Last year, we drove 1400 km through Namibia and Botswana in a big white Toyota.
It was our spaceship and our adventure platform for 15 days, and it barely put a tread wrong. It’s not easy to write an objective review of this highly capable truck, but let’s try.
2013 Toyota HiLux Raider
The HiLux at rest – NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia
The myth. The legend. The not-for-North-America Toyota HiLux.
They call it a “bakkie” in southern Africa. This was our overland magic carpet ride through Namibia and Botswana for two weeks. Let’s start with some specifics:
2013 Toyota HiLux 4×4 in “Raider” trim (105,000km on the odometer)
- Four door double cab
- 3.0 L D-4D 4 cylinder intercooled turbo diesel
- 5-speed automatic transmission
- Traction and stability control (VSC), ABS with discs up front, and (quite large) drums in the rear
- Manually selected part-time 4-wheel drive, with high and low range
- Electronic locking rear differential
- 17” alloy wheels, mounted with off-brand Taiwanese mud terrain tires – Nankang “Mudstars”
- Fog lights
- Power retractable side mirrors
- “Rental-spec” interior: cloth, full complement of gauges, remote central locking, A/C, cruise control, fuel/trip computer, basic ICE, including AM/FM/CD, Bluetooth, a USB port, and auxiliary jack. Two 12v power points.
Some non-standard equipment installed by the rental agency:
- Fiberglass truck-bed topper and roll bar
- Headlight covers
- Heavy-duty bull bar
- Skid plates for the front differential, transfer case, and oil pan
- Engel travel refrigerator with accompanying dual-battery system
- Dual fuel tanks, for a total of 160 L of diesel capacity
In addition to the truck itself, the safari rental package came with a full complement of camping, recovery, and safety equipment:
- Rooftop tent – Howling Moon 1.2
- Bedding, including sheets, blankets, and pillows
- Table and chairs, lantern, full kitchen with two propane tanks and stove, plus extra storage boxes
- 60 L water tank
- Shovel, tow ropes, sand tracks, two full-sized spares, basic tool kit, first-aid kit, satellite phone, a very beat up Garmin Nuvi GPS
- A pat on the back and a hearty “Good luck!”
The Rental Process
We booked the HiLux via our tour organizer, Andy, at Drive Botswana (we’ll meet Andy later on). The rental firm itself was Asco Car Hire in Windhoek, Namibia. A cheerful and efficient bunch, they have a peculiar variety of vehicles on offer: everything from bad-ass lifted Land Cruisers and 4-month-expedition-ready Series III Land Rovers to Dodge Nitros (?), various Hyundais, and VW Polos. But, their bread and butter is the HiLux for self-drive safari clients like us.
After signing endless pages of indemnity agreements and liability waivers, Asco blocked $N20,000 (about $1400 US) on our credit card as insurance excess to be freed on the successful return of the truck in good condition at the end of the trip. Our rental agreement also came with 24 hour assistance in the case of break-down or any emergency we might encounter.
Frank from Asco then spent the next hour and a half walking us through the ins and outs of the HiLux, the recovery tools, the tent, and all the camping equipment. He was extremely thorough, and with a final top-off of the tank, we were set free into the wilds of Namibia.
Salt pans, Nxai Pans National Park, Botswana
For my American counterparts: here’s the deal. Despite the HiLux’s near-mythical status, remember that this thing is a Toyota.
It looks, and walks, and talks like a Toyota. It’s quiet and comfortable and starts every time like a Toyota. It rides smoothly on the highway like a Toyota. And, it’s extremely capable off road like a Toyota. All this means it’s also a little bit boring, like, you guessed it, a Toyota.
With the tent unfurled, NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia. Giraffes snacked on this tree in the middle of the night while we were (not) sleeping.
The right hand drive situation notwithstanding, the HiLux felt familiar, which is handy when you’re trying to negotiate axle-deep sand in the middle of nowhere, 10,000 miles from home.
The one and only aspect of our bakkie that immediately gave me pause were the generic Nankang mud terrain tires. They were kind of beat-up, and probably about half-way through their service life. The tread pattern didn’t inspire confidence, and as we know, traction is paramount out on the trail. But, while they were a little noisy on the highway, they never once failed to find grip when I needed it most. Good job, Mudstars.
