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Car reviews - Toyota - Hilux - GR Sport


We like
Improved engine output, suspension manners, uprated off-road capabilities, sporty frontal styling and interior design flourishes, improved front seat shoulder support
Room for improvement
Uneasy transmission calibration, no standard tonneau cover or damped tailgate, lacks modernity and technology offerings found in some direct rivals, ACC doesn’t brake downhill

Toyota’s tough truck picks up where the HiLux Rugged-X left off

21 Sep 2023



UNLESS you’ve been living under a rock, you’d know that the Toyota HiLux is one of Australia’s best-selling vehicles, vying month after month with the Ford Ranger for top rung of the new car sales ladder.


You’d also know that Ford, Toyota, and others have increasingly expanded their light commercial utility ranges to incorporate variants that suit specific lifestyles – giving them a pivotal advantage in this hard-fought segment.


Case in point the newly introduced Toyota HiLux GR Sport (from $73,990 plus on-road costs).


Based on the wide-body HiLux Rogue, the Thai-built/Aussie-engineered and enhanced variant directly challenges the Ford Ranger Wildtrak X, sitting above the Rogue in Toyota’s increasingly top-heavy workhorse portfolio.


And while the dual-cab, four-wheel drive ute segment isn’t a two-horse race, it is worth noting that Ford and Toyota lead the competition by a significant share, offering a greater level of choice for Aussie buyers, irrespective of how they intend on using their purchase.


The new HiLux GR Sport four-wheel drive variant brings what Toyota says is a “raft of mechanical and visual upgrades” to its best-seller. It is likely to be the second last in a series of enhanced N80-series HiLux models before the next-generation model arrives in 2025 – and is one that will be joined by a 48-volt mild hybrid offering early next year.


The GR Sport introduces the most powerful diesel engine yet offered under the bonnet of a HiLux, with the existing 2.8-litre four-cylinder unit retuned to deliver a claimed 165kW/550Nm – or 15kW/50Nm more than its derivative. An Aisin-sourced six-speed automatic transmission is the only option available.


It’s a fair nudge over the Ranger Wildtrak X and its 154kW/500Nm twin-turbocharged 2.0-litre diesel ‘four’ (from $75,990 +ORC) but not as punchy as the V6-powered Ranger line-up, twin-turbo-petrol Ranger Raptor, or indeed the V6 turbo-diesel-powered Volkswagen Amarok with 184kW/600Nm (also from $75,990 +ORC).


Riding on the same wide-track platform as the HiLux Rogue, the GR Sport offers a similar 15mm increase in ride height, a frontal track increase of 135mm and rear track increase of 155mm.


Changes to the suspension arrangement include a “different” front coil and rear leaf tune to the Rogue, as well as KYB-sourced monotube dampers featuring a larger diameter piston. Further, the removal of the rear sway bar “promotes greater axle articulation and ground contact over uneven surfaces”, Toyota says.


As with the HiLux Rogue, the GR Sport features four-wheel disc brakes with four-piston calipers up front. The calipers are finished in red for “an extra visual effect”. The HiLux GR Sport further includes 265/65 Bridgestone Dueler A/T rubber on Dakar-style 17-inch alloys (a one-inch reduction from the Rogue).


A bespoke blackened grille with T-O-Y-O-T-A lettering, a redesigned front bumper cover that improves the model’s approach angle, new fog light bezels and a silver-coloured lower moulding that sits above a “uniquely developed” bash plate are also unique to the GR Sport variant.


Elsewhere, we find oversized fender extensions in black with aero ducts up front, while between the arches, the top-shelf HiLux features powder-coated heavy-duty rock rails to help protect the sills from impact – even when the vehicle is fully loaded.


At the rear, the toughened ‘Lux is characterised by red recovery points and a blackened rear bumper. Like the Rogue below it, the GR Sport also arrives as standard with a pre-installed towbar, tow ball and trailer wiring harness.


Open the driver’s door and the GR Sport reveals a sportier cabin than the Rogue, including a rally-inspired leather-wrapped steering wheel with transmission paddle shifts, red 12 o’clock marker and GR logo.


GR logos are also found on the front seats, which are uniquely upholstered in a mix of leather and suede, matched with grey stitch work and red seatbelts. Other inclusions are aluminium pedals, Technical Mesh dashboard ornamentation, and the nine-speaker JBL-sourced audio system also found in the HiLux Rouge.


Importantly, the Toyota HiLux GR Sport maintains the 3500kg braked towing capacity offered elsewhere in the range (and 780kg of payload). However, and like most utes offered in the Australian market, the towing capacity must be reduced when carrying a full complement of passengers and/or cargo – or vice versa (according to our calculations, the model may only carry 84kg of passenger and cargo weight when towing at the maximum limit).


The variant is offered with the same standard safety features as found on the five-star ANCAP rated HiLux Rogue and SR5. However, it will not be assessed separately by ANCAP Safety meaning the Gazoo Racing HiLux is essentially “unrated”.


Toyota’s local boss says customers understand both the model’s relationship with the Rogue and the safety equipment offered…


Toyota Australia is set to offer the HiLux GR Sport from this month (September) with a choice of five body colours: Glacier White, Frosted White, Stunning Silver, Eclipse Black and Feverish Red. Glacier White and Feverish Red hues are offered optionally with a black-painted roof.


