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By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist


VIDEO: Muscled-up Toyota Hilux GR Sport III finally lays claim to tougherer

Now similar to the model showcased in Australia, the most aggressive looking Hilux ever made is likely to see its stock increase further.


Toyota’s denouncing earlier this month of producing a fully-fledged GR Hilux above the GR Sport (GR-S) not only ended almost four years of speculative reports, but also the prospect of a Hilux directly aimed at the Ford Ranger Raptor.

ALSO READ: Toyota makes it clear: Ranger Raptor-rivalling Hilux GR off the table

While the lid on a such model has finally been closed, the GR Sport’s comparison to the Raptor is unlikely to cease, despite Toyota making it clear as far back as the original’s debut in 2019 that it should not be seen as a rival.

Watch the walkaround video below

Third evolution of GR

Now more than ever, the comparison is set to continue with the widebody GR Sport or as Toyota calls it, the GR Sport III in reference to it being the third model after the original and the uprated 165 kW second generation introduced two years ago.

Toyota launches Hilux GR Sport III
Improvements has resulted in a ground clearance of 265 mm, 20 mm more than a standard Hilux.

A model that attracted significant from South Africa after its showing in Australia at the beginning of last year, demand and enquires, plus the supposed “soft” look of the GR-S II, left Toyota with no option but to make the GR-S III available as its indirect flagship.

Unveiled at the State of the Motor Industry conference at Kyalami alongside with the hybridised 48V in February, the GR-S III changes focus as unlike the GR-S II, it is modelled on the Legend trim grade rather than the Raider.

Not an easy arrival

Subtly different from the Aussie variant the GR-S III’s market launch has been anything but easy.

Supposed to have debuted in February, unspecified reasons resulted in Toyota postponing the original launch to May.

At the same time, the now passed national elections also played an unexpected role as no launch reports could be released before the casting of the ballots on 29 May.

Toyota Hilux GR Sport III launch
Section of the launch involved beach and dune driving on a private land outside Jeffreys Bay in the Eastern Cape.

Again reinstated as the most hardcore Hilux available in South Africa, but not the flagship as this accolade continues to be reserved for the Legend RS, what is likely to be the swansong variant of the current generation Hilux had a lot to live up to now that its soft persona is no more.

In this regard, the launch route from Gqeberha to George was anything but a drive up the N2 as it also included gravel, witnessing the shocking state of the Bloukrans Pass on the Eastern Cape side, and taking part in some dune driving on a section of privately owned beach.

‘Tough truck’

Before this though, there is the issue of styling that necessitated the call for Toyota to avail the GR-S III rather than prevailing with the less dramatic GR-S II.

Described as appearing more like truck-like and hard-edged by media colleagues at the launch, the GR-S III’s looks carries substance as is it now verges on being more off-road inclined than on-road.

In this regard, the chunkier wheel arch cladding, thicker skidplates and unique 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in BF Goodrich all-terrain tyres is only the start as Toyota has also raised the ground clearance to 265 mm thanks in part to a new suspension.

Toyota Hilux GR Sport III launch
New 17-inch alloy wheels are wrapped in BF Goodrich all-terrain tyres.

Still with the mono-tube shock absorbers at the front and coil springs at the rear as the GR-S II, the suspension is complemented by the front and rear tracks widened by 140 mm and 155 mm respectively.

Besides the 20 mm hike in ground clearance, the GR-S III also gains standard rock sliders and improved approach and departure angles of 30° and 26° respectively.

Its 3 500 kg tow rating kept in check, the suspension also comes with an increased payload of 790 kg, larger diameter ventilated disc brakes all around, a standard tow bar and a reshaped bumper that required the fog lamps to be positioned higher up to avoid damage when off-roading.

Toyota launches Hilux GR Sport III
New suspension and springs has resulted in an increased ground clearance and better comfort off-road.

Carried over, but slightly revised, from the GR-S II is the block letter TOYOTA script on the grille, while LED headlights are included, along with gloss black mirror caps, a binliner, sports bar and tonneau cover.

