Toyota HiLux Rogue review: Rough rider
Imagine, for a moment, that you are a restaurant reviewer and you are sent, against your will, to review a vegan establishment. Because you love food, you know you’re going to hate it before you even walk in and sit on your recycled-wicker chair and unfold your abrasive hemp napkin. So how can you give a fair review?
Similarly, you might be fortune enough to write about films for a living, but you simply cannot stomach the methods of Steve Carell, Tilda Swinton or Wes Anderson. In some cruel universe, they all make a movie together and you’re challenged to give it a rating out of five stars – mentally you’ve knocked three off before the establishing shot.
This is exactly the situation I find myself in when asked to evaluate a vehicle like the Toyota HiLux, because it is a pick-up truck (go ahead, call it a ute all you like, and then I will show you a picture of an actual ute, like the ones Holden and Ford used to make, and laugh at you) and I insist on living in a delusional world where America and Australia are separate countries, as they were in my youth, and thus our two top-selling vehicles could not possibly be pick-up trucks.
Which, of course, they are. Indeed, the Toyota HiLux is, to the Australian populace of today, what the Falcodores and Mitsubishi Magnas were to my now overrun generation. It was the top-selling vehicle in this country for the past seven years, a fact that I find more staggering than Elon Musk’s wealth or even the popularity of Barnaby Joyce. When I looked up the most recent figures, I found it had just been pipped by… another pick-up truck, the Ford Ranger.
These two vehicles are in a battle for the soul of our nation, no, sorry, for the wallets of our car-buying public, and the HiLux I’m driving is called the Rogue, and apparently it’s designed to be the big, manly answer to Ford’s Ranger Wildtrak, whatever that is.
I am so avidly uninterested in these things that I have to go and read the work of my more professional colleagues (the ones who actually write about the kinds of cars that most people buy, and profess to care about them) to uncover such facts.
I also found out that the Rogue is “brawny”, “muscular”, “rugged” and has a “broad-chested stance”. It looked like a HiLux with Rogue badges to me (I think they missed a trick by not calling it the “Loveable Rogue”, but again, I might be describing Barnaby here), although I wasn’t surprised to learn that it’s had its ground clearance raised by 20mm over the standard vehicle. I think it looks absurdly tall on the road, and I genuinely hated having to climb up and into the cabin every time I was forced to drive it, although sliding out and down to the ground again afterwards did illicit a few surprising “Weeee!” noises, and flashbacks to childhood slippery dips.
The Rogue also has a locking and powered tonneau cover, so that most owners can hide the fact that they don’t own lots of tools to carry around in the rear tray and thus justify their choice of a pick-up truck rather than a sensible vehicle.
Let me just tackle that for a moment. If Australia is now mainly made up of tradies – and having seen what they can charge me to do the things around my house that I, as someone who types for a living, am inherently incapable of, I can see why it might be – then the dominance of trucks like the HiLux and Ranger would make sense.
Or if the sales figures were being bumped up to an enormous extent by companies buying them as part of fleets that work on mine sites or the myriad of road works and tunnels constantly being built in my city, that would also add up to their market dominance.
But combined, those sales just can’t be enough, which means that a lot of people are genuinely choosing to buy these things as family vehicles. Presumably for families who live in tents, or have holiday homes in the country, or enormous dogs.
I’m sorry, but I’m just trying to get my head around it. Why do they need all that space in the back, why must they sit so high off the road and why, most pressingly, are they willing to put up with a vehicle that is genuinely awful to drive and uncomfortable to be a passenger in for the sake of said load area?
Sadly, as an inner-city flat white man, I don’t personally know anyone who owns one, so I can’t ask the question, and I’m left worrying over it late at night, particularly after a week of leaving the Rogue in my driveway and taking the family VW Golf as often as I could instead.
Apparently the Rogue is even better than a normal HiLux off-road, but that’s of no interest to me, nor do I buy the idea that a large proportion of its buyers will take it bush bashing.
It is powered by a 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine that makes just 150kW and 500Nm, which means it goes up hills like Clive Palmer on a Penny Farthing and makes even more noise while doing so.
Indeed, this barbaric engine’s only redeeming feature is that it reminds me of a tractor my grandfather used to drive on the farm 40 years ago. Although it might be slightly louder.
Even my learned colleagues describe the steering as “slow and heavy”, but I think that’s too kind. I would call it painful and ponderous. It delivers as much driving joy as a trip home in a particularly unclean taxi after you’ve had too many beers and a poisonous kebab.
Then there’s the ride, which is not just rough but bouncy to the point of making your teeth clatter together. It’s better not to try and have conversations while you’re driving this HiLlux, but then no one would hear you over the diesel’s heavy-smoker coughing and wheezing if you did.
Again, my colleagues point out that the ride gets better if you put some bags of soil in the rear tray, to stop the rear end leaping about. But I know these journalists, and I don’t think they actually tried that at all.
The interior is basic, the heated leather seats are reasonably comfortable and, being a Toyota, I’m sure it will all last forever, but then so does herpes. I’m going to try and say something nice now… it has a proper hand brake, and I like those.
What truly boggles my brain is that this Toyota HiLux Rogue costs $76,000, and that many, many Australians will happily pay that much to own something that is awful to drive, noisy and as easy to park as a double decker bus.
I hope I made it clear that I was biased against this pick-up truck from the start, but I can tell you from the heart, it’s even worse than I feared it might be.