Import or Modify: Toyota Tacoma vs Hilux

Part of the Toyota Tacoma’s appeal is its old-school approach to pickup truck design. Its interior may have some flaws, but it has enough modern features, like Android Auto, to make it livable. And apart from some models’ rust problems, the Tacoma is an incredibly reliable truck. But Toyota makes a truck that some consider even tougher: the Hilux. Unfortunately, Toyota doesn’t sell the Hilux here, although it once did. The two trucks even have a shared history. With old Hiluxes eligible for importation, when it comes to Tacoma vs Hilux, should you import, or modify?

New Toyota Tacoma vs Hilux

2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro
2020 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro | Toyota

According to Autotrader and Top Gear, today’s Tacoma and Hilux are somewhat similar. Both are body-on-frame pickups, with independent front suspension and rear leaf springs. The Hilux, though, offers single cab truck and chassis cab builds. The Tacoma doesn’t.

2019 Toyota Hilux Pickup Chassis
2019 Toyota Hilux Pickup Chassis | Toyota

In addition, according to Expedition Portal forum users, the Tacoma’s frame is built more for towing, while the Hilux is more for payload. Properly-equipped, a Tacoma can tow up to 6800 pounds, while the non-chassis cab Hilux is limited to about 1650 pounds, according to Autotrader. But the Hilux, according to Cars Guide, can carry 2240 pounds, whereas the most any Tacoma can carry is 1685 pounds.

2019 Toyota Hilux Pickup
2019 Toyota Hilux Pickup | Toyota

The trucks’ suspension options also differ. Autotrader reports the Hilux can be fitted with heavy-duty suspension to better deal with off-roading and increased payloads. The Tacoma, meanwhile, has the option of Bilstein or Fox shocks, depending on which TRD trim you choose. However, fitting off-road suspension in the Tacoma lowers towing and payload capacities.

2020 Toyota Tacoma interior
2020 Toyota Tacoma interior | Toyota

However, the Tacoma’s interior is better than the Hilux’s. In addition, the Tacoma comes with more standard features, which include Toyota’s safety suite. Getting these features in the Hilux, according to Autocar, requires stepping up to more expensive trim levels.

2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro
2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro | Toyota

While both trucks can be ordered with two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, they have different engine options. The Tacoma can be equipped with either a 159-hp 2.7-liter four-cylinder or 278-hp 3.5-liter V6. The Hilux does have the same four-cylinder engine, but it doesn’t get the V6. Instead, it’s available with two four-cylinder turbodiesels, a 2.4-liter making 155 hp and 300 lb-ft, and a 2.8-liter making 177 hp and 330 lb-ft.

Classic Toyota Tacoma vs Hilux

If the Toyota Tacoma and Hilux are somewhat different now, they were even more different in the past.

1998 Toyota Hilux | Toyota
1998 Toyota Hilux | Toyota

When the Tacoma first officially debuted in 1995 for the US market, it had independent front suspension, for smoother and quieter rides on pavement and better high-speed handling. However, at this point, the Hilux had received a stronger frame, and non-4WD versions still retained a solid front axle. This was cheaper, simpler, and better for low-speed off-roading. This was also the frame the first 4Runner was built on.

And, once again, the Hilux didn’t get a V6, and the Tacoma didn’t get the diesel.

Should you import or modify: new

While you can’t import a brand-new Hilux, you’re not missing out on much by buying the Tacoma. The Tacoma is arguably the better daily-driver, and if you need more off-road capability, Toyota’s TRD parts catalog can provide accessories like skid plates and upgraded suspension. The only real feature the Tacoma doesn’t get is the diesel engine. However, there is a way to get a new diesel Tacoma in the US.

Diesel Toys, based in Texas, can give new and old Tacomas the same diesel engines as their Hilux counterparts. Not only can owners get better torque and fuel efficiency, according to TFLtruck, some versions run clean enough that they don’t require DEF. However, it’s unknown if they would pass state or local emissions. In addition, the conversion is only for 4WD trucks, and it’s expensive: $28,500 for a 2012-2018 Tacoma. That’s basically double the price of a base SR5 4×4.

In this case, I’d recommend not modifying the Tacoma beyond suspension and off-road components. It’s really not worth the investment.

Should you import or modify: classic

The same issue crops up with old Hiluxes and Tacomas.

1997 Toyota Tacoma 4x4
1997 Toyota Tacoma 4×4 | Bring a Trailer

While Hagerty reports low-mileage, pre-Tacoma Toyota pickups are rising in value, early-model Tacomas can be found for less than $10k, albeit with more than 100,000 miles on the clock. And though Diesel Toys can convert one of these Tacomas to diesel, the $24,500 cost is excessive considering the truck’s asking price.

1995 Toyota Hilux 4WD diesel
1995 Toyota Hilux 4WD diesel | Japan Partner

In this case, if you want a rugged, off-road, diesel Toyota pickup, it’s cheaper to import the Hilux. As of this writing, Japan Partner has a 1995 4WD Hilux diesel available for $8,990. Even with shipping, it still comes out to cheaper than the price of modifying the Tacoma.

1995 Toyota Hilux 4WD diesel rear
1995 Toyota Hilux 4WD diesel rear | Japan Partner

However, if you disregard the engine, modifying a Tacoma can actually work out to be cheaper than importing a Hilux. FourWheeler reported that off-road company All-Pro sells Bilstein shocks that are in some ways better than what Toyota offers. Companies like Trail Gear and All-Pro also offer heavy-duty leaf springs, frame reinforcement, and even solid axle conversions, according to Tacoma World forum users.

Even after installation, modifying a Tacoma would still be less expensive than importing a Hilux.

In conclusion, for Tacoma vs Hilux, unless you absolutely need a diesel Toyota pickup, it’s cheaper to (lightly) modify a Tacoma than import a Hilux.

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