They smashed it. They drowned it, even burned it and dropped it off a building, and it just kept on going. We are of course talking about a certain red pickup made famous by the planet’s most popular car feature programme. If you need an introduction, search ‘indestructible Toyota Hilux’, may be type in of ‘Top Gear’ in as well, for good measure.

The Hilux name was already held in good stead long before Clarkson, Hammond, and May’s destructive efforts went on air, but the programme certainly cemented the Toyota pick-up’s reputation of rock solid robustness in our minds. Today, the Hilux name carries over five decades of history with nearly 18 million examples sold all over the world.

The name Hilux, would you believe it, is derived from combining the words ‘High’ and ‘Luxury’ – incredibly ironic for a vehicle that traded on mostly workmanlike qualities for over fifty years.

Nevertheless, with each successive generation, Toyota went on to progressively improve upon the Hilux’s refinement and features to better match passenger cars whilst ceaselessly forging its robustness and reliability.

Toyota was also not afraid to make major alterations to the formula as needed. The third generation model launched in 1978 was the one that evolved the Hilux into something closer in spirit to what we have today. Elements such as four-wheel drive, diesel powertrain, and double-cab body style were introduced here and have remained integral in the Hilux lineage since.

The fourth generation model was the one that Clarkson & co tried but ultimately failed to kill. The episode’s introduction monologue highlights the Hilux’s role in the famous Toyota War fought between Chad and Libya of 1987, even though it can be argued that the Land Cruiser also played an equally starring role.

Modest in size by today’s standards, the original Hilux was a three-seater single cab pick-up weighing just 1,040kg and driven by a humble 1.5-litre four-cylinder pushrod engine that made just 70PS of power. To put matters into perspective, it is closer in size and performance to a Proton Arena than it is to any of its successors made over the last thirty years.

It may surprise you, however, to learn that Toyota didn’t actually build the first ever Hilux. Toyota laid out the overarching parameters for a new bonnet-type light truck and then contracted Hino Motors to develop and build it at the latter’s own plant in Hamura.

Top Gear’s fascination with the Hilux continued in subsequent seasons, however, with Clarkson converting another example into an amphibious vehicle and successfully crossing the English Channel toward France. The team also took a couple of later-generation examples to the North Pole and up the unpronounceable volcano in Iceland.

Closer to home, it was the sixth-generation model launched in 1997 upon which the Hilux’s reputation soared amongst Malaysian hearts. Popularly known as the Hilux SR, this was the last Hilux to feature a double rigid axle but also the first to move its appeal from purely commercial to double up as a bona fide lifestyle vehicle too.

The seventh-generation model launched in 2004 propelled the Hilux into the modern age. Part of the innovative IMV project that also spawned the Fortuner and Innova, this generation of the Hilux offered 21st century customers the high levels of durability and comfort they were looking for, with lots of interior space, improved comfort, and both the ride comfort of a passenger vehicle and the convenience of an SUV.

It also happened to be the first to not be produced in Japan, with most of the vehicles being produced in Thailand, South Africa and Argentine for delivery to countries in their own regions, and with some production in Malaysia, Pakistan and Venezuela. Following a major facelift implemented in 2011, the seventh-generation Hilux made way for its successor a full eleven years from its launch.

The eighth-generation Hilux was launched in May 2015. To truly understand the expectations of customers and the challenges they face daily, the development teams travelled the globe, obtaining direct end user feedback and driving on a wide variety of different roads to get a feel for different usage conditions.

The latest model’s development concept was centered on 'redefining toughness,' with the aim of making the new Hilux 'tougher' based on a much broader interpretation of that word. The engineers aimed to make the truck even tougher whilst refining the experience for its occupants.

What’s more, the eighth-generation Hilux is also noteworthy for being the first in the lineage to boast motorsports honours, having achieved overall victory in the 2019 Dakar Rally.

Fifty years is a long time to build any legacy, and the Hilux carries an admirable one. Such has been Toyota’s success in with the lineage that the Hilux has become the pick-up truck to beat. That it remains as the pick-up of choice for many despite stiff competition from rivals show that whilst other models each have their own strengths, the Hilux continues to be the pick-up truck that you can trust.

Above and beyond conventional ideas of toughness, Toyota worked on improving the Hilux’s ride comfort to make long journeys less tiring. Cabin noise levels were reduced and even cruising range was enhanced thanks to improved fuel efficiency from the latest-generation 2.4- and 2.8-litre turbodiesel engines.


We relive Toyota’s five-decade journey in building the Hilux’s formidable reputation of indestructibility.