Hilux 4x4




Which Toyota Hilux to Choose?

Some people find it hard to decide which 4x4 to buy. But once you realised that the option for you will be a Toyota Hilux, which Hilux must you choose?

If you read the comments on our Hilux Forum you will see that there are many different views on this subject.

The right Hilux for you is... the one that will suit your needs. It all depends on what you need the vehicle for. There are different Hiluxes for different people. It will depend on your budget, whether you want to do serious adrenalin off-roading or just drive through the country side and climbing one or two mountains every now and then with your Hilux.

In the article below I express my own personal views on the various Hilux models available. I gathered the information below from personal experience, things I heard my friends and fellow Hilux owners say about their vehicles and by reading the comments on the Hilux Forum. Eric Skeen and Thys de Jager was also very helpful in adding some valuable content to this article.

I will not go into the details of specific models to discuss the difference between the one with the pop-up cap holder vs the one with the sliding cup holder, the aim of this article is rather to compare the various age models and you can decide about the cup holder for yourself.

1984-1998 - The OLD legendary, reliable SFA (Solid Front Axle) Toyota Hilux

I am sure that these Hiluxes are the ones which earned Toyota the reputation for building the best 4x4 LDV in the world. It is reliable, robust and unstoppable off-road.

The SFA Hilux is particularly suited to more serious off road work, and is pretty uncomfortable on-road for day to day use. Tweaks to the suspension and bigger tyres can alleviate a lot of the "bumpyness" and makes it reasonably comfortable on road. As a Trail and Obstacle rider there are very few vehicles that will out-do an standard SFA Hilux, and therefore they are very popular with those who like more serious off-road challenges.

In standard form it was also quite slow on the open road and heavy on fuel in town. Therefore many Hilux owners are continually looking for better performance with better fuel efficiency. As a part of this quest many engine conversions were done in the past, with the Ford 3.0 V6 and Toyota 7MGE early favourites in the 90's because of their availability and the amount of "cheap" horses they delivered. Some turbo conversions were also attempted, but with minimal success.

As Engine Management Systems and software improved and became more freely available and easier to install, program and maintain, new improvements for more power became possible. Many owners now do EFI conversions on their 4Y and 22R motors and report fantastic gains in torque, power and fuel efficiency. This makes the "standard" SAF Hilux more usable on the open road, in town and also in the bush where it enhances its already legendary reputation.

Due to the sheer numbers of these Hiluxes that were produced and modified, aftermarket "look-mean" accessories are plentiful, relatively cheap and mostly they just bolt on.

These vehicles have a solid front axle in front with leaf springs. The SFA contributes to its good off-road performance. They were available in a 2.2 Petrol (4y engine), 2.4 Petrol (22R engine), 2.4 Diesel (2L engine) and the 2.8 Diesel (3L engine).

It seems like the 2.2 petrol is the most popular amongst SFA owners. Although the 2.4 petrol might be a little bit more powerful you pay for it by means of higher fuel consumption. Some SFA owners say that the little bit more power does not justify the extra fuel you use, other are of the opinion that they love their 2.4 and will not trade it for a 2.2. So I think it depend on your driving style and whether you can afford the fuel or not. With the 2.2 if you drive like a gentleman you can expect 7 to 8 km/l and with the 2.4 5 to 6.5km/l.

The 2.2 petrol 4y engine is one of those legendary indestructible engines used in many delivery vehicles, taxi's etc. It is easy to work on and the spares are available all over Africa and in South Africa. Spares are not over-expensive.

The 2.4 Diesel was the first attempt of a diesel 4x4. It is the absolute donkey of them all. If you need it on the farm it is a good reliable vehicle but on the open road it is not a good idea. The 2.8 Diesel was a bit more powerful but some owners say that you must not expect much more than 120km/h on the open road from it. Unfortunately we hear every now and then about 2.8 Diesels that overheated and blew the head gasket or cracked the head.

Some popular conversions to obtain more power are:

  1. The fitment of a 3.0 litre Toyota Cressida or Toyota Supra engine. This engine is a straight six engine and fits neatly in the engine bay.
    The engine Code is 7M-GE and you can click here for more information on it. Apparently it is better to use the Supra's engine because it has the right sump on it. The Cressida Engine's sump has to be modified not to collide with the front diff.

