ON THE ROAD: WHEN you are the designers of a car that has already sold more than 18 million examples you could be forgiven for resting on your laurels.

But Toyota went above and beyond when it came to revamping the trusty Hilux pick-up.

Chief engineer, Hiroki Nakajima visited 110 of the 172 countries that currently sell the workhorse in a bid to hear first-hand the experiences of current owners and witness the conditions the vehicles were driven in.

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Having spent a week in it myself, I'd say he wasn't just doing it for the air miles.

The Northern Echo:

There are some tangible improvements - there's a new diesel engine, it's tougher, stronger and more capable off road, lower, wider and longer and has increased towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes.

It certainly has presence - trucks such as these have come a long way in recent years and there's a definite bling factor to this Invincible model.

But that would be no good if what's under the hood doesn't cut the mustard. With 2.4 litres on tap, there's plenty of grunt - 161bhp and 400nm of torque, to be precise. That was certainly enough to carry half of the contents of my garage to the tip.

Push the 'power' button and the Hilux gets a kick in the pants that means you can overtake with confidence or tackle that muddy incline without fear of sliding back into oblivion.

It's as refined as you might expect it to be - certainly quieter than previous incarnations, but still prone to the odd clatter and while its road manners have improved considerably there's still a bump or two to be experienced when negotiating sleeping policemen etc.

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ON THE INSIDE: THERE'S nothing utilitarian about the interior of the Hilux. While we are not talking VW standards of refinement, it certainly has more in common with a nice saloon than something used to hauling stuff around building sites or the farm.

In fact, if it was mine I'd be tempted to cover the seats in the kind of plastic sheeting last seen in Frank and Marie Barone's home in Everybody Loves Raymond.

The layout is in keeping with the family car feel. Plenty of thought has gone into it, it's not just been thrown together in the belief that builders, for example, aren't interested in aesthetics.

WHAT DO YOU GET: OUR test car came with pedestrian protection, lane departure warning and road sign assist safety features, active traction control, downhill assist control, hill-start assist control, AWD auto-disconnecting differential and locking rear differential. Additionally, there was power steering, cruise control, heated rear window, power front windows, locking cooled glovebox, Toyota Touch 2 multimedia system, six-speaker audio, DAB USB port, Bluetooth and rearview camera, automatic air conditioning, locking tailgate, tip up rear seat, leather steering wheel and gearshift trim and 4.2ins multi-information display. Outside, there was electrically adjustable, heated front door mirrors, fog lamps, chrome side bars with steps, scuff plates, rear privacy glass, headlamp cleaners and 18in alloys.

HOW PRACTICAL IS IT: THE Hilux now has more space and is more comfortable, with the front seats offering more head and shoulder room. The rear seats in our double cab have also been improved, while the front seat back has been made thinner to create more knee room for those in the back. There's a 60:40 tip up seat to increase versatility and unlike some you don't need to have a builder's biceps to operate it.

The cargo deck is larger and stronger and a number of modifications have been carried out to make it more durable and less liable to become damaged with use. Our car featured a hard tonneau cover and also a sliding load area floor which enabled me to load and unload bulky items without needing to climb onto the vehicle itself.

This is a big car, as you might expect, and when it comes to parking you are going to need to use two bays in most cases or leave your front end jutting out. Onboard cameras are a great help when it comes to manoeuvring.

RUNNING COSTS: TOYOTA'S official figures state it should be possible to get 36.2mpg on the combined cycle, we managed 31.4mpg. CO2 emissions come in at 204g/km.

VERDICT: IF you're in the market for a truck this should be on your list.

ALTERNATIVES: NISSAN Navara, Mitsubishi L200, VW Amarok