New Hilux: Overlanding Notes

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  • EveA

    “My daddy’s Toyota is tougherer than yours.” Hmmm. Once it has had a few mods for overlanding, perhaps…

    I am fortunate enough to have owned numerous Land Rovers and Toyotas in the past, and had recently – just prior to a trip through the Central Kalahari and Botswana − traded my brilliant Discovery 4 V8 HSE in on a new Toyota Hilux 2.8 manual DC 4×4.

    I’d wanted something that was comfortable around town and overland-capable when needed, and felt that a 70 Series was too agricultural, and a 200 too fancy.

    I knew that I would need to fit a long range fuel tank and dual-battery system, as well as a roofrack for the canopy and real AT tyres. This leads to my first observation: to fit a roofrack to the cab, you have to drill through the roof! How is it possible that a Toyota has no fixing points for a roofrack?

    The road to our first campsite in Khutse Game Reserve in Botswana was corrugated with dips and rises, and this was where the suspension issues showed up. Which leads to my second observation: the one-tonne payload may be possible on tar roads, but not on corrugations.

    The shocks lasted 20 mins before they gave up, and the rear springs were just not capable of taking load over corrugations and dips.

    From Khutse, we were supposed to travel north to Deception Pan, but we ended up camped in Xade for the night. This route had the many small dips and crests that one finds on such soft sand tracks, and led to observation three: while the rear was doing its J Lo impression, I found that the front suspension porpoised over bumps quite uncomfortably and also had somewhat uncontrolled rebound-ability.

    The canopy allowed easy side access through the gullwing doors to the load bay, but this provided observation four: the bulbous wheel arches cause you to lean in to get inside the canopy, which means scratching them. (Fortunately, I’d had the whole bakkie covered in protective (VPS) film before the trip.)

    Driving through some of the gates into the Park means stopping and registering at the gatehouse, which is normally paved. Driving off the paving was painful as the rear of the Toyota banged into it and then ground its way off the raised section.

    Hence observation five: the long overhang of the bakkie (not specific to Toyota, as all bakkies have this) meant that the rear bumper scraped quite badly when I drove from paving to sand.

    There are other well-known small things about the Hilux, such as the lack of a volume knob and a 12V outlet for rear passengers, the ‘stuck-on’ iPad-like touchscreen, the fiddling to get in and out of low range, etc. But these are small things and don’t affect overlanding or normal day-to-day driving in any significant way.

    However, a vehicle cannot be everything to all people, and I and my ever-changing passengers have been super-impressed with its comfort (on tar roads), seating, fuel economy, quietness, and general capability off road.

    So, what upgrades are next? Apart from checking on the diff and gearbox breathers, I have a short list:

    Upgraded off-road suspension – no more J Lo’ing.
    Front bull bar. This will give better approach angles when needed; and animal strikes are a real risk in African countries, especially at sundown.
    A good set of additional driving lights with a wide spread and a throw of 0.5km at least.
    Underbody protection. One can get an imported one on special order that covers virtually the whole underneath of the Toyota.
    A replacement rear bumper that gives both a better departure angle and a wider walk-on platform, and the possibility of mounting an additional spare wheel.
    A winch, perhaps. There is no point in getting a ‘show’ winch; when you really need one you really need one, and therefore the right one is going to hurt the pocket badly.
    A snorkel. If you travel a lot in the wet season or areas where there is water, this is a no-brainer, especially with a diesel motor. And there are other advantages like cooler air and less dust.

    Our trip continues into Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe over the next two weeks, and I am very happy with the new Hilux, although a few additional modifications will round out the bakkie for my specific purposes.

    ‘Everything keeps going right? Rear suspension aside, yes, it actually does. Toyota – and I guess even the Aussies – can say “New Hilux? No worries, mate.”

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