In spite of all the challenges Toyota Motor Co. has faced with its subsidiaries lately, the world’s most prolific carmaker has accumulated enough “pogi points” among its customers that it still tops the trust ratings. Lexus, for instance, scored a 79, and Toyota itself scored a 76 out of 100, topping a comprehensive consumer satisfaction survey of the non-profit Consumer Reports that covers over 330,000 vehicle owners spanning model years 2000 to 2023.
Echoing that result is the JD Power 2023 US Vehicle Dependability Study, which lists the car brands with the most and least number of problems. In the study, Lexus and Toyota come out as the number 1 and number 7 most dependable brands, respectively.
Then there’s the 2023 What Car? Reliability survey of 22,000 vehicle owners, Britain’s own reliability rating for cars up to five years old. Here, Lexus and Toyota are the leading brands for reliability, both posting near-perfect scores.
For my own informal survey in November 2023, I asked Francis Samonte (former Toyota Auto Club Philippines chair) and several Corolla Cross HEV owners. They said that they would be more comfortable buying new-energy technology from Toyota than from any other car manufacturer.
And speaking of new-energy tech, Toyota’s iconic hybrid Prius and a trio of new-energy-powered Hilux pickup prototypes were on display in Buriram, Thailand, last December as a sidelight to the 10-hour endurance race that the Rookie Racing and the Toyota Gazoo Racing Thailand teams participated in. I was even able to take the latest iteration of the Prius and the three Hilux prototypes on a spin on a short track at the Chang International Circuit.
No surprise for Toyota to display its Hilux prototypes here, as Thailand is known as a pickup country, and is, in fact, the production hub for the Hilux.
The new-energy Hilux prototypes were the BEV (battery electric vehicle), the FCEV (fuel cell electric vehicle, and the Diesel-HEV (hybrid EV). Its distribution in other countries would depend on their available infrastructure.
Hilux BEV: None of the diesel ‘rattle’
The first Hilux I drove was the BEV Revo-e. The exterior of the single cab pickup, which looks like a pre-production prototype, looks massive. It has a claimed range of 300km.
During a short sprint on a straight track, the BEV’s acceleration was effortless, and the ride was noticeably smoother compared to my experience with driving diesel-powered pickups. The absence of the diesel “rattle” was remarkable.
In the soft braking, u-turn, and drive over rough surfaces, the drive continued to be smooth. It felt like the Hilux was gliding over everything. In the slaloms, running at 50kph, the Hilux felt quite stable. My only issue with the BEV is that the battery range seems to be quite short, especially now that most BEVs have ranges of over 500 km.
Since the BEV Hilux is a prototype, the interior look and layout would most likely change. Suffice to say, the shift in energy source and propulsion tech from diesel to electric would certainly reflect on the overall interior form and functions.
Hilux FCEV concept: Core elements from Mirai
The fuel-cell Hilux prototype, Toyota’s first hydrogen-powered pickup, would have a purported range of 600 km and a towing capacity of 1,500kg. Not much more details have been revealed, except that I just learned from various sources that the FCEV Hilux would be powered by “core elements” from the Toyota Mirai FCEV sedan.
The FCEV Hilux has three high-pressure hydrogen tanks slotted between the two chassis rails. Compared to the BEV, the FCEV Hilux felt lighter on the acceleration, yet was equally stable in the soft braking, U-turn, rough surface drive, and the 50 kph slalom, considering the Hilux was already a massive pickup with a high ground clearance.
The FCEV’s controls layout looks more conventional-looking than that of the BEV. What the FCEV has in common with the BEV is the so-called “De Dion E-Axle.” I read that one of the main advantages of the De Dion axle is its ability to provide better handling and stability, especially at high speeds. This technology keeps the wheels perpendicular to the road surface, reducing body roll and increasing traction.
Another common feature of the Hilux BEV with its FCEV counterpart is that both are said to be designed “to do well with off-roading.”
Hilux Diesel-HEV concept: V6like acceleration
The third Hilux drive was the hybrid-electric Diesel-HEV Hilux concept, which features a 2.8-liter diesel engine. I was fortunate enough to drive it with the female chief engineer of the Diesel-HEV driving shotgun.
On paper, this Hilux carries a 48-V battery, a DC-DC converter, and a motor generator. It was designed to accelerate best on biodiesel-e-fuel (for that acceleration feel of a V6 engine), a range of 1,200km, and a towing capacity of 3,500kg.
The Hilux Diesel-HEV certainly feels like a lot of fun to drive, and I got a bit carried away in the slalom. It might not even take long for a production version to roll out soon, as its chief engineer (named Angela) discloses that it may soon be available in the Thailand market.
Finally, it was my turn behind the wheel of the Prius HEV. The Prius I drove today was the Japan-import Prius 2.0L HEV (I read there’s also the 1.8-liter Prius U and X grades achieving fuel mileages of 32.6 km/liter), which features a long list of improvements, including updates to all electric modules.
The new Prius is certainly a looker, inside and out, and won’t be the butt of jokes anymore in Hollywood movies and among car enthusiasts. It’s like your geeky little grade school classmate, braces and thick eyeglasses and all, transformed into Gal Gadot as an adult. The Prius has inherited the signature monoform silhouette of the original Prius, but now has a lower center of gravity. Inside, the 12-inch infotainment monitor is tuned in the navigation system with the screen indicating that some driving assist features are available.
With Prius possessing the improved pioneering technology of an HEV, it’s no longer a surprise that it exhibits refined driving performance and the seamless acceleration of a hybrid.
Probably owing to its bolder look, I floored the Prius more than I did the Hilux prototypes. Of course, the responsiveness was there, more than ever (thanks to the direct driving power), and with the lower center of gravity, it felt stable and solidly planted, especially on the U-turn and highspeed slalom.
In the new Prius, the outside world yet remaining ICE-dominated felt like it didn’t exist.