Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

No need to reinvent the wheel

The competition within the bakkie market has been spiking recently, with the introduction of the all-new Ford Ranger and the imminent arrival of the Volkswagen Amarok. Toyota’s answer to this renewed onslaught on its rule of the bakkie roost comes in the form of the formidable Hilux GR-S. Anton Willemse Jnr recently put it through its paces.

Toyota is well known for its special-edition Hiluxes, which the brand cleverly introduces whenever it wants to boost a new facelift or give its customers a little more bang for their buck. The goal of these special editions has always been to enhance the platform’s best features while adding a generous dollop of coolness to the mix. A great example of such a special edition was my dad’s much-loved scarlet red double cab 3.0 D-4D Legend 45.

I drove that bakkie to school on my last day in matric, only two days after getting my license. I pulled up in the schoolyard with my arm firmly rested on the door panel and the window wide open, feeling like the coolest kid on the block. That was a few years ago and I have driven many a Hilux since, but not one has ever felt as cool as that trusty Legend 45. That is until I got behind the wheel of the new Hilux GR-Sport.

Special styling

The key to any special edition vehicle is that it should look… well… special. It should be a head turner, and the Toyota Hilux GR-Sport certainly is. It is based on the Raider derivative and the most striking feature is the large black grille and the bold Toyota lettering and GR logo. As for the rest of the Hilux, it’s pretty much standard Hilux but with some extra bits – such as fender flares and a steel rock slider – to distinguish it from the pack. A roll bar and tonneau cover are also standard.

In addition to all the new features, the GR-S also sports a brand-new and exclusive set of 17” alloy wheels. The smaller rim means larger side walls, which translates into a more offroad- orientated look while improving ride comfort. However, I would have preferred more aggressive tyres than the almost highway-spec Dunlop AT3s, which are standard on all Hilux models. It would have made the bakkie even more handsome, while providing great off-road performance. I do like the wheels though.

A cabin to match

For years I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Toyota’s interiors. They never felt as special as they could be, never like a true reflection of the exterior. They also felt a bit bland. That’s okay, though, because what they lacked in style they made up for in functionality and ease of use. The GR-Sport retains this unrivalled functionality but takes aesthetics up a notch or two. One of the more prominent elements is the GR- embroidered and Alcantara lined seats, which also feature a touch of red stitching.

The driving position is surprisingly good for a bakkie, and the electric seat allows you to adjust it to your liking. Adding to the driving experience is the new leather-bound multi-function steering wheel, which also sports the sexy GR logo.

The analogue instrument cluster is my favourite design element of the entire cabin. It reminds me of a racing chronograph watch. The sporty theme continues throughout the interior and includes spots of carbon balanced with red accents. It strikes the perfect balance of sporty, stylish and functional, and it does make the GR-Sport feel like a bespoke sports car.

Performance to back the looks

The Hilux GR-S doesn’t only look fast, it also has the performance figures to back it up. In 2021 Toyota updated the GD-6 Hilux platform, and one of the critical changes was the power boost of 20kW to 150kW and an upgrade in torque of 50Nm to 500Nm. That was then… this is now…

The Hilux now has even more power on tap. It has received an additional 15kW for a total of 165 kW, and the torque has also been increased for a total of 550Nm. That might not seem like a lot, but it translates into more than a half-a-second drop in the 0-100km/h sprint time. The bakkie feels more eager, almost nippy. It won’t be able to compete with something like the V6 Amarok, but it is on par with its leading competitor, the Ford Ranger, especially the bi-turbo variants.

Toyota has also improved the programming of the six-speed automatic. However, it still feels unsure at times, especially if you have more of an aggressive driving style, but you can always override it with the new paddles behind the steering wheel. You can also shuffle through three modes: Normal, Sport and Eco. I enjoyed the Eco mode as the throttle feels stiffer, and the steering is less direct, so it works well for a more laid-back style of driving. The Sport mode does the opposite. It makes the throttle more sensitive and the steering heavier and more direct.

You might expect the additional power to have a negative effect on fuel consumption, but I managed 10.3 litres/100km, which is very similar to what I got with the Legend RS.

I must admit that the additional power was a very welcome addition, but I didn’t expect the improved handling and ride comfort. The front suspension felt more responsive, generating plenty of confidence on both tar and gravel. This has a slight effect on comfort, but it’s not a bone rattler.

Keeping everyone safe

The GR-S has all the standard active and passive safety features found across the Hilux range, and then some. This includes Toyota Safety Sense (TSS), which offers Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Alert (LDA) and Pre-Collision System (PCS). Obviously, it also has ABS, VSC, EBD, Hill Assist Control (HAC) and Brake Assist.

The price is right

One would expect this new variant to be the new range-topper for the Hilux line-up to break the bank, but it surprisingly doesn‘t. It comes in at R891 400, less than the Legend RS. The price includes a nine-services/90 000km service plan and a three-year/100 000km warranty.

The verdict

The GR-S is a very competitive offering. It feels fresh and new, but most importantly, it truly feels like a special edition. It’s a great blend of style and luxury while remaining practical and familiar, a prime example of what makes the Hilux great. Toyota has proven, once again, that it doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel to stay relevant.

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