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By Charl Bosch

Motoring Journalist

Toyota Hilux GR Sport proclaims power and glory

Month long stay in the GR Sport's company results in a number of interesting finds.

When it became a reality in 2019, the believe was that with the Hilux GR Sport, Toyota had finally cooked-up a rival for the Ford Ranger Raptor.

NOT a Raptor rival

That, however, wasn’t the case. As much as it was hoped for to be exactly that, Toyota, at the launch of the GR Sport and the Legend 50 in Botswana that year, quite firmly stated that the roughened-up Hilux had not been developed as a Raptor rival.

Predictably, this fell on deaf ears as the majority of buyers, who snapped one of the 600 examples manufactured, believed they had in fact bought a Raptor alternative in spite of Toyota’s stance on the matter.

ALSO READ: WATCH: Hilux GR-S gives Ranger and Isuzu a bloody nose

With the introduction of the new GR Sport last year, the same prevailed with Toyota once again emphasising that despite the revised suspension and more powerful 2.8 GD-6 engine, a comparison with the new, now petrol-powered Raptor should not be made.

While this logic, arguably, doesn’t stretch to the GR Sport unveiled in Australia earlier this month, which many South Africans will view with a lot of envy and perhaps anger at Toyota for launching it here when it knew all about what was being prepared, the straight-to-the point truth is that the South African GR Sport wasn’t designed for a Raptor fight.

Instead, it was made to strike a balance between on-road and off-road use with added power, but without being as extreme as the Ford.

The Gerotek files

Yet, while some South Africans will vehemently continue to view it as a Raptor alternative, the conclusion of our tenure with the GR Sport over the festive season after it trounced the Isuzu D-Max V-Cross at Gerotek last year to become the fastest four-cylinder bakkie Road Test Editor Mark Jones has ever tested, illustrated that it can still play fair but, when needs be, on the rough.

No sooner had it emerged from the Gerotek success, KV 95 KV GP was packed for the journey down to the Eastern Cape and then later, a further 300 km jaunt to the Garden Route.

Hilux GR Sport road test South Africa
Hilux has proven itself on tar and gravel

As reported last month, the 1 062 km drive from Johannesburg to my hometown of Despatch saw it record an impressive 7.2 L/100 km after prolonged spells with the dual-zone climate control switched-on and the Adaptive Cruise Control engaged.

Kept in its default drive mode settings, Eco being an option never selected as a result of this author’s distain for any such mode, the 2 029 kg Graphite Grey GR Sport didn’t mind the long haul as it arrived at the coast after being surprisingly nimble and up to the task of the daunting Olifantskop Pass located some 50 km outside of Nelson Mandela Bay.

Better aesthetic

The dawn of light the following day allowed for a better and proper view of the GR Sport which, despite its sombre choice of colour, resulted in the same conclusion as to what Ford fell victim to with the original version of the now discontinued Ranger FX4.

Toyota Hilux GR Sport review
Standard wheels are 17-inch alloys wrapped in all-terrain tyres

Besides its Gazoo Racing aesthetic gains, Toyota has been more discreet with the GR Sport’s transformation from the Raider on which it is based than the myriad of decals and matte black bonnet the original came out with.

Toyota Hilux GR Sport review
GR branded roll bar forms part of the exterior’s transformation

Against the backdrop of that of grey hue, the finishing touches identifying it as a member of the GR Sport family still takes prominence, but arguably better and more tastefully executed while still with a distinct macho look.

Interior hits and misses

The opposite applies to interior though where Toyota has been a bit more flamboyant by including a GR starter button, red side bolsters and stitching to the seats, a GR badged steering, GR embroidered front headrests, alloy pedals, piano key black inserts and faux carbon fibre inserts on the doors and dashboard, the latter underscored by a red strip.

While likely to be seen with some contempt, the nature of the adaptations works well to add some colour and sportiness to an interior that is aging more rapidly than ever when viewed next to that of the new Ranger and its Volkswagen Amarok twin.

Road test Hilux GR Sport South Africa
Interior starting to show its age despite the GR touches working well

Centre to this is a design of the eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system some observers pointed-out looked like an old television screen slotted into the dash.

As with recent Toyota models, it is not the most cutting-edge and while dated in the graphics department and ability to play more than 300 songs from an external device, it does an otherwise okay and does feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Gravel trapped?

Besides the main talking point of the 165kW/550Nm the 2.8 GD-6 engine now produces, the second is the GR specific suspension, made-up of new mono-tube shocks and stiffer coil springs, that split opinions by all who experienced it.

