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OFF-ROAD TEST

OFF-ROAD TEST: 4×4 Mega World Class T Toyota Hilux V8





5 September 2016


With a price tag of about R4.5-million, the 4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux V8 is the most expensive Toyota Hilux we’ve ever tested. The team gave it a rest from competing in the national Donaldson Cross Country Championship and let us take it for a spin in the North West Province.

We start this off by stating the obvious for some, but maybe not for everyone: this is Toyota Hilux. But it is not a Toyota Hilux. Yes, it looks like a Toyota Hilux, but under the Hilux panels and headlights lives a purpose-built, space-frame rally car. So there is no ladder-frame chassis. Nor is there a 2.8GD-6 turbo-diesel or four-litre V6 petrol engine under the bonnet. Instead, it is powered by a Lexus 2UR V8 petrol engine with mountains of torque that is managed by a state-of-the-art Pectel engine management system specifically designed for racing cars. It costs several hundred thousand rand.

And talking about cost: the Sadev six-speed sequential racing gearbox costs R600 000. So just the gearbox on this Hilux costs more than a brand new Toyota Hilux double cab 4×4! It does have a 4×4 drivetrain, but it’s nothing like the stock one in a Hilux. In a normal Hilux 4×4 you get the gearbox and a transfer case, so it’s a part-time 4WD with a rear differential lock and some electronic traction tricks. The racing bakkie is a permanent 4×4 with a Torsen centre differential that essentially sends power to the axle with the most traction.

However, the engine and gearbox and 4WD system all pale in comparison to the suspension set-up – the real party trick part in this Smartie box of automotive tricks. Each wheel has two Reiger Racing shock absorbers – the same brand used by top Dakar Rally teams such as Mini, Toyota and BMW. Each shock costs R80 000. So that’s a total of R640 000 – just for the shocks. But as we would find out ourselves, the real secret of cross-country rallying is in the suspension. Time to fire up that 250kW V8 engine.

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City runabout? Aikona!
You start the left-hand drive Hilux by pressing a button on the centre console. Depress the button, the starter turns, and turns, and then that motor comes to life in the engine bay. And crickey, does it come alive! It’s actually a heck of a racket. A beautiful racket, mind you, but still a racket. Your granny won’t like it much. Remember, there’s no sound insulation or carpets in this cabin. All excess weight is stripped out. The two Cobra racing bucket seats are proper, too, with five-point racing harnesses. In front of the driver lives the three-spoke racing steering wheel, and a basic display with engine functions. In the centre console presides that starter button, surrounded by more buttons and switches. TOFF-ROAD TEST: 4x4here is also a large LCD screen that primarily shows gear position, and also engine revs and other vital functions.

The passenger (there are only the two seats) gets some fancy odometers and a GPS system to help the Hilux get from point A to point B during a cross-country race. The gear lever lives in between the two seats, and just next to it is the handbrake – in this case, a special rally handbrake designed to swing the Hilux’s tail around in a tight corner. Unlike normal handbrakes, you simply pull and release this item, and the wheel locks momentarily and then release again.

There is no air-conditioning, but there are two air vents in the roof if things get heated in the cabin. There are also no electric windows – each door has a little sliding part where you can just about fit your hand through. There is no sound system. Not that one would have helped because the engine makes way too much noise. Right, so time to get going then. Pull the R600 000 gearbox’s lever back to select first gear. Check on the LCD screen that first is indeed selected.

Release AP Racing clutch with the right foot feeding in the power and… off you go. Not very smoothly, but off you go nevertheless. Frankly, the Hilux is pretty useless on tar. In fact, a 15-year-old Tata bakkie would probably be better. The engine makes a din, the drivetrain wines, the brakes seem vague and squeal, and you can hardly see out of the bakkie to check for other traffic. Taking off after stopping at an intersection causes more trouble… too little V8 during the clutch release process, and the Hilux, embarrassingly, stalls.

Press starter button, starter turns, racket. More V8, release AP Racing clutch, and off you go. Not very smoothly, but off you go. Meanwhile most other road users ring their necks to get a better look at the Hilux, while grannies, disapprovingly, shake their heads and probably make a mental note to pray for these noisy hooligans.

A gravel road… and 100-and-plenty!
And then the tar made way for gravel. Mind you, initially it wasn’t pretty gravel at all – there were ditches and trenches and rocks and humps and mud and so forth. Mindful of the fact that this is a R4.5-million bakkie that had just basically been rebuilt ahead of the gruelling Toyota 1000 Desert Race in Botswana, we used first gear and carefully aimed the Hilux’s nose through the worst stuff. “You know,” said 4×4 Mega World bossman Deon Venter from the passenger seat, “the faster you go, the better the suspension works.”

