20 March 1998

REVAMPED HILUX

MEETS L200: SO

WHOS BEST NOW?

Rivalry is renewed as the just-updated

Hilux comes head-to-head with the

L200. Andrew Pearce and

David Cousins referee a

one-tonne contest

THE last time we looked at this pickup pair (FW, Jan 24, 1997), Mitsubishis intercooled L200 whopped the Hilux and undercut it on price. Since then Toyota has been right through the oldster, relaunching it late last year with more power and a whole clutch of claimed improvements. What better time to look at the two again?

Mitsubishi still wins on price – the L200 is £13,600 plus VAT, the Hilux £13,820. But a lot has changed in the Toyota which on paper at least, makes it better value than before. A quick peek shows independent front suspension instead of the old beam axle, a wider track and a little more wheel travel. The cab is now taller, holding twin air bags in a remodelled dash and side impact beams in the doors. Outside, the lights and grille have been reworked, and under the bonnet a watercooled turbocharger helps along the motor. All this brings the pair mechanically very close together. How much does driving separate them?

&#42 Powertrains, noise,

economy

At last a diesel Hilux to strike fear into rice puddings. That turbo does the trick, boosting the 2.4-litre lump to 90hp and 167lbf ft torque. Output may still be less than the intercooled 2.5-litre Mitsubishis 98hp and 177lbf ft, but in a body at least 70kg lighter the new power is much more like it. Over a flat-out sprint the pair cant be separated, and in general driving are good entertainment.

These motors deliver a fair torque rush once the turbos come on stream; thats from 1500rpm in the Mitsubishi, maybe a little lower in the rev counter-less Hilux. The urgency of torque makes for flexible, easy motoring and now equips the Hilux much better to handle a load. On fast roads, though, this one feels short-geared.

The L200 is a noticeably more relaxed cruiser, not least as cab noise is pegged close to passenger diesel levels – or was once an out-of-place door seal had been eased back. Its motor hums along quietly at most revs, wind whistle comes and goes, rumble from the test cars mud-biased tyres does likewise according to surface.

By comparison the Hilux has a much wider vocabulary – a whooping turbocharger, plenty of air rush and engine boom at speed, more road roar from somewhere behind the seats and a bit of extra vibration. For all the changes, this cabin can still be hard on the ears.

Things even out in the transmissions. Toyotas five-speeder has the narrower, easier gate and the clutch is lighter. While L200 drivers wont have problems (other than maybe finding 4th coming down the box), in a straight comparison the Hilux pips it.

On fuel, a turbo looks to have dropped the Toyotas figure to 25mpg, or 2mpg less than last time. Thats still a fraction better than the L200s 24mpg.

&#42 Interiors, load space

Toyota has come up with plenty of cab changes. Seats set 30mm (1.25in) higher do no harm to access, put a more natural bend into the knees and of the pair, give the best support. While all this definitely helps with driving comfort, short persons still see better over the L200s lower dash and have column angle adjustment to play with, can level the headlamps and read a revcounter.

But Hilux safety benefits from two air bags (not an option on the L200), side impact beams and seat belt pre-tensioners. On top of this, blind spots are smaller thanks to mirror layout and thinner rear cab posts.

Yet the Hilux still manages to feel tall and faintly old-fashioned, despite a fresh dash and an extra 20mm (0.8in) in length between this and the back panel. The feeling comes partly from cab width (its 20mm less than the L200 at door lining level) and partly from the better job Mitsubishi has made of its interior; the L200s grey-suit panelling and flowing dash are more welcoming than Toyotas blue-rinsed utilitarianism.

Having said that, the Hiluxs rubber and plastic flooring make a better work bet than Mitsubishis carpet, and our biggest single gripe with the L200s cab – a dire lack of space alongside the clutch pedal – still generates left-leg cramp on a long trip.

Honours are pretty much even on stowage. Both trucks have various open bins around the dash, but the Hilux goes one better with a deep centre console box which doubles as an armrest and cupholder. The L200 counters with more voluminous door bins, pop-out dashboard cup holders and rather more significantly, a much more usable area behind the seats for collecting tools and rubbish.

Nothing seems to have changed in the load bays. Dimensions are much the same except length, where the L200 still wins by 82mm (3.2in). Cab guards with ladder stops are alike; rope hook numbers are the same, and the L200s added rail still gives more roping flexibility. With a plastic bay liner in place, widths between the arches are both around 1016mm (40in).

Opening the tailgates reveals quick-release wire rope retainers on the Hilux, steel strap versions on the Mitsubishi. Those tailgates are a long lift off ground level – especially if the truck is parked nose-down – with the Hilux the worst offender at 935mm (36.8in).

Payloads including occupants hover around the 1t mark, with the Hilux at 955kg, the L200 better at 1090kg. But the Toyotas towing limit has overtaken its rival to settle 50kg higher at 2250kg.