More subtle are the GR corporate graphics at the base of the doors against the backdrop of four colours; Glacier White, Attitude Black, Arizona Red and the new Chromium Silver in place of Graphite Grey.

Give and take inside

Inside, the Hilux GR-S III’s bespoke touches are more restrained, but also less showy than that of the GR-S II.

While the GR steering wheel with red 12’o clock marking remains, the red stitch work has been dropped for silver and the red inlays below the imitation carbon fibre on the dashboard dispersed completely.

Launch report of Toyota's new widebody Hilux GR Sport
Interior is standard Hilux fare, however, small changes have taken place relative to that of the GR Sport II.

Also gone is the GR starter button and the red embroidery work on the seats, gear lever, doors and handbrake replaced by a silver hue.

The seats themselves, while no longer furnished with the red side bolsters and electrically adjustable only for the driver, are still trimmed in leather and Alcantara with GR embroidered headrests at the front.

Remaining are the red seatbelts, GR floor mats, alloy pedals, gear shift paddles, the Toyota Gazoo Racing plaque at the base of the gear lever, and two buttons marked Eco and PWR.

The drive

Out on the road, the uprated suspension is immediately evident, but surprisingly not as stiff as initially expected.

Supposed to strike a balance between on-road and off-road comfort, with the latter taking centre stage, the GR-S III felt slightly better than the GR-S II on-road, but, unsurprisingly, came alive off-road.

Still on the tail-happy side with no load in the rear on loose surfaces, the art of dune driving had more than a few of us worried on the outskirts of Jeffreys Bay.

Launch report of Toyota's new widebody Hilux GR Sport
Seats no longer have red side bolsters, but are still trimmed in leather and Alcantara with the driver’s chair being electric.

Indeed, while a few bog-downs did occur, albeit due to a lack of momentum, staying in the tracks while keeping the revs-up in low range, and then scaling a towering dune proved no worry as the GR-S ultimately felt capable enough where a standard Hilux might struggle.

No longer without the body lean of the GR-S II, the track down the N2 and into the Western Cape via the Bloukrans Pass – which made the headlines earlier this year following the posting of a video on social media showing its deplorable state on the Eastern Cape – come as somewhat of surprise.

While care had to be taken on the EC side where the flood damage of a decade ago had attracted no interest from authorities to be rectified, the shiny new tar and maintenance on the other side saw the GR-S III evoke a desire to be driven more spritely.

Toyota Hilux GR Sport III launch
Steel sports bar carries over from the GR Sport II.

With no hybrid assistance and the same 165kW/550Nm as the GR-S II, the switchback hairpins did showcase the engine’s willingness to perform, although in this case and for some reason, the six-speed automatic tended to shift tardy and not as smooth as before.

Resorting to the paddles and opting for the grin-inducing PWR mode did alleviate matters more, although as mentioned, off-road is where the GR Sport III excels.

Away from the dunes, taking-on the rutted Prince Alfred Pass on-route to Uniondale in the Langkloof saw the GR Sport III being more at ease.

With 4H selected, it took the pass with its breathtaking views and sheer drops in its stride, although certain parts did result in the ride becoming bumpy and hard in complete opposite to how it felt on the smoother gravel.

Conclusion

While its predecessor become the fastest four-cylinder bakkie Road Test Editor Mark Jones ever tested at Gerotek two years ago, the Toyota Hilux GR Sport III is unlikely to retain that crown as a result of its new aesthetic, muscles and weight gain of 40 kg.

What is, however, excels at, is being, arguably, the complete Hilux and what the GR-S II should have been.

Hilux GR Sport III launch drive
GR Sport will remain the pinnacle of Hilux’s sporty side.

That being said, it doesn’t come cheap. At R999 000, the GR-S III is R51 400 dearer than when the GR-S II launched, though it does counter by virtue of the dynamic changes and more specification items

Significantly cheaper and more powerful than arguably its main rival, the Isuzu D-Max AT35, the GR-S III is likely to be a further win for South Africa’s best-selling vehicle, and fitting farewell in lieu of the next Hilux reportedly showing itself next year.

NOW READ: Toyota Hilux GR Sport proclaims power and glory

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