Toyota Hilux GR Sport review: Dakar-inspired pick-up tested Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
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Toyota Hilux GR Sport review: Dakar-inspired pick-up tested

£37,551 when new
Published: 20 Feb 2023

A Gazoo Racing pick-up truck? Sign me up!

Hold your horses. Yes, this is a new, sportier variant of Toyota’s legendary and near-indestructible pick-up truck. And yes, it has been fettled by Gazoo Racing (Toyota’s in-house motorsport arm responsible for gems like the GR Yaris, GR Corolla, Supra and other fast Toyota-based things). But this isn’t quite the pumped-up homologation special of the mighty Yaris – Top Gear’s favourite Toyota currently on sale. As unfortunately, in the grand scheme of things, this range-topping Hilux has only been lightly breathed on by Gazoo. Boo!

What is it then?

Put simply, it’s a facelifted version of the eighth-gen Hilux with marginal tweaks in order to draw inspiration from (and provide a handy marketing link to) Toyota’s Dakar-winning Hilux.

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What Dakar-winning Hilux?

The awesome and seemingly unstoppable Dakar Hilux that has finished in the top ten of the world’s toughest off-road race every year since its debut in the T1 class, taking overall victories in 2019, 2022 and 2023 at the hands of the unstoppable driver and clay pigeon enthusiast (he secured bronze at the Olympics in 2012), Nasser Al-Attiyah.

But while his race car has a 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 engine mounted mid-ship, permanent four-wheel-drive with trick diffs, a Sadev six-speed sequential shift and monstrous suspension including insane dampers that cost the price of a regular Hilux _apiece_, the Hilux GR Sport does not.

What does it have then? 

Well, prepare your best disappointed face if you’re expecting Nasser’s race-tuned V6 and dampers capable of eating big boulders like gobstoppers. Instead, you get a 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel (introduced to the Hilux range in 2020) good for 204bhp and 367lb ft of torque. It is mated to a six-speed transmission… but not the Sadev sequential. Rather a slushy six-cog auto.

There are some suspension tweaks though. Out the back new monotube shock absorbers provide a larger piston area to improve damping performance, with faster response and better heat dissipation. While up front there are new, stiffer, more sporting front springs. They’re painted red and everything, just as a visual cue that you’ve got the sporty Hilux when you’re at the lumber yard or outside Screwfix.

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Anything else?

If you’re a keen Hiluxer you may be able to pick out a few visual and spec changes. There’s a black grille with a dedicated G-pattern mesh and a central bar that references the fourth-generation Hilux of the 1980s, larger front fog light surrounds, unique 17-inch alloy wheels with a contrasting black and machine finish, tougher all-terrain tyres and a smattering of GR badges slathered from the front bumper, to the rollbar and down to the mud flaps.

Inside, there are new sportier front seats trimmed with leather, synthetic suede and red stitching. You’ve also got paddles for manual shifting (don’t expect the tactility and haptic connection of a GT3 RS’ magnetic paddle shift) and aluminium sports pedals. The GR Sport is based on the existing Hilux Invincible trim, meaning you get all the techy goodies from that; including a JBL sound system, navigation, heated seats front and rear, LED headlights, smart entry, dual-zone air conditioning and off-road tech in the shape of Downhill Assist Control.

What’s it like to drive?

A throwback to an older time. Which is quite funny as when this generation of Hilux came out we complained that it was too techy in comparison to the old fix-it-with-spit-and-gaffer-in-the-backend-of-Africa Hiluxes of old. Which it still is, but the progression in the car market has left this generation with its snoutier face and odd rake angle feeling even more agricultural than ever.

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The steering is vague and heavy and as much as Gazoo has apparently worked its magic to improve its sporting credentials and agility, it still very much feels like a bobbly double-cab pick-up. And GR Sport trim is only available as one too.

It's old school in more ways than that though. Especially when it comes to the suspension, which is the simplest suspension you can get: steel leaf springs stapled together, which is seen more nowadays on trailers at organic fruit stalls than on cars. But it’s rugged and reliable. And in no way refined.

The ride improves the faster you go, making the springs and dampers work harder, but at slow speeds it finds every imperfection and amplifies it through you and the cabin. The drivetrain also lacks refinement. The 2.8-litre four cylinder is reliable but has to work hard for its torque, making it noisy. And if you’re outside EU regs, quite smelly too.

Meanwhile the gears from the auto ‘box are delivered with the same shunt as a train coupling carriages. And the brakes? Well, the fronts are doing pretty much all the work as you only have drum brakes at the rear.

You have two BIG buttons by the gear lever; one says ECO one says POWER. And you can probably guess what they do. Swapping between the two modes changes the map for the engine, gearbox and throttle (rather than engaging nitrous oxide or synthetic fuel) aggressively, but in Eco it feels lazy while in Power it feels strained.

Off-road is where the Hilux feels more at home and naturally comfortable, not because it can demolish everything at speed (it can’t) but it’s truly resilient and trustworthy. When you’re off the tarmac you can also feel the limited-slip differential and Active Traction Control working well to help you around corners. And if you turn the TC off on a loose surface, leave it in two-wheel drive and have nothing in the back, that diff makes it a hoot to drive around as the back slithers around.

If things do get a bit gnarlier, you’ve also got switchable 4WD, a diff lock and low range. On top of that, you also get the trademark load-carrying capabilities of the Hilux, with a payload of up to one tonne and towing capacity of up to 3.5 tonnes.

Should I get one? 

If you want a Hilux and know what you’re getting yourself into, a GR Sport is top dog in that world. And people who know, know. It still holds ultimate respect and maintains its bulletproof reputation which makes it king of the one-tonne pick ups. And the Gazoo Racing stamp adds a coolness but this is not a particularly sporting or evolutionary step for the range like Ford’s Raptor. With hardware that has relic qualities (leaf springs and drum brakes) there are more sophisticated options on the market with cleaner, better engines (we’re looking at you, VW Amarok).

But if you want the poshest version of the international water mark for pick-ups, the Hilux GR Sport is it and is ready for order. But you will need quite a lot of money as the on-the-road price (not including VAT) is £37,551 if you’re using it as a commercial vehicle, or £44,995 if not.

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