The Toyota Hilux moniker is synonymous with toughness, performance and reliability. It’s been the segment staple for decades now but a new wave of Asian aspirants is promising value, specification levels and price points that are pretty hard to ignore. While the last few double cab offerings from GWM and Tata Motors have been tepid attempts at best, both manufacturers are hoping the teething problems are now a thing of the past. The only way however, to properly assess how far the GWM and Tata have advanced is to group test them against the segment leader itself – so we’ve included a Toyota Hilux in this comparison to serve as a litmus test for overall excellence. Naturally, our test takes the form of an inclusive 420km return trip from Cape Town to Arniston taking in a combination of different terrain conditions. Our mission: to establish which of the two models comes closest to the Hilux in terms of quality and all-round ability.
Even as it approaches the end of its lifecycle the facelifted Toyota Hilux is still a distinguished bakkie with a muscular, purposeful and robust-looking facade. Apart from the updated bonnet, grille and front and rear lights the model you see here features an aftermarket bull-bar and canopy – not the sexiest looking additions but functional items nonetheless.
Of the two contenders it’s the Tata which looks the most complete with its flared wheel arches, sculpted bonnet and aggressive stance. Its exterior proportions are neither offensive nor unattractive and the colour-coded bumpers, mirrors and door handles together with a balanced posture, impart a touch of style. While the running boards, embossed tailgate logo and 16-inch wheels add some belligerence to the package the tacky ‘4X4’ stickers located on the flanks, liberal use of unnecessary chrome badges and quirky upswept rear window line cheapen an otherwise impressive visual presence.
At first glance the GWM looks a lot shorter than the Tata but a brief perusal of the spec sheet reveals that it’s in actual fact 215mm longer – an optical illusion caused by the narrow rear doors. While there’s nothing overtly amiss with its styling, the design is more generic than its Indian rival and its bulbous front end appears more hatch-like than genuine pick-up. Chrome accents are used more freely on this model and adorn the side mirrors, door handles and grille. It’s nothing too austere however – Instead, it complements the GWM’s assertive posture, 16-inch wheels and white paintwork.
As far as interiors go the Hilux sets the bar for quality and refinement. In spite of a few tasteless aftermarket accessories the cabin is built to a very high standard and specification, with quality materials, hard-wearing plastics and contrasting colours rounding off an otherwise modern compartment.
Climb aboard the Tata and it’s immediately evident that it lacks the quality, fit and finish, and refinement of the Toyota – in fact, the GWM’s cabin looks opulent in comparison. The panel gaps on the facia are irregular, the design is uninspiring and the entire experience is low-rent and dull. And then there are those horrible unsupportive seats which feature toddler-like scribble patterns. Must be the latest trend in shower curtain motifs in Mumbai…Despite sharing similar dimensions to the Hilux, the Xenon’s cabin feels a lot tighter and rear legroom isn’t very generous either. If it’s any consolation the Indian does benefit from a deep cubbyhole, a collection of useful storage bins and hidey holes, electric windows, power steering and a double DIN satnav system.
The Steed’s interior is packaged in an attractive and upmarket-looking manner and is the closest in terms of perceived quality to the Hilux, although most of the architecture is based on that of the fifth-generation Isuzu KB. Items such as leather upholstery, radio/CD/MP3 player, power steering, electric windows, air-conditioning, remote central locking; dual front airbags and ABS with EBD are all standard fitment and add to this perception. The driving position is comfortable and the space available to both front and rear passengers is pretty good.