Airing down, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana (Photo: Julie Edwards)
The 3.0 liter 1KV-FTD engine seemed overmatched by the bulk of the truck in many situations, especially passing on the highway. It wheezed at the top of the rev range, and the automatic transmission’s reluctance to kick-down on full throttle didn’t help. It was very quiet by diesel standards, however, which is nice when you’re trying not to scare away the wildlife.
HiLux owners seem universally to rave about the D-4D, and all the South African 4×4 magazines lionize the diesel mill. Even our tour organizer Andy claimed that the D-4D in his own Land Cruiser was the best diesel that Toyota ever made. He praised the older design, which he credited for its robust reliability. But, honestly, I didn’t really see the appeal. I suppose it’s probably a step-up from the 2.5 L four cylinder diesel that’s standard equipment on the base model.
The D4D diesel mill. Note the auxiliary battery for the Engel fridge that kept my beer nice and cold.
The big four-cylinder did return what I thought was acceptable fuel economy for the white whale, 8.1 km/L over the course of the whole trip, and about 11.5 km/L average on the highway. We spent 85% of our time in four-wheel drive, and often buzzing around in lower gears at relatively high revs negotiating deep sand. The truck’s high profile and the bulky rooftop tent I’m sure did not contribute to lowering the cD. Considering it currently costs about $120 US to fill both tanks in Botswana, the decent economy was welcome.
Lunch in the Kalahari with the HiLux, Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana (Photo: Julie Edwards)
Steering was light, but surprisingly communicative, which was helpful in negotiating uncertain traction situations, of which there were plenty. The HiLux never once wavered or misstepped the entire trip.
The endless and bottomless sand that characterizes off-road driving in this corner of the world probably would have made me sweat in my Jeep back home. But, it was hardly a second thought for the Toyota, especially with the rear diff on lock down. It went everywhere without a single complaint – I don’t think we ever really challenged it. Clearance, even on the stock suspension and ride-height, was not an issue.
On the road, Nxai Pans National Park, Botswana (Photo: Julie Edwards)
The interior was Toyota-logical and screwed together tightly. For a 100,000km+ rental car that undoubtedly had seen some abuse (and experienced some at my hands as well), it had almost zero squeaks or rattles. The seats were firm and surprisingly well-bolstered both at the ribs and the hip, a boon for keeping me planted on off-camber maneuvers. They were also comfortable enough for the hours we spent sitting at waterholes watching wildlife. I never really felt seat-fatigue at the end of the day.
NamibRand Nature Reserve, Namibia. Basically a sandy version of heaven.
Quibbles? Not many – I thought the HiLux was a bit larger than I might have liked. Many of the tracks and trails in central Botswana are quite narrow, and we found ourselves constantly scraping the truck with thorn tree branches on both sides. The power folding mirrors were a definite plus in many of those situations, but I could hear the deductions ringing one-by-one off my damage deposit. As it turns out, the rental company, Asco, didn’t charge us a dime.
About two thirds of the way through the trip the VSC conked out, and no amount of cycling through the ignition or disconnecting and reconnecting the battery would coax it back to life. When we called Asco to ask about it, they offered to bring us a brand new truck that day out in the middle of nowhere in the Kalahari desert, but it didn’t seem to affect performance either for traction or braking, so we let it be.
On the ferry, Boteti River, Khumaga Camp, Makgadikgadi National Park, Botswana
At the end of the trip, Asco dispatched a driver to meet us in Maun, Botswana so he could bring the HiLux back to Windhoek. After some damage assessment formalities (none to note but for a handful of thorn scratches and a broken handle on the camp lantern), I signed the release form, and with a little sadness our four-wheeled adventure came to a close.
Frankly, it’s hard to be an objective observer about this efficient, honest, and uncomplaining truck. It drove us to what seemed like the moon and back.
Because of the situational “x-factor” I give this HiLux a rating of:
Of course, a clapped out 1983 Isuzu Trooper with a slipping clutch and an ashtray full of old cigarette butts would have received the same rating.
Lead photo: Baines Baobabs at sunrise, Nxai Pans National Park, Botswana
A version of this review was published previously on Overland & Expedition.