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Driving impression: Toyota Hilux GR-Sport

8 July 2019

Let’s just get straight to the point – the Hilux GR-Sport is not a Ranger Raptor competitor, nor was it ever meant to be one.

We don’t know this for sure, but it seems as if Toyota is slowly building up to a Raptor competitor, which will most likely only form part of the next-generation Hilux range.

To understand this bakkie, you need to understand how Toyota’s performance division’s naming structure works. The full GRMN badge is only placed on the most epic performance vehicles, like the Yaris GRMN from last year.

The GR-Sport is the first step up from standard, so some things still had to be left in reserve. So if you’re wondering why the 2.8-litre engine still only delivers 130kW and 450Nm of torque, there’s your answer.

The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic and the power is sent to the wheels via the same part-time four-wheel drive systems as the standard car.

The GR-Sport can’t be missed, thanks to a substantial sticker package. It’s available in white, red or black – the three colours that make up the Gazoo Racing colours. We like the black car most, if only because it’s a little less ostentatious than the others. The black bonnet on the white and red cars is just a step too far, but that’s a personal thing.

Other exterior highlights include a large honeycomb grille with large Toyota lettering. The vertical fog-lamp garnish features a red or white outline (dependent on exterior colour), whilst all models feature a black bonnet and roof – adding visual drama. The black accents are extended to the side mirrors, GR-branded tubular side steps, over-fenders and GR-Sport specific 17-inch alloy wheels shod with 265-65-R17 tyres. The tailgate badging has also been changed to rifle black to complement the rest of the exterior package.

The inside features the same infotainment upgrade as found on the Legend 50, but instead of a chrome strip running the length of the dash, there’s a red strip. The black leather interior, features red contrast stitching and GR logos embroidered on the headrests and carpets. A GR-branded push start button awakes the engine. Each Hilux GR Sport includes a branded production plate and serial number.

Only 600 have been built, but have not been sold. All models have been allocated to dealers, but this bakkie is still very much on sale. For R 707 400, it’s the second most expensive Hilux, with only the 4.0-litre double cab 4×4 automatic Legend 50 retailing for more.

The most important upgrade is to be found underneath the car. It has a bespoke Gazoo Racing tuned suspension, which consists of monotube shock absorbers (KYB units) with revised damping. The springs up front are also stiffer, while the rear leaf springs have been left unchanged to retain the Hilux’s load carrying ability.

It’s not a giant leap forward in terms of ride and handling, but it’s well worth the additional R30k-odd Toyota charges over and above the Legend 50 2.8-litre 4×4 double cab, especially if you spend a lot of time on gravel. A city dweller most likely won’t be able to tell the difference, as the suspension really only comes into play once you hoof it on a gravel road.

Unfortunately, all our time behind the wheel was spent in convoy. But at least we experienced this car back-to-back with the Legend 50, which you really have to do to notice the subtle differences.

Toyota claims greater off-road handling and steering, as well as enhanced off-road body control and sharper on-road steering feel. We can’t comment on the latter, but certainly felt what Toyota was on about when it comes to the rest.

The stiffer front setup results in sharper steering and better body control over ruts. The most noticeable difference, to us at least, was the weight transfer between the front and rear. Brake too late into a corner in the standard car and the rear of the bakkie goes a little lighter than expected. In the GR-Sport the stiffer front setup keeps things more composed, which makes it more confidence inspiring overall.

Our time with this car was extremely limited and we look forward to spending more time behind the wheel in the future. We have a feeling this is a car that you need to spend some serious time in to see what it’s really capable of.

The GR-Sport comes The Hilux GR Sport comes with a 3-year/100 000 km warranty. A 9-services/90 000 km service plan is also standard.