That word Legend is such a cliché if there ever was one. It’s become the stuff of overused colloquialism that we’ve prefixed upon everything that’s mildly good or exciting but if it could be thrown onto a car, the Hilux is most fitting isn’t it? Certainly in South Africa, it’s story is undoubtedly the stuff of legend considering its staying power, its appeal and its command over the wallets of literally thousands of businesses and individuals across the country.
This Hilux Legend 50 as a concept isn’t new – it’s something Toyota introduced some 15 years ago to celebrate 35 years of Hilux supersalesdom and from then on every 5 years we’ve had a ‘Legend’ added to the Hilux range.
So this is the half-century celebration of the Hilux, kitted out with a stylish and lifestyle-ish aesthetic treatment. They’ve added more badges and more features resulting in a R707 000 bakkie for this particular model,the turbodiesel automatic 4x4 version. Yes you do get a manual version and a 4x2 version and a 4.0-litre Petrol-powered V6 but if anything, this is the one to have.
It sits ‘below’ the GR Sport Hilux in price and front suspension components but we prefer this one. It looks proper and costs less. That’s good enough for us.
The Legend50 is differentiated but a few things: black-out treatment around the whole car, from the bumpers to the side steps and side mirrors to the muscular roll bars. The rear tail lights are smoked contrasting well with the front DRLs. Of course, there’s a good mix of badges all around – and they work well. It's a tasteful look and matches the overall package – unlike that GR Sport’s over-the-top sticker work.
We tested the stalwart Hilux during Lockdown Level 4, a time when getting out was somewhat difficult and it got us thinking. As members of the press we had some work to do out of town but we couldn’t and didn’t want to stay in some sort of formal hotel or guest house so we had to make a plan.
The plan was simple – find a private piece of land where we could camp out for 2 nights without the need to interact with people. How hard could it be? What you need is a bit of camping bits and bobs and a car that can swallow it all up and get you to said camping spot far off the beaten track without breaking a sweat – or a bumper.
It’s all Hilux on the inside, predominantly black cabin with a thin silver strip that runs across the dash. There’s lots of glossy black surfaces that gather dust like a coal truck in Sasolburg but it is simply stunning build quality. Everything is solid, everything has a confident clunk or click when you press it or use it and it’s here you start to understand the Toyota Hilux character.
It’s a fairly loaded cabin as far as these things go, the infotainment system featuring sat nav and connectivity – no CarPlay unfortunately. The info is there and clearly presented but it’s old tech with minimal colour use on the screens and old graphics. If you’re moved by absolute modernity and tech, Hilux isn’t for you. But don’t stop reading just yet. The Legend50 does have a bigger 8-inch screen with a reversing camera and in case you're not fully aware of what you're in, Toyota has thrown in branded mats too.
We put the plan into action and unleashed the Hilux Legend 50 on a near 1900km journey from the highlands of Jozi to the sea level of – the sea. And then from the sea up into the towering Drakensberg mountains to get as close to Sentinel peak as we dared.
The Legend 50 is powered by the 2.8-litre in-line four cylinder turbodiesel. It’s an engine we know, tried and trusted and utilitarian. It’s by no means silent – you won’t make the mistake of trying to push the start button when it’s already on. When it’s running its running.
Driving the Hilux takes some getting used to if you’re new to this. We’re not, thankfully but the sheer size of the thing needs remembering. It’s a long and heavy car and its response to everything is slower and more cumbersome in many respects. But it’s a bakkie of course and bakkies are built like this with a ladderframe chassis and a cavernous load bin and a workhorse engine because they’re called on to do much more than any other car type.
On the open road particularly on the freeway the Hilux Legend 50 settles into its stride. This new Hilux is less affected bythe wind creeping in. The driving position is high and you feel it when navigating corners. Coupled with a steering that is slow and a jittery ride quality over anything but the best surfaces you have to constantly reign everything in – the approach to corners, how early you get onto the brakes etc. Over rougher gravel surfaces it's still jittery as heck but there’s a solidity in how it deals with bumps and potholes and stony surfaces. Yes the tail is loose as is the case with these things but strong and unperturbed it goes partly thanks to the all the ABS, VSC, EBD, Brake Assist, Hill-assist safety aids.
That 130kW, 420Nm turbodiesel is powerful enough and under normal conditions turns in a fair fuel figure. We managed 9,2-litres/100km on our long run but it’s hampered by an automatic box that takes its time to make decisions and tends to choose a higher gear when not needed. The drivetrain combo suffers from that immediacy of movement that we so like, turbo lag for sure but at times the gearbox is playing its part too...or not playing its part.
All in all, it feels very bakkie-like and whilst many bakkie makers are striving to make the driving experience of these cars more car-like, the Hilux certainly isn’t that. It’s still a solid, tough, robust, throw-anything-at-me kind of car the ability to haul a ton in the back or tow another 3,5 tons – or both. Someone’s tried it for sure.
Working through the 4x4 functions is a breeze through a handy group of switches in the centre console. It’s high-riding nature, low-range ability and hill descent control make the Hilux a popular car among overlanders and off-road fundis. For us, it’s a handy option for traversing some treacherously rocky terrain and high-rise sand dunes. Hilux again, didn’t break a sweat.
The competition is fierce indeed. Ford Rangers continue to make their play and they are just about doing a decent job of it – just about. No matter what the competition is doing, Toyota continues to be the top-seller by a long shot and therefore, the car will hold its value better than the rest. It’s a Toyota – it’s well supported in network and the after-market trade including being easy to maintain and easy to fix. You’ll pay the insurance premium for its high risk factor but that’s about the only down side here. This Legend50 is the premium Hilux and at R707 000, we’d hazard a guess that it will depreciate slower than any more expensive blue oval rivals. So it’s good value for money either way you look at it.
The Hilux took us to the most incredible destinations in South Africa. We camped, we worked, we moved to the next location and pressed repeat. We bashed bundus and climbed mountains (literally) and no matter what, Hilux played ball without the slightest hint of trouble. We threw everything including the kitchen sink in the back and it proved immensely unflappable and enormously reliable. And this ladies and gents is what it’s about. The Hilux has to play the role of adventure lifestyle vehicle while at the same time being the family car as well as the workhorse as well as the everyday work-and-back companion. In other words, it has to be everything to everyone and the only way you do that, is by building a tough, honest, simple to operate machine that just works. It. Just. Works. All. The. Time.