2021 Toyota Hilux Rugged X long-term review

Not long after we were handed the keys to our long-term Rugged X – the top-of-the-line variant in the Hilux range – the suits at Vic Government HQ initiated another lockdown and we were restricted somewhat in our travels. Thankfully, we’d managed to squeeze in an off-road play at Werribee 4X4 Training & Proving Ground just before the latest round of restrictions came into play.

Priced at a smidge under $70,000 at $69,990, the Rugged X is around $10K more than the popular SR5 and SR5+ variants. For that extra coin though, punters are treated to a number of factory accessories that’ll come in handy when it’s time to tame hardcore off-road tracks.

Locally designed and engineered, the Rugged X gets a steel bar with an inbuilt LED light bar, rock rails running down each flank, a steel rear bar with a step for easy tub access, an intake snorkel, uprated springs, and rated recovery points fore and aft.

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Of course, the entire Hilux range received an update at the back end of 2020, with the vehicle receiving a few warranted changes. In Rugged X guise, the 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine now generates 150kW and 500Nm, an increase of 20kW and 50Nm on the outgoing model. This has raised its towing capacity from 3200kg to 3500kg. The Rugged X variant is only available with a six-speed automatic transmission. No manual cog-swapper, unfortunately.

The cabin received a welcome makeover too, with Toyota adding a bigger and more intuitive eight-inch touchscreen as part of a cleaner looking dash and centre console. The touchscreen runs all modern technological niceties including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Toyota’s own myToyota app integration. And importantly for the 4×4 community, volume knobs make a welcome return. The Rugged X is also equipped with a JBL sound system, one of the better ones from the factory in the dual-cab market.

The comfortable and supportive pews are draped with leather accents, as is the gear lever and steering wheel. For frosty mornings, the front pews are heated, and the driver gets eight-way power adjustability. Rear seat passengers aren’t as spoilt, with less leg room than some of the Hilux’s closest rivals. The tub has a plastic lining, four tie-down points, a sports bar properly anchored into the tub floor, and a soft-drop tailgate.

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As part of the refresh, Toyota also gave the Rugged X a new-look grille. Engineered and designed in Australia, it features a wider mouth and was put through countless hours of local testing to ensure it provided optimal cooling, while not infringing on the advanced safety-system cameras.

Not only is the Rugged X the most expensive vehicle Hilux variant, it’s also the heaviest, weighing in at 2316kg. When you include all of the accessories equipped to the Rugged X, its GVM of 3050kg is left with a payload of 734kg – something we’ll look more closely at during our time with it, to assess just how much weight can realistically be added.

Despite its heft, the Rugged X feels quite nimble and controlled on both open roads and in suburbia – on the test tracks at Werribee on our sole off-road venture, it didn’t put a foot wrong, feeling measured and composed through all technical obstacles. Still, the suspension set-up – albeit revised for 2020 – lends the vehicle to remain somewhat stiff on bitumen.

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The traction-control system is first class, with simple activation of 4×4 and low range via the dial located within the centre console. It maintains a high level of safety too, receiving a five-star ANCAP safety rating back in 2019. Safety kit comprises of seven airbags, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and AEB.

Much like the SR5, the Rugged X excels off road, and our brief time with it has proved it to be a comfortable and capable 4×4 with a well laid-out interior and competent driving dynamics.

But is it worth the extra coin over an SR5 that is a substantial amount for a handful of factory accessories? Only time will tell.