The importer says it already has 1600 solid orders for the HiLux GR Sport and expects to sell around 3500 units before the end of the calendar year.


Driving Impressions


If you were to make your purchasing decision on looks alone, we reckon the HiLux GR Sport would be sold in an instant.


From its widened stance to its sporting fascia, its beefy guards and aggressive wheel/tyre package, and even the use of softer materials and sporting red-on-black cabin décor, the HiLux GR Sport is a looker that – despite its age – still holds its own against segment rivals.


But of course, you simply can’t buy a ute on looks alone. Vehicles like the HiLux are built to do a job and must be as useful around town as they are in the country, while also being able to haul a load, tow a trailer, carry passengers, and perform effortlessly off the beaten track.


If you want the abridged version of this review, the ability for the HiLux GR Sport to manage all the above with absolute ease is as follows: tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, and tick. If you prefer the nitty gritty, read on.


Like the Rogue, the HiLux GR Sport offers a more stable feel at higher speeds and is surprisingly agile, tackling pockmarked sealed roads and unsealed tracks as easily as it does the urban blacktop.


There’s a distinct difference in the spring rate and KYB monotube shocks when sampled back-to-back against the Rogue that makes the GR Sport a joy to drive, shall we say, more spiritedly.


Interestingly, while the removal of the rear sway bar was (and does) intended to improve wheel articulation of the HiLux’s leaf sprung rear off-road, it also gives the GR Sport a different attitude to corner entry.


While theoretically the HiLux should present more understeer with its rear sway bar removed, we found the vehicle to be very neutral front to rear, holding its line steadfastly when pushed, even on gravel roads.


The wheel and tyre package offered helps considerably here too, biting more aggressively into the loose stuff to reduce the tendency to oversteer.


In keeping the vehicle capable in the range of duties it is expected to perform – and in sampling them all on launch – we found the chassis set-up to be a near ideal all-rounder. It stops and steers well on the black top while maintaining a level of communication that inspires confidence in a range of conditions.


On dirt, the ride is expectedly firm when empty but sweetens with a load on the back; and with a trailer in tow keeps an even attitude, helping to negate that nasty sensation of the tail wagging the dog.


We drove the HiLux GR Sport on an extended loop at full capacity with a full 3500kg on the hitch and were impressed with the stability at 90km/h, in corners and under braking. The four-piston calipers remain positive in long descents and provide wonderful feedback for soft stops.


The GR Sport uses discs all-round, the rotor diameter measuring 338mm front and 312mm rear.


Yes, the 1GD-FTV engine does struggle to get the GR Sport up to speed with that much weight in tow, even with more power and torque at hand, but excusing the very torquiest competitors in this segment, we suspect the HiLux isn’t Robinson Crusoe there (it is also worth noting that fuel consumption doubled to 20.3 litres per 100km when towing 3500kg braked).


Hey, at least Toyota Australia was ballsy enough to let journos sample their ute with a proper load behind. Kudos.


The HiLux’s hydraulically assisted steering responds with fluidity and is weighty enough to deliver purposeful feedback to the driver. Despite an increase in track, the turning circle of the GR Sport remains a competitive 12.6m at the tyre (or 13.4m at the body) and with 3.3 turns of the ‘wheel from lock to lock.


We found the HiLux GR Sport to be quite manoeuvrable in the tricky stuff with only a few Austin Powers moments when tackling tight switchbacks. Obstacle clearance wasn’t really a bother, with adequate ground clearance (265mm) and decent off-road geometry (30º approach/23º departure) allowing us to clamber over deeply rutted sections of forestry road with little fuss.


The inclusion of paddle shifters really helps in better utilising the Aisin transmission’s six ratios, especially off-road. While the HiLux’s auto falls a few cogs short of its newest rivals, it remains a well sorted transmission that rarely flares and provides a decent ratio spread for heavier work.


Interestingly, the recalibration of the automatic transmission – matching that 10 per cent increase in power and torque – feels a little overdone, shifting overzealously when descending hills between sixth and fourth, even without the cruise control activated.


The adaptive cruise control system on the current HiLux also fails to brake when headed downhill, meaning a watchful eye is needed on the speedo in undulating terrain. This isn’t peculiar to the GR Sport and is something we’d be keen to see Toyota address, particularly when viewing variants like the Rogue and GR Sport alongside similarly priced models from Ford and Volkswagen, for instance.


It is a point that is also true of the HiLux’s (lack of) off-road driving modes. While for the most part I personally find electronic settings an unnecessary distraction, the availability of such systems to buyers arguing the toss between it and the Ranger (or Amarok) is a point we feel places the Toyota at a disadvantage – especially when you consider the vehicle’s antiquated lane keeping system, less advanced adaptive cruise control, and unavailable Matrix headlights, wireless phone charger, damped tailgate, tonneau cover and so on…


That said, we really appreciate the more analogue feel of the HiLux and, based on its sales figures, assume a lot of others do as well. It remains a capable and confident four-wheel drive utility that still stacks up well against a growing number of rivals – and is now better matched to the wants and needs of Aussie buyers than it has been for quite some time.


Sure, it’s not as, umm, rugged looking as the Rugged-X, but it is a lot more pleasant to live with – and even more capable. Whether you buy it on looks alone, or because of everything else, it’s a safe bet you won’t be disappointed.

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