toyota has rejigged the entire Hilux model structure and the ‘Legend’ name now denotes the flagship offering in the range. Toyota launched the improved Hilux in South Africa in late 2020 and compared to the Legend 50 reviewed here earlier in that year, the product improvement was significant enough to take notice - in such a short space of time. In fact, since the model's initial launch back in 2016, it has had two major facelifts with the latest also offering a bump in power.
You can’t help take notice as the aesthetic differences are quite telling with new colours added to the palette such as this very one pictured here in something called Attitude Black. The colour blends with the new graphite coloured sports bars at the rear of the Hilux, a design that is similar in nature to that of the Hilux Legend 50’s only real nemesis - the Ford Ranger Thunder. That trapezoidal front grille has grown large matt black surrounds that continue to the fog lamps and then into similarly styled pieces that match the wheel arches, black door handles and mirror caps. You won’t miss it, but some Toyota Hilux purists found the addition of these pieces quite offensive, citing a trip to "Plastic Land" as the reason.
I agree that the new bits and bobs on the exterior of the Hilux Legend RS do make the bakkie appear softer. In a market where Toyota increasingly needs to provide more luxury and lifestyle elements to this ever-popular segment as more new customers join the fray, the updates have hit home quite well.
Around the rear of the bakkie the big news is the very reason this model is called the ‘RS’ – the tailgate is fitted with a nifty electric Roller Shutter, which can be locked in place via the vehicle's central locking system. The shutter covers a rubberised bedliner in which you’ll also find some LED lighting and a 12V outlet. Also new is an easy-lift tailgate, which makes for a significant ease in use.
Updates to the cabin have mainly been to heighten the premium feel of this flagship Hilux and to allay some of the criticisms from the past. There are blue ambient lights that add some sense of calm to the evening drive if you’re into that sort of thing. Whilst there are some design updates to the instrument cluster and multi-function display, but the big news is in the 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system that has improved graphics, functionality, and the incorporation of phone mirroring through Android Auto / Apple CarPlay. Toyota has also thrown in a 9-speaker JBL sound system.
The rest of the cabin remains the same – it is undoubtedly a cabin built to Toyota’s key quality, dependability and reliability pillars. Our journey with the Hilux Legend took us through the Skuurweberg pass up into the Barberton area of Mpumalanga through a series of beautiful open roads to twisty climbs and heavily potholed tar. The Hilux drive has been all the more pleasurable through these new in-car entertainment additions. It’s much easier to access and navigate the controls and immerse yourself in the drive, despite the ever-changing landscapes around you.
The seats remain relatively hard and certainly not the most comfortable pews in the segment. They offer enough side bolstering for what this car is, and the electrical adjustment ensures an excellent driving position can be found.
My other gripe with the Hilux cabin is a lack of USB ports for rear seat passengers. If this segment really is trying to extend its reach into the conquest of a more lifestyle-oriented customer, then this is a drawback as crazy as that may seem.
More Power! This is the big news with the Legend 50 series. Toyota has endowed the Hilux 2.8 GD-6 with a larger turbo charger and an improved fuel injection system. The new updates put the Hilux on equal power footing with the 2.0 bi-turbo Ford Ranger models. Power output is a significantly improved 150 kW with 500 Nm of torque from the automatic model reviewed here(manual derivatives retain 420 Nm of torque as before).
The entire driving experience is significantly improved. Not just in the noticeable power surge and improved acceleration but the 6-speed automatic transmission works even better than before. Where the gearbox could be criticised for mismatched shifting in certain circumstances, this combination with the more powerful engine seems to work better all round. The power hike reminds me of the power wars that have raged in the hot hatch segment for decades - how things have changed. The days of celebrating a 132 kW power output from a double-cab bakkie are long gone. We’re now comfortable into the 150 plus mark and there’s no doubt that this incessant pursuit of power will continue – no complaints here but you need to watch the weight on the right foot with this Hilux.
Where power has been hiked, Toyota has also worked on improving the NVH levels and I can report a noticeable improvement here too. The new motor feels and sounds more refined from the inside, and this is largely to do with improved sound insulation rather than actually refining that workhorse of an engine. Another area of attention given was to the rear suspension, which now feels less bouncier than before.
Not to be outdone in safety tech, this Hilux has been fitted with Toyota Safety Sense, a driver assistance system that includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure warning and assistance and an emergency pre-collision system. It was indeed lacking in previous flagship Hilux vehicles and this brings the Hilux on an even keel with its American-badged competitor. In use, the system feels a generation behind what is out there at the moment even on cheaper vehicles, particularly concerning operation that is not available below 30km/h.
Part of our review was a gruelling 40km trek across some tough mountainous terrain in the hills of Barberton. The entire route was tackled in 4H or 4L with a few sections where we had to engage the diff lock as well. The entire operation of the drivetrain and 4X4 features remain unchanged, as does the Hilux immense capability in most terrain. If anything, the Dunlop Grand Trek road tyres fitted to our test vehicle are better suited to the everyday road use for any higher grade 4X4 requirements.
On our application, the Hilux didn’t miss a beat, trudging up and down some testing terrain in the path of a Land Cruiser 79 fitted with BF Goodrich All-Terrain rubber. The Hilux earned its worth when the going got tough and it was by miles the most comfortable and well-appointed of all vehicles on the trek.
The Hilux Legend 50 RS is an expensive bit of kit no matter which way you look at it. A big part of that price tag here is that the RS badge adds R80 000 to the bottom line. Is it a dealbreaker? No it isn’t, unless, of course, a fancy roller shutter is really important to you, but in reality that the roller shutter actually reduces the loadbin area for a start, and you could get a manually lockable alternative for much less money for sure.
I would opt for a Legend 50 4X4 Auto (for that full power and torque) combination and save some money for other things. That is the real news here – the power hike. That is the deciding factor on whether you buy a 2019 Legend 50 or this one.
Toyota has two problems when considering its leading Legend derivative. The first being that Blue Oval American badge and its never-say-die attitude. Ford's Ranger is the only real competitor to the Hilux and despite the Japanese showing unwavering resilience and resurgence in the market, the Ford Ranger is always worryingly close behind. Where almost 60% of the bakkie sales market is in the double-cab sector, then both these brands need to be smarter in the range and packaging of the product they bring to the table. This Legend RS and the entire revised range is yet another move by Toyota to offer more conquest products.
Toyota’s other problem really is itself – It has to appease its existing large Hilux customer base, while at the same time, trying to attract the newbies. How does one do that when the large market base represents such a broad base of customer types. It’s not an easy question to answer as this brand has been built on its dependability and simplicity. Sales don’t lie though, so clearly there's some method to the madness.