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So we hooked second gear by depressing that AP Racing clutch and pulling the Sadev gear lever back one click. Now, going a bit faster, the ride was, well, still pretty bumpy. “Try third gear, and give it some more right foot,” encouraged Deon. We pulled the lever back again, and added some more horses to the game. And amazingly, travelling at a seemingly inappropriate 70km/h on this extremely rough track, the ride did indeed seem smoother (our long-term Mitsubishi Pajero with aftermarket suspension had to crawl over the same terrain at 10km/h, as a point of comparison).

Then the rutted tracks made way for some smooth gravel sections. “Go for it already,” shouted Deon. And we went for it, and floored the Hilux, blasting through the gears. One, clank, two, clank, three, clank, four… The V8 engine roared and the Hilux blasted across the smooth gravel. A turn came up. We dabbed the brakes, which now worked much better under a heavy load. We tapped the gear lever forward for third, turned-in, caught the tail with plenty of opposite lock from the direct steering wheel, then planted the right foot again, the four Cooper Discoverer STTs blasting us out of the corner in a cloud of dust and flying rocks.

We continued to blast along, getting used to the quick steering and the go-cart like feel of the machine. On a long section we were in third gear at around 80km/h… but there was a very bad patch coming up, with deep dongas that would rip off any 4×4’s wheels if you hit them at that speed. In the passenger seat Deon sensed the brake pedal was about to be called to action. “No. Hook fourth gear and keep it flat!” he shouted about the V8’s racket. Well, it’s Deon’s Toyota after all…

So we clicked that lever back, floored the Hilux to over 100km/h, and waited for the impact that would rip at least two wheels clean off. We hit it and… well, er nothing. There was no obvious impact, no dramatics, no wheel ripped off… it was almost as if there had been no ditch at all. The Hilux’s tail just gave the tiniest of shimmies, and that was that!  “You see?” yelled Deon. “The faster you go, the better the suspension works!”

He was right! And that seemingly ludicrous R640 000 for eight shock absorbers made all the more sense, too. “The secret of a successful off-road racing vehicle is in the suspension,” explained Deon above the racket of the screaming V8. “Some of the vehicles in the entry-level production classes are actually faster than this bakkie in a straight line, but when the going gets extremely rough, the Class T vehicles have the advantage of not having to slow down nearly us much as the entry-level production vehicles. We also run a Class S production vehicle and if they try to keep up with the T’s on the really rough stuff, that bakkie will literally start falling apart.”

The next 10 minutes or so we pushed harder, jumped further, hung the tail out more often and got the speed up more. We also experimented in the fast corners. You really need to be on the go-faster pedal in the corners – this allows the drive from the four wheels and the torque to literally blast the Hilux through. Lift off, and you scrub off speed and have plenty of opposite lock steering action. We also learnt (with some vocal support from Deon) that we don’t have to gear down for slower corners or rough looking sections. There’s so much torque, you can really just leave it in fourth and the V8 will sort out the details, even from lower revs.

The amazing experience was over far too quickly, and we headed back to the 4×4 Mega World workshop, situated just off the N12 artery that runs through Klerksdorp. The Hilux went back to being a bit of a dog to drive in the Saturday morning traffic. On tar, it’s as out-of-place as a great white shark would be in the Crocodile River – a rough gravel track is what this Toyota Hilux is all about.

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In summary…
R4.5-million seems like a lot of money to spend on any vehicle. But in this Hilux, all those big numbers seem to add up, and make perfect sense. That racing gearbox, the amazing suspension, the V8 engine with all the torque in the world, the custom interior, the fibreglass body panels, the professional finish of everything… if you want to stand a chance of winning the Donaldson Cross-Country Class T Championship ahead of the Ford Mustang-powered Rangers, this is what you bring to the fight.

Okay, so on a tar road it is pretty useless. In fact, it’s pretty slow–a modern lukewarm hatch like a BMW 125i will drive circles around this Hilux on tar. But on any gravel surface, it is simply outstanding. And that 125i will perish in the very first ditch. This vehicle is an amazing study of motorsport intent, purpose and execution.

And victory, we suspect.

Engine Lexus 2UR V8 petrol
Power Approx 250kW
Torque Approx 500Nm
Gearbox Sadev six-speed racing sequential
4×4 drivetrain Full-time with Torsen centre differential Driving aids: Er, accelerator and brake pedal?
Ground clearance Plenty
Average fuel consumption 100 litres/100km
Range (500-litre tank) 500km
Maintenance plan Seriously?
Price Approx R4.5-million