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It’s sometimes hard to imagine that even in the toughest of times, car manufacturers have found ways and means to continue to survive and thrive.
Case in point? The pick-up segment is surely heating up. In the first quarter of 2021 alone, we’ve witnessed, in succession, launches from Isuzu (all-new D-Max), Ford (a heavily refreshed Ranger line-up) and Nissan (a heavily revised Navara plus the latest Pro-4X variant). It will be even more interesting when Mazda launches their latest BT-50, now co-developed with Isuzu and sharing the main architecture and powertrain with Isuzu’s D-Max, slated to launch in the second half of 2021 barring any unfortunate incidents. But let’s also not forget Toyota’s offering with the heavily-revised Conquest, first in the new wave of refreshed and revised pick-ups for 2021 which launched late last year.

The basic architecture and powertrain remains the same for the Hilux Conquest since its launch back in 2015. The previous IMV platformed vehicles were in service for a decade, and it’s safe to say Toyota will do the same with the current crop of IMV’s (Hilux, Fortuner and Innova) which are all recently revised and face-lifted a few months apart from each other recently. But Toyota future-proofed the current IMV line-up with a well-sorted chassis, powerful yet highly efficient engines and slick-shifting six-speed transmissions in both manual and automatic. Though the initial batch of 6-speeds automatics from 2015 suffered from mild shift-shock which was easily remedied by a simple ECU re-flash on the transmission control module, later models were smooth and trouble-free. Sadly, other brands suffered worse fate even when new with their transmissions. The 1GD-FTV engines also feel smoother, more muscular and crucially more refined than on earlier, pre-facelift models. The same can be said for the interior, which has lower NVH levels and more comfortable too. I know, because we own a 2015 Hilux G 4X4 A/T and every time a new face-lifted Hilux model comes out, we’re always faced with the decision of whether it’s time to upgrade, or keep it and wait for the next one. While each successive Hilux facelift has been better, smoother and more refined, Toyota doesn’t move the goalpost dramatically far forward, which bodes well for owners of the earlier models, and also for new and future owners as the standards for refinement, performance and driving dynamics are already very high up to begin with and will be timely and relevant many years down the line, comparable to newer models rolling out in the future. 
So, what’s new with the latest 2021 Hilux Conquest? For starters, the fascia ties it in closer to Toyota’s US model trucks like the Tacoma and Tundra, as well as the RAV4 cross-over and Corolla Cross compact cross-over. There are new LED headlights, new wheel fender flares, a stylish roll hoop/sports bar on the pick-up bed, non-functional roof rails, and blacked-out rear bumpers. Finished in emotional red, Toyota’s color of choice for the launch, it looks sophisticated and sporty, meant to attract people looking at pick-ups from a lifestyle angle rather than just a simple beast of burden. Inside, it’s all dark and sophisticated. A new 8-inch multimedia infotainment system is the key change, and now has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto which work seamlessly. There’s also a reverse camera, making maneuverability in tight spaces easier.  Pop the hood and the familiar 1GD-FTV engine stays, but is now enhanced with a healthy 15% increase in power (from 177ps to 204ps) and  11% increase in torque, from 450 Newton-Meters to 500 Newton-Meters of torque. Improved cooling in the engine allowed Toyota to drop in a more efficient variable nozzle turbine that delivers more air to feed the hungry beast. The improved power-to-weight ratio, though modest, makes itself felt even at part-throttle driving: there’s just more of everything regardless of how light or heavy you step on the throttle, and the added power low-down makes the Conquest feel more relaxed. Cruise Control helps on long drives too. Aside from that, a locking rear differential, traction / stability control and ABS-EBD brakes help improve safety.
The rear suspension has received much attention to eliminate the harsh stiff ride: a new leaf spring suspension coupled with new shock absorbers and suspension bushings give more comfort and control on rough roads, while a variable-flow hydraulic power steering system lightens up steering feel at lower speeds but weighing up nicely on the highway. Indeed, the latest Conquest’s advantages really shine on paved roads.  But there’s still a 295mm ground clearance, 31-degree approach angle and 26 degree departure angle for off-roading. More aggressive all-terrains, or even mud-terrain tires will vastly improve off-road ability. And despite improvements to the ride, the bed maintains its 1-ton cargo capacity.  
Behind the wheel, the Hilux is very enjoyable: fast and flowing on the highway, surprisingly game on winding roads, and even when you come in a bit too hot, the rears stay planted and the tires give out a decent howl to let you know you’re using your luck. I also liked the firm-feeling, well-modulated brakes, a first in a Toyota IMV for me from the factory. Cruising at highway legal speeds, the Hilux maintained a 14.4km/liter fuel consumption average, and in the city, with lots of idling, I got roughly a shade under 8km/liter. With more mileage under its belt, efficiency should improve further. I daresay it has the best interior yet, with very good overall fit and finish, coupled with high-quality tactile materials and a design that’s easy to appreciate, if not ground-breaking. 
The Hilux is not the newest, not the most feature-packed, nor is it the cheapest. But it’s a Toyota: solid, sturdy and as reliable as death and taxes. For the multitude of buyers who have placed their faith in the brand, that’s more than enough reason to get the Conquest. That it’s such an amazing pick-up makes it even more compelling.   

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