THE pick-up truck sector may be a comparative small sector in the overall new car market in terms of sales but it's a growing one
Auto manufacturers realise that they're not just ideal as everyday workhorses in the commercial world but also for attracting motorists with distinct active leisure time pursuits.
The few contenders now have more car-like interior features with more stylish looks and better on-road manners yet underneath remain with sturdy, genuine off-road capabilities to overcome the toughest of terrains.
Toyota has been bringing in its 4x4 Hilux since the early 1970s but the latest version just shows how far the game has moved on.
The new model is the most sophisticated yet - a totally 4x4 with outstanding off-road capabilities yet equally smooth and efficient when cruising along motorways.
Apart from looking smarter with a new front grille, bumpers, skid plate and the like, it's on par with current Toyota cars on the comfort front yet still can take payloads of up to 1.5 tonnes with a towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes.
Key technical changes to the Hilux see it gain an improved suspension with retuned shock absorbers, stiffer but lighter feeling steering, a new automatic electric limited slip differential, lower idling engine speed and a much sharper accelerator response.
The other major change is a bigger 2.8-litre 201bhp turbocharged diesel engine which is far superior to the old 2.4-litre 148bhp version although that remains the choice for the entry-level Active model.
Crucially the new powertrain is much quieter and for serious off the road driving makes a vast difference. Out on normal roads the Hilux is now far more refined and much quieter.
With the usual choice of single, extra or double cab configuration and trim levels - Active, Icon, Invincible and Invincible X - there's also a choice of a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic gearbox.
We have just tried the top of the range Invincible X double cab with the automatic transmission which costs from £33,782 before VAT.
Performance stats are 0 to 60 acceleration in 10.7 seconds, a top speed of 109mph and a fuel return at best of 29.7mpg with emissions of 248g/km.
Not only does it come with all the bells and whistles in terms of comfort, convenience and the latest in-car technology, it's also excellent to drive.
Out on normal roads it really is quiet and so civilised for what is in essence a glorified pick-up truck and the improved steering makes it much easier to manoeuvre in traffic and parking spots all helped by sensors front and rear.
Take it onto a genuine off-road course and go through heavy, swollen lakes and deeply trenched water-filled tracks and it comes out with flying colours.
With vehicle stability control, active traction control, hill-start assist and downhill assist it makes light work of overcoming such treacherous, rugged terrains.
All this was carried out with normal road-going 18-inch tyres and it ploughed through everything without blinking an eye. A truly impressive performance.
The double cab on the Invincible X makes it the most car-like interior of any current heavyweight 4x4 pick-up. It's a genuine five-seater with dual-tone leather upholstery, steering wheel and gearshift, plus an easy-to-use on and off button for the locking rear differential.
There's a new eight-inch infotainment touchscreen complete with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto while all the normal driver controls, dials and instruments are clear, easy to use with no complications as sometimes encountered on rival pick-ups.
Prices have to be competitive in this niche sector and the Hilux is certainly that with the entry-level Active coming in at £22,466 excluding VAT right up to the Invincible X.
As to which version to buy will be down to individual choice but going for one of the top end Invincibles has to be the best option with its spacious interior cab and impressive fittings and furnishings plus the highly competent large 2.8-litre 201bhp engine.