Where on earth could you go to really test a vehicle to the limit? The North Pole? The South Pole. How about both?

For the Toyota Hilux pick-up has the distinction of being the first vehicle to be driven to both the magnetic North and South Poles.

Celebrating its 40th birthday this year, the Hilux is now into its sixth generation, combining traditional robustness and excellent load-carrying capacity with comfort and safety.

Where the 2012 model scores highest is in its blend of workhorse practicality with a car-like ride and creature comforts.

Whisper this quietly, but the rough, tough cowboy looks of the Hilux hide a soft, well-equipped centre.

The new model moves equipment levels up a notch, with all three trim levels sporting anti-lock brakes, driver and front passenger airbags, air conditioning, electric windows and remote central locking.

The HL3 grade test model looked the part with 15in alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, body-coloured front bumper, darkened chrome grille, chrome door handles, rear and side steps, and electrically-adjustable heated door mirrors, with built-in indicators for 2012 models.

Inside there is a multi-information display, operated by a button on the leather-trimmed steering wheel, and the Toyota Touch system with a full colour 6in touchscreen for audio, telephone and Bluetooth controls. A rear-view camera helps avoid bumps and scrapes when reversing.

The 2.5-litre diesel engine fitted to the test car meets Euro 5 emissions requirements, as does the 3.0-litre version. Toyota says that as a result of the adjustments to the engine, CO2 emissions for the Double Cab model have been cut by more than 10 per cent, while combined fuel consumption has improved by more than 10 per cent.

Mated to a five-speed manual gearbox, the engine pumps out more than 140 horsepower and huge amounts of pulling power, giving an excellent balance of flexible performance and low fuel consumption.

Steep descents on rough ground can be negotiated safely and securely with the engine on tickover in first gear. The high torque means the Hilux can make steep ascents on engine idle, too.

Ground clearance for all models is generous at 212mm and from off-road to in-water, performance is equally strong with a wading depth of up to 70cm.

The four-wheel-drive system allows you to shift from four- to two-wheel-drive at any speed and from two- to four-wheel-drive at speeds up to 50mph.

Its off-road capabilities are not in doubt, as in May 2007 the Hilux became the first car to be driven across the Arctic ice to the magnetic North Pole, a feat achieved by Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson and James May.

In January 2009, the Hilux achieved the double, covering more than 3,000 miles in temperatures as low as -40C, reaching the South Pole as a support vehicle for the Amundsen Omega3 Ski Race.

As Europe’s best-selling pick-up, the Hilux is truly poles apart.

Auto facts: Toyota Hilux HL3 2.5L

  • Price: £22,615
  • Insurance group: 10A
  • Fuel consumption (Combined): 38.7mpg
  • Top speed: 106mph
  • Length: 526cm/207in
  • Width: 183.5cm/72.2in
  • Deck dimensions: 154.5cm x 151.5cm x 45cm
  • Fuel tank capacity: 17.6 gallons/80 litres
  • CO2 emissions: 194g/km
  • Warranty: 3 years/60,000 miles