Australia's cheapest ute might be a ripper deal in your accountant's eyes, but is it actually any good on the daily grind?

What is it?

Quite simply, the 2022 Toyota HiLux Workmate is the cheapest ute offered for sale in Australia in the 4×2 single cab specification tested here with a petrol engine and a manual gearbox. Priced at just $24,225 before on-road costs – plus an extra two grand if you’d like an automatic gearbox so the apprentice doesn’t destroy the clutch – it’s the cheapest way for sole traders and larger businesses with fleets alike to get a vehicle capable of hauling anything without worrying about it getting dirty or beaten-up.

Why are we testing it?

The Toyota HiLux is the best-selling vehicle in Australia, and 4×2 variants like this Workmate model are a massive part of that. Of the 60,120 HiLuxes sold in Australia between January-November 2022, 15,903 of those were 4×2 variants – nearly four times as many as the next-best-selling Isuzu D-Max SX 4×2. Mind you, the HiLux offers the only low-ride body style in that market now, and petrol engines are fast being phased out in utes as well.

So, it’s cheap and it’s incredibly popular, but is it actually any good? That’s the question we’re here to answer.

What does it look like?

Let’s be frank – there’s nothing at all sexy about the HiLux Workmate. Being a purpose-built tradie vehicle, everything here is in the name of functionality and peace of mind. For instance, the big black plastic bumper is designed so that you don’t have to worry about nicking or scratching it, and a dent would likely pop right back out.

Likewise, its 16-inch steel wheels are stronger than alloys and there’s no need to worry about kerbing them. If anything, the Silver Sky paintwork of my tester is some unnecessary bling – fridge white seems far more appropriate and easier to touch-up.

If you’re after a low-ride single cab version like the model you see here, you can only have it in a cab chassis configuration with an alloy tray on the back. You can also get a low-ride dual cab, but only with a tub on the back. In the case of 4×4 Hi-Rider Workmate models, single cab and extra cab versions are only offered as a cab chassis, while the dual cab is available with either tray. Not at all confusing, then.

It’s also worth noting that HiLux Workmate variants still wear the pre-facelift nose – all other 2022 models feature a completely redesigned front bumper – which is another good piece of thinking for these tradie-focused models as it would make sourcing a new bumper or headlight housing that bit easier down the line. And yes, the headlights are old-school halogen reflector beams that would otherwise have no place in 2022.

What’s the Toyota HiLux Workmate like inside?

As you’d perhaps expect, the interior of the HiLux has been designed with durability in mind. Forget leather upholstery, there’s only a pair of cloth seats in here. Likewise, hard and durable plastic is used throughout, which is a lot easier to clean mud and dust from than the soft touch surfaces seen in even some more upscale modern utes. Even the steering wheel and gear shifter are hard-wearing polyurethane; the two things you’ll touch most in here haven’t even been made more upscale.

What also serves as a constant reminder of this being the cheapest ute you can get is the sheer number of blank switches, with rows of them to the right of the steering wheel, and even two big ones where the starter button and four-wheel drive selector would be in nicer variants.

At least there is a small 4.2-inch screen in the instrument cluster with a digital speedometer and other vehicle information. There’s an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment screen in the middle of the cabin as well, although the basic system can’t do very much as there’s no sat nav or even digital radio.

At least it does offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, although you’ll need to use a cable to connect your phone, and there are no USB-C ports. Oh, and the stereo? Two speakers. Yes, two. Meanwhile, there are six cupholders including two retractable ones on the dashboard.

There are some other specification oddities to be noted in here as well. For instance, the HiLux Workmate has automatic headlights but not automatic wipers. In fact, it doesn’t even have intermittent wiping at all – speed-adjustable or not.

Yet despite lacking something as obvious as intermittent wipers, and in spite of the manual gearbox, it has radar cruise control and lane departure warning. But a reversing camera? That’s a no. At least it has a rear window de-mister – ordinarily something not worth mentioning, but the base D-Max does lack it.

Conveniently, there are two gloveboxes on the passenger side for storing plenty of things (the Isuzu D-Max SX loses the second glovebox other variants have) as well as rather sizeable door pockets that will easily hold a laptop or clipboard. However, only automatic variants get a centre console box with a lid.

How much can the Toyota HiLux Workmate carry?

Weighing in at 1495kg and with a GVM of 2700kg in the 4×2 single cab petrol manual specification tested here, the HiLux offers an impressive payload of 1205kg. However, those figures don’t include the 140kg tray which drops that number to a still-impressive 1065kg. (For reference, the highest payload of any variant is offered by the Workmate 4×4 diesel manual with 1250kg excluding the Toyota-fitted tray.)

The ‘general purpose aluminium’ tray itself measures 2550mm long and 1777mm wide, easily making it large enough to carry two Shaquille O’Neals side by side – or, more likely, just about anything you’d actually ever need it to carry. There are also 16 internal tie-down points, as well as eight external points to tie a rope or ratchet strap to.

Towing is rated at 2500kg braked and 750kg unbraked, with its generous 5200kg GCM making it able to tow its maximum weight and carry its maximum payload at the same time.

What’s under the bonnet?

