Double-cab utes are very much the thing in New Zealand. Around 90 per cent of sales, in fact. You could say that's a good thing - that the rising quality, equipment and safety of utility vehicles means that they now fulfil multiple roles in both work and weekend-motoring applications.
Or you could say that double-cab utes are the light commercial equivalent of a people-mover - there's a dignified sort of vehicle underneath, but the wand of uncoolness has been waved over them because they also have to make sure Gran gets to bowls every Sunday.
But that would explain the sense of boyish excitement I felt when I saw this week's test ute: styling-wise, the Toyota Hilux SR5 Extra Cab (that's two doors and a pair of strictly occasional squabs in back) has a bit of an American-style pickup truck thing going on. Superficial of me, I know, but after a diet of sensible double-cabs over the past few months, this was the equivalent of finding a stylish coupe in the driveway.
In purely analytical terms, Hilux has slipped quietly away from being truly competitive with new-generation utes like the Ford Ranger and Volkswagen Amarok.
But it's also long-established as number one in its segment (sometimes number one overall) and nobody expects that to change. Hilux is a brand that really connects with Kiwis and it was easy to discern a certain degree of effortless cool surrounding this top-spec extra cab wherever it went.
People loved it.
You might not think a 126kW/343Nm truck riding on 15-inch wheels is particularly macho. But the Extra Cab SR5 comes only with manual transmission, making it the sports ute of the segment. Furthermore, unlike its double-cab cousins, it is not available with stability control. Floor it in third gear on a wet road and you'll find 343Nm is plenty to practise your truck-control skills.
There is a serious side to this: the great advantage of the Extra Cab is that it avoids the scourge of the double cab - a short tray. This model boasts 1805mm of load-length, or a massive 285mm more than the Hilux Double Cab. The cost is inside the cabin with a tiny rear seat, which is fine for kids but not really fit for adult use.
The Hilux SR5 Extra Cab is not cheap at $59,250 in 4WD form. But it does add a bit of sizzle to Toyota's range. Extra Cab: not for the family.By David Linklater Email David