&#42 Ride, steering, brakes

Hilux suspension has seen big changes – an independent front setup with torsion bar springing, more travel, different spring rates, fresh damper settings and bushings. But any hope for a matching improvement in ride soon disappears – the truck still checks and shudders its way through holes and jolts along lanes. New for this version is a helping of vertical heave, which over a series of big road ripples gets quite hilarious.

Some unkind person suggested thats maybe why the Hilux has air bags – to catch the driver as he ricochets around the cab. On short journeys the bounce n jolt is no real problem, on long ones it is.

Thats not to say the L200 is a limo – far from it. But although it too is on stiff springs, theres a control and resilience in the ride thats missing in the opposition. So while the Mitsubishi can whack into holes, it seldom kicks the driver. Body shell movement is less overall, less aggressive in its extremes and less tiring for it.

The new front end helps the Hilux round corners, reducing the size of the old rubber band that used to connect the steering wheel to Tarmac. Its still not as positive in this department as the L200, which itself is no sportster. Rear end grip is never much to write home about in unladen pickups, and here the L200 is true to type – too much throttle on the wrong surface soon has the tail skittering. Hilux grip is better, thanks to now-standard limited slip diff.

Braking comes from discs and drums on both cars, with plenty of retarding power on tap. While the Hilux has a short-travel, positive-feeling pedal, better modulation during hard stops comes from the softer L200 setup.

&#42 On the rough

Part-time, four-wheel drive with no centre diff is the order of the day all round, with a low ratio box bringing speeds down. Toyota doggedly clings to manual freewheeling hubs up front, which most people will probably leave engaged rather than keep hopping in and out. L200 drivers get automated engagement with 4wd, but have to turn off the motor and go into 2wd before the hubs disengage.

On tough going the Hilux will really shake you about but has an unbreakable feel; throw it at anything and it has a good go. Ground clearance and rear axle travel are both marginally better than the Mitsubishis and a limited slip rear diff is now standard – the first can help in extremes, the second helps all the time. Low range brings gearing right down, leaving first and reverse good crawlers or retarders.

&#42 Dangle-down exhaust

Coming as it did with side steps and fancy rails round the back end (£379 extra) we felt less inclined to take big liberties with the test L200. But that idea soon went away, and although nothing hung up wed still want to circumcise the dangle-down exhaust tailpipe. It feels more ponderous but is king on traction, thanks partly to knobbly Goodrich tyres and partly to an 100% mechanical rear diff lock, which shovels the truck onwards where the Hilux spins diagonal wheels and stops.

Engine output is a slightly different story. Though both have an embarrassment of power in low box once the turbo is spinning, the L200s engine is more inclined to bog down at low revs – something we didnt spot last time. Higher first and second gears than the oppositions dont help, so its possible to run clean out of puff in places where the Hilux will pick up again and pull.

The verdict:The revised Hilux shakes hard at the L200s tree, but not hard enough. Its definitely a better deal than before – the new motor has transformed driveability and potential hauling capacity; cabin changes have brought the pair closer in creature comforts, and those positive safety features take it a step ahead. But the Mitsubishi rides far better, is significantly more refined, drives easier and carries a little extra. And in a way that owes nothing to carpet on the floor, it makes the driver more at home.

HILUX FACTS

&#8226 Model: Toyota Hilux 2.4TD 4WD.

&#8226 Engine size: 2.4 litre turbo.

&#8226 Transmission: Five-speed manual, two-speed transfer.

&#8226 Drive: Part-time 4wd.

&#8226 Brakes: Disc/drum.

&#8226 Suspension: Independent torsion bar front, leaf rear.

&#8226 Weight: 1560kg.

&#8226 Towing capacity: 2250kg.

&#8226 Warranty: Three-year/60,000-mile mechanical, three-year body.

&#8226 Price: £13,820 + VAT.

L200 FACTS

&#8226 Model: Mitsubishi L200 pickup 4WD.

&#8226 Engine size: 2.5 litre turbo intercooled.

&#8226 Transmission: Five-speed manual with two-speed transfer.

&#8226 Drive: Part-time 4wd.

&#8226 Brakes: Disc/drum.

&#8226 Suspension: Independent torsion bar front, leaf rear.

&#8226 Weight: 1630kg basic, 1740kg options.

&#8226 Towing capacity: 2200kg.

&#8226 Warranty: Three year/100,000-mile mechanical, six-year body.

&#8226 Price: £13,600 plus VAT.

All change in the cab. Along with higher-set seats, the Hilux gets a revised dash and two air bags.

Its better.

Mitsubishi cab is the more welcoming.

No air bags or centre console box, but steering column adjustment, tastier decor and a tidier fascia.

Red rivalry as fresh Toyota

Hilux (foreground) goes against

Mitsubishis L200.

Still no room – L200 clutch pedal leaves no space for driver to stretch a leg.

No progress up front, as Toyota stays with manual freewheeling hubs.

Now thats better! Turbo finally gives the Hilux more muscle.

Above left: Watch out behind – high load area cover limits L200s rear visibility. Above right: Hilux sits a little taller than the L200, which reflects in increased tailgate height. L200 has 82mm longer load bay than Hilux.