From driving rained out dirt roads in Botrivier to tackling courses in the Atlantis Dunes, Oliver Keohane got familiar with Toyota’s most dynamic double-cab, the Hilux GR-S.
A Hilux baring the Gazoo Racing badge. How exciting! Not entirely new though. The first GR-S Hilux was released in a limited run in 2019 and thanks to popular demand, hit the market in full force late 2022.
Based on the Raider spec, rather than the Legend, the GR-Sport’s main focus is more power, with some minor handling tweaks and of course the aesthetic upgrades expected of a GR-badged bakkie.
All silver, all caps Toyota lettering stands out against a blacked out front grille. Complementing the mean face are blacked out mirror caps and door handles, as well as distinct graphite grey side steps. A tasteful scattering of GR badges run throughout the exterior, with red and black sticker accents on the lower doors completing the GR look.
Inside the theme continues. GR Badging throughout the cabin, in case you forgot what you were driving between approaching and entering the car. Graphite suede seats contrasted with black and red leather, red stitching across the seats and steering wheel and more red on the dashboard, above the air vents and in the speedometer.
The styling is all very cool, but the best parts of this flappy-paddle-equipped bakkie are the 15 extra kW, 50 extra N.m, and adjusted suspension.
Thanks to a new ECU, the Hilux’s familiar four-cylinder 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine pushes out 165 kW and 550 N.m. The top-specced Legend RS does 150kW and 500 N.m. And you can feel that extra oomph, definitely. The GR-S pulls away rapidly, and while the gear shifts are not noticeably smoother than in the Legend RS, you feel you’re getting a little bit more throughout your revs. The paddles are also just fun.
I was quite lucky to drive the GR-S in a variety of conditions, which makes for the ideal experience when testing out a vehicle of its kind. Its been tuned for better performance and handling, but it’s still meant to be able to go everywhere with its low-range gearbox, rear-diff lock and Toyota’s legendary traction control system. So how does it do?
First try we took it up the N2, into Grabouw and onto the Porcupine Hills Guest Farm. The open road up gave a nice gauge of how much the new suspension affects on-road performance. Upgrades include monotube shock absorbers and stiffer coil springs, and the firmer drive is notable. A modified steering system also makes for a more confident, precise experience behind the wheel.
The combination of revised steering, updated suspension and that extra power make the GR-S a distinctly sporty drive. As far as a bakkie is concerned. It was as composed doing high speeds on the long stretch of gravel road as it was on the N2. Fun, confident.
The flip side of the firmer drive at higher speeds means a stiffer experience at low speeds, off-road. I wouldn’t say that it is something worth complaining about… There has to be a trade off somewhere if the car is manufactured with an eye on performance, and I would rather it is comfort over capability. The GR-S is still exceptional in meeting off-road demands.
We were at Porcupine Hills for a weekend festival, which actually resulted in disaster. Massive rainfall meant that the festival had to be evacuated after just one night, and the already-difficult dirt roads rapidly started washing away.
The primary reason for evacuating everybody was the worry that cars wouldn’t be able to make it out by the next day. And they wouldn’t have; the roads had already turned to mud when we left, and watching the back wheels of numerous vehicles slide from left to right as we made our way towards Botrivier was a pertinent reminder of the quality of the GR-S. Four-wheel high range selected, and absolutely no issues. No wheel-spin, no slipping, steady on.
It is a luxury to feel so safe in a car in such tough driving conditions. The fuel economy at the end of my first stint with the GR-S sat at 10,4 L/100km, which is not bad considering the short pieces of dirt road we had to tackle on the very hilly (its in the name) farm.
There are certain cars that are harder to give back at the end of the week than others. When Deon Joubert’s guys came to pick up the GR-S, it was a sad goodbye. But then, two weeks later, we were out at Atlantis Dunes for a fun day with Toyota South Africa, and given a GR-S again. There was a little jealousy in the air from those in the Fortuner and the Legend RS, but it made little difference at the end of the day – they are all exceptional cars.
On the dunes we we got to try out the low-range gear box in a pretty unique way. Traction control is automatically turned off, and power is being sent to all four wheels as they do their best not to fly off the sand. I think the GR-S flattered my driving skills on some of the obstacle courses.
Nevertheless, it was such a fun, engaged drive, and the extra power made a marked difference. None of the GR-S’ in the fleet were caught struggling up hills, obviously.
It wasn’t easier to give it back the second time round, perhaps just more comforting knowing I’d done as much as possible in a car as versatile as the GR-S. Toyota’s Hilux GR-S is a fun car, it is capable and it is a welcomed venture into something a little more sporty, and a little more “statement” within the Hilux range. And for those wondering, that extra power really is noticeable!
- Price: R891 400 (October 2023)
- Engine: 2,8-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
- Power: 165 kW
- Torque: 550 N.m
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic
- Fuel economy (claimed): 8,0L/100km