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The revenge of the Hilux

 

 

Power is seductive. When it comes to the Toyota Legend 50, that phrase could have a number of different interpretations.

From the second you take your first, rather large step into the cabin, you’re looking down at the world. When you start the engine, the torque is unmistakable, even as you hesitatingly trundle along at first.

What to do with such a machine? How about settle a near decade-long grudge with the rugged, not-so-grimy streets of Midrand?

In a life lived long ago, I would take my mom’s old 1998 Hyundai Accent and venture up into the affluent, northern parts of Midrand to go visit my girlfriend. It was not an overly pleasant journey.

The thing is, these are all relatively new neighborhoods of Jo’burg — which is great, except that they’re not quite finished. Jagged sand curbs hug most of the main roads, ready to snare a wayward tyre. A wrong turn here or there could send you on to an untarred byroad. And bumps — oh, the bumps were everywhere. Big, small, sharp, obtuse — name a size and shape and it was there, ready to bring your progress to a bumper-grinding halt.

It doesn’t get any better when you enter the quiet, horsey suburbs. Rudimentary irrigation systems mean potholes have popped up all over the place. It’s all a nightmare for an unassuming sedan. By the fifth painful dip into a surprise fissure you begin to concoct conspiracy theories about whether the City is in cahoots with the 4×4 industry. My ranting and swearing was heard by no one and could change nothing.

The Hilux, meanwhile, offers a far more practical solution.

It tore into the roads with little regard for their condition. The bumps and potholes become little driving games you can use to amuse yourself as you travel into a foreign land with no resistance. The bakkie greets them with irreverence.

Of course, you can push this with only so much intensity, lest you scare the horses out for their afternoon trot.

So you do the natural thing and starting looking for those previously suspension-wrecking dirt byroads. Fortunately, they’re in plentiful supply: even within estates, infrastructure hasn’t always caught up with development and there are multiple offshoots just waiting to be explored.

The legend does just that, leaving nothing but wafts of dust resembling contrails, gliding along as smoothly as it would on the nearby Kyalami Race Track. This is the course it was made for.

Soon I find a lot at the end of an estate, one that luckily has not yet been earmarked for a loft building. This unused land that shall go unused no longer: its craggy incline immediately draws attention and it is conquered just as quickly. Protruding rocks, spotty surfaces: these are of no concern as the hills are ascended by tapping just a little juice into the 2.8 GD-6 engine.

With my craving for revenge pleasantly sated, it was time to return to reality. And, given that most of us don’t live in a reality in which outdoor terrain is a concern, that’s where the shortfalls of this vehicle become apparent.

The Legend idles impatiently as you sit in highway traffic. Even after it clears a bit, this is not the vessel you want to be weaving through lanes in. It craves wide berths and open roads — and doesn’t reward a failure to deliver them.

Arriving at your destination doesn’t bring relief either. Nope, that parking spot is too narrow; that one’s entry angle is too tight. Perhaps I’ll just park on the pavement. That’s what bakkie drivers do, right?

If you live in the city and don’t have to ferry sheep regularly, is the struggle worth it?

The answer will likely depend on how high good looks rank on your priority list. This is an imposing vehicle with enticing chrome finishes: it’s hard not to admire the aesthetics of this Hilux.

“Nice car,” a security guard offers up as I pull into work. A colleague out for a cigarette said I looked like “the man” when I drove in — an illusion that, she was keen to point out, was shattered when I walked away from the car.

In truth, I must guiltily admit, the Legend does give you an impression of power as you cruise around. For all its impracticality in the city, knowing that your pedals give you jurisdiction over your immediate surroundings is an irresistible sensation and you feel a bit empty when it’s taken away from you.

Robert Green’s warning in the preface to the 48 Laws of Power comes to mind: “Power is endlessly seductive and deceptive in its own way. It is a labyrinth … and you soon realise how pleasantly lost you have become.”

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham is a features writer at the Mail & Guardian

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