    The 7M-GE gives oodles of power in the middle to upper reaches of the rev range and in the right hands and in the right gear is virtually unstoppable. Things to look out for is the head gasket, which needs to be torqued 20% more than manufacturer's spec. This is as a result of a change in the composition of the head gaskets (elimination of asbestos) but the oversight of Toyota to not increase the torque spec. Also make sure that cooling is done effectively, especially when crawling up mountains in low range at slow speed. Due to the length of the straight 6 engine the viscous fan couplings have to be discarded if a standard radiator setup is preferred. Most of these conversions run with electric fans to maintain air flow thru the radiator.

    On the open road, the 7M-GE performs really well and gives better fuel consumption than the standard 4Y/22R. It also makes the vehicle more nippy in traffic and makes overtaking on the open road a lot easier.
  2. A fuel injection conversion. Fuel injection on both the 2.2 and 2.4 petrol engines result in more power, smoother running engine and no stalling on steep inclines. One huge disadvantage of a carburetor fed 4x4 is that it runs out of fuel when you go up a long steep incline like a dune. Just before you reach the top the engine looses power or even stalls. The fuel injection conversion eliminates this problem completely.
    Click here to read about a fuel injection conversion done on a 2.4 Hilux
  3. The Ford 3.0 V6 Conversions were done by many conversion specialists in the 80's/90's to boost the power output of the Hilux. It was a relatively cheap solution at the time and brought with it more power and also some (if not that much) gains in fuel efficiency. Some of these conversions still run today and some are even being converted to EFI to increase power and to eliminate the problem with fuel starvation to the carb on long steep inclines. As far as kW's are concerned it slots in about half way between the 4Y/22R and the 7M-GE. Being a V motor and therefore "shorter" than the 7M-GE, the original viscous fan couplings can be retained which makes for fail safe engine cooling. Fuel lines must be routed with care to prevent petrol "percolating" in in extreme hot crawling conditions. Many owners add bonnet vents to allow hot air from the 2 exhaust manifolds to escape from the engine bay.
  4. Lately the 3RZ-FE 2.7i motor was also installed in a few SFA Hiluxes with varying degrees of success. Once again, with the advances in technology and engines and EMS's becoming cheaper and more readily available, this conversion will become more popular. Being a tried and trusted motor that already became a legend in its own right, this is one of the better conversions available at the moment.
  5. The Lexus V8 conversion is also becoming more popular. Initially there were lots of problems especially with the engine management system, but it seems like most guys now sorted that problem as well. Although this is the ultimate conversion for more power, it is not the route I would suggest for your every day vehicle. The Lexus V8 is very powerful and if you do not drive carefully you might end up doing damage to the axles and diffs. With all that power, who can drive "normally"?

Because these vehicles have leaf springs all round they do offer a bit more bumpy ride than the newer models.

These vehicles are very popular. Do not be surprised if you have to pay R120,000 for an old model of which the useless "book value" is only R50,000.

Always bear in mind that engine conversions always reduces the resale value of a vehicle. The inherent overall reliability is also somewhat compromised, although with regular maintenance and a pro-active approach a conversion can be as reliable as a standard vehicle.

The 1998 - 1999 IFS models

These models were available in a 2.7i Petrol (3RZ engine), a normal 3.0 litre Diesel ( 5L engine). The 3.0 Turbo Diesel (KZ-TE) was added later on in 2001 or 2002. Initialy they tried a Alpine Turbo conversion on the normal 3.0 Diesel but it was a disaster and it is one of the models you should not concider buying.

These models offered much more features than the older models. After 1998 we saw a "bakkie" being transformed into a luxurious thing that looks and acted as "bakkie" but reminded you of a car on the inside. The "bakkie" feeling was gone. Now we had airbags, central locking, power steering, aircon and a lot of electronic gadgets. Most of these models also featured a factory fitted rear diff -lock. And YES, all models actually had a slide out CUP HOLDER.

