Hold back the lifestyle adventurers. Yes, this is a new, sportier variant of Toyota’s legendary and near-indestructible pick-up truck. And yes, it has undergone a slight treatment by Gazoo Racing (Toyota’s in-house motorsport department responsible for fast Toyota-based things). But this isn’t quite the pumped-up homologation special like the mighty GR Yaris – The petrolheads’s favorite Toyota currently on sale. As unfortunately, in the grand scheme of things, this range-topping Hilux has only been lightly breathed on by Gazoo.
What is it all about?
Put simply, it’s a facelifted version of the eighth generation Hilux with marginal tweaks in order to draw inspiration from (and provide a handy marketing link to) Toyota’s 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 Nasser Al-Attiyah. In Toyota’s point of view, they sadly didn’t win the 2024 edition of the Dakar rally, the most challenging rally on earth. The title went to Audi with their driver Carlos Sainz Senior. who has won the Dakar Rally a few times already.
But while the Toyota Hilux race car has a 3.5-litre twin-turbo V6 mid-engine (which sounds glorious!), permanent four-wheel-drive with trick differentials, a Sadev six-speed sequential gearbox and monstrous suspension including insane dampers that cost the price of a regular Hilux, the Hilux GR Sport does not. 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-speed automatic.
Nonetheless, Toyota Switzerland let the Drift-Force-Boys do some magic. They wrapped the car with a Gazoo Racing inspired livery and put some used drift tires onto the loading bridge. 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 tires and a smattering of GR badges slathered from the front bumper to the rollbar and down to the mud flaps.
In Switzerland, the current Toyota Hilux is available with the 2.4 four-cylinder 150hp Diesel engine in the base trims (Extra Cab or Double Cab) or the 2.8 four-cylinder 204hp Diesel engine which they offer in every trim. The Base price for the short-Cab version is priced at CHF 47’900.-. Quite a number already for a true workhorse that might end up with loads of small damages within its first five years of service. On the other hand, the Hilux GR Sport starts at CHF 62’100.-! For a Pick-up. Empty swallow
Additional extras like a Cargo compartment cover, roof rack or a trailer hitch might add some bucks on top. Those prices aren’t visible during the configuration process.
Let’s have a seat
Inside, there are new sportier front seats trimmed with leather, synthetic suede, GR pattern on the head rest and red stitching. You’ve also got paddles for manual shifting (don’t expect the tactility and haptic connection of a GT3 RS’s magnetic paddle shift) and aluminium sport pedals. The GR Sport is based on the existing Hilux Invincible trim, meaning you get all the equipped goodies from the one mentioned; 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 and some additional features like rear differential lock and a gear reduction for hill climb capabilities.
But hey, before we forget the base stuff. I’m 1.72m tall (or short) and need to use the extra handle on the a-pillar and the footboard quite often for entry and exiting. The main issue with the footboard, however, is that it does not protrude far enough from the vehicle and therefore the contact surface of the shoe is often very small. This can lead to you occasionally making a misstep while getting out and thus rattling down a floor towards the ground. Or the other situation is that you soil your pants on the car’s body. Up to you. But as long as you’re sitting on the seat, you’re finding yourself in a surprisingly comfort situation. Inside, the materials reflect the Hilux’s origin as a full-blooded workhorse. Hard plastics all over, silly fake carbon optics and mostly cheap materials define the interior beside the utterly great and heated seats in the front and back row!
Further functions like adaptive distance cruise control, AC and heated mirrors are included. Leg and headroom in the backroom is despite the higher seating position compared to the front seats.
There’re a few options to work with your loading bridge; Leave it open for heavy duty carriage, close it with a regular cover or a larger hard-top cover where your stuff doesn’t get wet or dirty. In my case as an open-bridge version, the Hilux feels impractical for daily usage.
The new generation Toyota Hilux feels too technological advanced in comparison to the old fix-it-with-spit-and-gaffer tape-in-the-backend-of-Africa Pick-ups. Which it still is, somehow, but the progression in the car market has left this generation with its shoutier face and odd rake angle feeling even more agricultural than ever. 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. Or can be found underneath US-Muscle cars from the 60’s and 70’s. But it’s rugged and reliable. And in no way refined. BUT: leaf spring technology is simple, robust and cheap to replace. And that’s exactly the point of having a Pick-up as a workhorse. It needs to get its “hands” dirty and being able to get repaired with a reasonable amount of money.
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 must work hard for its torque, making it noisy. Proper truck driver feelings sometimes.
Meanwhile the gears from the auto ‘box are delivered with the same shunt as a train coupling carriage. 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 quite noticeably. In Eco, the car feels lazy while in Power it feels strained. Leaving driving modes behind. Let’s get to the Hilux’s territory:
Off-road is where the pick-up feels pretty much at home and naturally comfortable, not because it can demolish everything at speed (it can’t, obviously) 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 very 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. I have not expected the Hilux to be that entertaining on gravel and even in snowy conditions. Driving on snow and ice wasn’t an obstacle at all. The car felt predictable. Overall, the Hilux provides some proper vibes that you’re driving an undestroyable car.
If things do get a bit gnarlier, you’ve also got switchable 4WD (possible to switch during driving up to 100km/h), 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 ton and towing capacity up to 3.5 tons. My overall average fuel consumption was approximately 10.5 liters of Diesel on 100km. Which, I don’t know, somehow left me with mixed feelings because most of the distances were motorways.
What should I buy?
I must admit that the Hilux is a proper offroad vehicle with great capabilities and functions that work flawlessly. It truly gets you almost everywhere.
But honestly, I got mixed feelings after I brought the Hilux back to Toyota Switzerland’s HQ. The GR Sport pretends to be a sporty pick-up truck. While it isn’t properly. It became more some sort of a lifestyle car.
Therefore, I can’t see much sense in a pick-up purchase unless you need to carry heavy stuff and drive through tough terrain on daily basis and need a proper workhorse. In this case, go for the base Hilux, maybe with the 2.8 Diesel instead of the 2.4-liter Diesel engine to get more power. Same counts for camper builds. In any other imaginable case, I can’t see any reasons for buying a pick-up. Even less for more-or-less 50’000 Swiss Francs as a new car.
To end my review on the 2023 Toyota Hilux GR Sport a wanted to thank Toyota Switzerland for a very refreshing offroad experience. I had loads of fun creating very different content than usual. The Hilux left me with good memories.