If you’re after this variant which is the cheapest HiLux available, you’ll find a 2.7-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine under the bonnet, with it producing 122kW at 5200rpm and 245Nm at 4000rpm. Penny-pinchers will want to go for the five-speed manual gearbox fitted to my tester, but a six-speed automatic is optionally available.

As with all low-ride HiLux variants, this one is rear-wheel drive only, with four-wheel drive only offered on Hi-Rider models. It’s also worth noting that the petrol engine is only offered on low-ride models; a 2.4-litre turbo diesel with 110kW/400Nm is optional on the low-ride and standard on the Hi-Rider Workmate, while the rest of the range uses a 2.8-litre turbo diesel with 150kW and 420-500Nm.

If you’re wondering why you may want to opt for a petrol engine, it’s worth considering how you plan on using your ute. If you’re going to be driving it mainly between jobs in the city, a petrol is better suited to this sort of slow, stop-start driving than a DPF-fitted diesel engine. If you’re going to be travelling longer distances, however, the diesel will be more efficient and powerful on the open road.

What’s the Toyota HiLux Workmate like to drive?

In a word, the HiLux Workmate feels agricultural. Principally, this comes down to the petrol engine which feels as though it belongs in a vehicle almost 20 years older, but that’s probably because this engine is almost that old, having first debuted in 2004 although it was updated in 2015 with dual variable valve timing. That’s great, but it still makes a racket as you laboriously rev it up in search of some forward momentum. At least it manages to feel relatively smooth, although the sound is anything but.

At least the five-speed manual ‘box isn’t too bad, with its long throws and progressive clutch making it relatively forgiving for novice drivers. However, with it only offering five ratios it does mean the petrol engine is spinning at a rather vocal 3000rpm on the freeway.

The steering isn’t too bad at least – it feels slow off-centre but relatively responsive thereafter, although it doesn’t offer much in the way of feel. But if there’s one overarching negative, it’s the ride quality when unladen. The placard specifies 35psi in the front tyres and a questionable 45psi in the rear, and with it set at these pressures the ride is simply awful, with it feeling as if the springs have no give at all. With the amount it bounces you around, I imagine it’s a similar feeling the ingredients in a smoothie experience as you power up the blender. Such is the price you pay for leaf springs strong enough to handle over a tonne in the tray.

Admittedly, I did drop the pressures to 32psi all around which made the ride a bit more bearable, but only just, while throwing enough stuff in the back – as most tradies will have – does settle it down a bit more as well.

How do the numbers add up?

Certainly, the purchase price of the HiLux can forgive a good many sins, as its $24,225 starting price is insanely cheap in today’s market. For reference, the cheapest Mitsubishi Triton GLX is $30,740 before on-roads now that the petrol variant has been axed, while the cheapest 1.9-litre Isuzu D-Max SX has an RRP of $32,200 and the cheapest Ford Ranger is an astonishing $36,180. However, the base D-Max SX is offered on a drive-away deal at $31,990 on the road – not much more than the HiLux’s $30,228 drive-away price.

In the case of this cheapo petrol model, the amount of fuel it uses is enough to potentially undo those savings made with your initial purchase. Toyota claims it uses 11.1L/100km when fitted with a manual gearbox, but during my 380km of testing it guzzled down 12.4L/100km, meaning it would empty its 80-litre tank in 645km.

As with all Toyota models, it’s covered by a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty. However, while many Toyota models are afforded five years of capped price servicing, the HiLux only get three years as servicing is required every six months/10,000km. For petrol models, it costs an average of $220 per service over that thee-year period.

So, what’s the verdict?

For many people, simply reading that the Toyota HiLux Workmate is, in this specification, the cheapest ute you can buy in Australia will be enough for them to sign the dotted line and shake the dealer’s hand. However, you do end up paying a price for buying something this cheap, and the petrol engine’s immense thirst and its lack of grunt in combination with the terribly uncomfortable ride when unladen serves as a constant reminder of that.

With that said, petrol-powered utes do still have their place in this world in my opinion – given how much sense they make for city-based tradies – and to that extent, the HiLux is now in a class of its own at this end of the market. In that regard, it’s worth consideration by default alone. Likewise, low-ride utes are also a scarcity, and they again offer ease of use that high-ride utes can’t.

However, there’s a reason the D-Max has climbed to second place in the 4×2 ute sales race. Given its low drive-away price tag, its many additional features, and its increased refinement over the ageing HiLux, it’s uniqueness alone that gives the HiLux the edge for those after the very specific set of ute traits this bargain-bin specification offers.

2022 Toyota HiLux Workmate 4x2 2.7 Petrol Manual List Price: $24,225 | As Tested: $24,900
  • 6.5/10
    Performance - 6.5/10
  • 5.5/10
    Ride & Handling - 5.5/10
  • 7/10
    Tech & Features - 7/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 7.5/10
    Value for Money - 7.5/10

Pros: Impressive payload, adaptive cruise control is nice to have, low-ride petrol variant is one-of-a-kind in the ute market at this point, it’s cheap
Cons: Awful ride quality when unladen, petrol engine is thirsty and lacks power, no intermittent wipers or reversing camera, short service intervals

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Toyota Australia for a week with all fuel expenses covered.

Patrick Jackson
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