Slightly skewed towards off-road use, the setup makes for a firm ride on tar reminiscent of previous generation Hilux models that felt rock hard and unforgiving. While nowhere that, what did become apparent was the amount of lean through corners compared to that of a standard Hilux.

Hilux GR Sport road test South Africa
Attempts to recreate the Hilux crossing television ad segment didn’t go as planned.

This, together with a raised rear that exhibits a nose-heavy type appearance, came in for further questioning from a GR Sport owner in the UK who, upon seeing the images of KV 95 KV GP on social media, questioned whether the April floods at the Prospecton Plant in Durban could have negatively impacted the suspension’s design as his also leaned too much through corners.

An area that could well be worth monitoring going forward, the promise of the suspension showing its talents on gravel took an initial uneasy turn when, during the Hilux’ stay along the Garden Route, it was tasked with a surface that didn’t require a switch to four-wheel-drive due to it being used everyday as a farm road.

Hilux GR Sport road test South Africa
Making a splash

As a means of ensuring stability though, high range 4WD was selected and within seconds of hitting the gravel, the GR Sport began to wallow and slide even at the indicated speed of 80 km/h.

Just as unnerving was the suspension’s reaction to bumps and ruts as it made the Hilux veer to the opposite direction and almost out of control.

…not really

Bizarrely, this never occurred on another gravel road the GR Sport ventured on shortly before its return to Johannesburg.

Devoid of any unstableness or reluctance to keep in a straight-line in 4H, the only conclusion that could be established was the potential condition of the road as the former had been degraded a lot than the latter on account of being used a lot more.

Road test Hilux GR Sport South Africa
Transporting of a bed base didn’t worry the GR Sport at all

On the smoother gravel, the GR Sport come into its own as the ride not only felt better, but even more so than on the asphalt with nowhere near the level of firmness or roll.

As Toyota has also fiddled with the six-speed automatic gearbox, this, together with the PWR mode and the extra grunt, made for a potent combination on the gravel as the GR Sport, literally, wakes-up at the first point of asking.

Toyota Hilux GR Sport review
Hilux one of the few bakkies on the market today with an opening rear window.

Although unlikely to take jumps with the same verve as the Raptor, it did laugh in the danger face of the potholes that littered the R57 between Johannesburg and Bethlehem on the return run after a visit to said town.

All the while, the racy clad seats provided enough support, while inside was sufficient with only taller passengers complaining about the usual double cab irritation that is rear headroom.

More finds

In fact, one of the biggest annoyances that prevailed throughout the GR Sport’s one-month and 4 800 km tenure, was the cruise control stalk jutting-out from the steering column. A staple Toyota design, not only has it dated badly, but looks aftermarket and out of place.

Road test Hilux GR Sport South Africa
Front seats stood up well during the month

Equally as disappointing is the lack of rear passenger air vents and a so-so quality sound. More welcome was the now double cab novelty of a sliding rear window, a tonneau cover that proved surprisingly easy to take off and put back on when the GR Sport was tasked with hauling a bed base, cupholders underneath the front vents and a cooled upper glovebox.

As for the drivetrain itself, the extra punch delivers its big time blow mid-range as a small amount of lag is noticeable low-down.

Road test Hilux GR Sport South Africa
Lack of rear air vents an not welcomed by those seated in the rear

Once on song though, the gradual pull becomes a surge only interrupted by the gear shifts which, as Mark explained after Gerotek, won’t automatically change when in manual mode and the PWR setting engaged- something uncommon on most bakkies that only adds to the GR Sport’s appeal of having been designed to be sporty not just in name.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Hilux GR Sport was its fuel consumption. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t stay at 7.2 L/100 km for long but returned to Toyota registering a still very commendable 8.4 L/100 km.


Powered-up Hilux GR Sport
Added GRRR means 165kW/550Nm

The question of “has Toyota cracked it with the new Hilux GR Sport” was one that popped-up a few times during the festive season tenure and one which will undoubtedly have contrasting answers.

While some will cry foul about the existence of the Australian model, the more placid version fights back as dynamically as it can be used both on-road and off-road without the likely limitations the Down Under equivalent will have.

Toyota Hilux GR Sport review
Badge not simply for aesthetics

At R891 900, the Hilux GR Sport is anything but mass public attainable and yes, while likely to be a lot cheaper than the Raptor, it shouldn’t even be seen in that rivalling context as explained earlier.

However, when viewed in the framework of a Hilux, it is a different story and if the lightweight super car logic of “less is more” is to be applied, without any comparative price hike, the GR Sport really is the bakkie definition of the Eurobeat genre song, Power and Glory.

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