These vehicles offer a much more comfortable ride than the older models because of the Independent Front Suspension (IFS). You will always find a huge debate on all 4x4 forums about the offroad ability of a SFA vs IFS. I own a IFS model and I can clear the air for you on this one. If you are into serious off-roading and 4x4 competitions, then the SFA is without doubt the best option. It will outperform the IFS system by far on extreme offroad conditions. There are two conditions in particular where I can experience the difference. The one is if you have a axle twister on a steep incline. An IFS cannot handle this as well as a SFA. The other one is when going up dunes. This article by Benhur explains it very well, click here

But if you are more into overlanding and just normal rough terrain the IFS will perform just as well. With all the 4x4 trails we did so far the IFS Hiluxes can go up 99% of the places the SFA can go. Something that makes a bigger difference in offroad ability is a diff-lock. An IFS Hilux with a diff-lock will outperform a SFA Hilux without a diff-lock. So if you are just a normal family man looking for some adventure and good moments with the family, then you will most probably not need a SFA and you can rather enjoy the comfort and luxury of an IFS Hilux.

The 2.7i engine is another indestructible engine. I have heard of 3 of these so far with more than 700,000Km on the clock with the engine being still original and it seems like reaching 500,000km without working on the engine is not uncommon for these vehicles. The 2.7 is much more powerful than its predecessors. They are also rather economical (if any 4x4 can be called "economical"). If you drive like a normal person you can expect 7 to -8.5km/l on the open road. You will have enough power to comfortably cruise at 130km/h and still get 7.5km/l. If you go over 140km/h you will see the consumption drop down to as low as 6km/l

In 2003 this model had a facelift and unfortunately Toyota's engineers tampered with the configuration of the fuel system. Above mentioned consumption figures are for the pre-facelift models. After the facelift the consumption dropped to about 6.5 km/l but at least you were rewarded with a more powerful engine. The basic engine remained the same, it was just the fuel system that was changed. You can click here for an interesting article on this subject.

The 3.0 KZ-TE turbo diesel is powerful engine which makes the drivability a pleasure. You have enough power for long uphills and a fuel consumption of about 8km/l or better (under normal driving conditions). The KZ-TE also features all of the gadgets.

The normal 3.0 Diesel is the reliable workhorse of the family. Although not as fast and powerful as the KZ-TE it is much better than the old SFA 2.4 and 2.8 Diesels.

In my biased opinion these models offers the best balance between comfort, reliability, offroad ability and good looks. They will take you to 99% of places the SFA will but in much more comfort. They are still hard and robust, not as soft as the new models.

The last ones of these were offered in a "Legend 35" model which is a very sexy option featuring chromed Roll and Nudge bars.

The new models - 2005 till now

Undoubtedly the most comfortable and economical option. Especially the 3.0 D4-D is a brilliant balance between a powerful and economical engine. I believe their off-road ability is just as good as that of the previous IFS models. Apparently they are soft and not as tough as the older models. "Soft" refers to the body work including the load bin), not the overall vehicle. Obviously bakkies are not being built to work with anymore. If you need your 4x4 to work with rather opt for some of the previous models, they are the real thing.

BUT if you would like to ride in comfort, you like overlanding and you like going places where others can't and the only load you need to carry is your camping gear and luggage, then I cannot see why one cannot use the new model.

I see on the forum that the owners of the new Hilux's are a quiet bunch. So I presume that they have not encountered any serious problems yet which makes us believe that the traditional Toyota reliability has been maintained in these models.


There is a Hilux for everyone. Your budget, needs and personal taste will determine which one will be your next Hilux.

If you are into serious offroading, speed is not important to you and you love the naked robust feeling of a real 4x4, then the old SFA is for you. There is just something about these bakkies which you do not find in any other vehicle. If you buy one you will fall in love with it.

If you like more comfort and speed but you need your 4x4 every now and then for the odd overlanding trip or 4x4 trail or if you are a photographer, birder, etc and you need to get to places where a car or Land Rover cannot take you but you still need a tough and reliable bakkie at an affordable price, then the 1998 till 2005 IFS is for you.

If you have the money and comfort and speed is a must and you need to go places where a normal car cannot take you, then the latest model is yours.

Toyota Hilux 4x4 2.7i