Auto Review: Why Toyota Hilux GR Sport is rough and ready for the road

The souped-up pickup truck from Toyota is dressed to get dirty

By George Kuruvilla

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Published: Mon 8 Jan 2024, 6:53 PM

Last updated: Mon 8 Jan 2024, 7:21 PM

The Toyota Hilux, as most of us know it, is a utility-based pickup truck that we’ve seen for years servicing construction sites and traversing the roads carrying equipment and stock. But today we review an almost-unexpected variant of a reliable workhorse, the Toyota Hilux GR Sport. The GR Sport is the Hilux’s alter ego designed to capture the growing lifestyle market. With its stylistic edge and mechanical upgrades, it is intended to take on the dunes with as much enthusiasm as it has for duty. Let’s have a closer look at it.

Design and aesthetics

The GR Sport is a sizeable truck. Think of it as a Fortuner SUV with that high-riding stance and a flat bed at the rear that pushes its length to 5,320mm. That’s longer than Land Cruiser! If it passes by, trust me, you won’t miss it. It’s got the look. And much has to do with its colour scheme. The exterior of our test vehicle is embellished with the tasteful application of dual-tone vinyl at the door bottoms. The whole ensemble has the ability to catch one's attention without screaming for it. And so, it passes the vanity test, even as a pickup truck, in a city that thrives on glitz and glamour.

As for details, the powerful LED headlamp clusters sharply taper to the centre where sits the 3D trademarked front grille. Below the grille is a specially designed front bumper with a beefy skid plate under it to protect it from bricks and sticks. The wide arch extensions have also been fitted on, to accommodate the wide 265mm wide. Although the alloy sizes have been downsized to 17 inches from 18 inches for the 2024 YM, the tyres they come wrapped in offer greater floatability over the sands. The “off-roady” design is also a big plus. Love it or loathe it, one thing is certain. You won’t confuse the GR Sport for anything else.

Over the years the cabin of the pickup truck has transitioned from being a mechanical control station with a roof over it to a more comfortable space and the Hilux GR Sport has adopted that trend effortlessly. It's not quite 'luxury' in here, but it’s certainly more SUV-like. The simple analogue instrument counters get a modern central digital display. It has an 8-inch infotainment screen that has appreciable graphics, with an array of physical buttons on either side which make it easy to engage even with gloves on. Even the long-armed stick shifts and the basic plastic steering wheel of pickups of old have gone. The GR Sport has a more ergonomic shift lever and a multi-function 3-spoke steering wheel wrapped in GR-Sport-specific leather wrappings with contrast stitching. The GR Sport goes further in sprucing up the interior with seat upholstery that is a mix of suede and faux leather.

Going beyond aesthetics, it serves our requirement for convenience by having a push-start button, an aptly located hazard button, and easily reachable physical A/C controls. Meanwhile, spatially, it is generous in the front cabin for both feet and arms, but the rear cabin did feel a tad short on knee space. But it works, just not as well as you’d want.

SPECIFICATIONS

Body type- 5-seater; 4-door mid-size pickup truck

Engine- Front-engine; 4.0-litre V6; four-wheel drive

Transmission - 6-speed automatic

Peak output - 235 bhp @ 5,200 rpm

- 375 Nm @ 3,800 rpm

0 to 100km/h- sub-8 seconds (estimated)

Top speed- 180kmh (drag limited; estimated)

Price- Dh169,900

Powertrain and performance

The regular Hilux gets either a low-displacement petrol or diesel engine, but not the GR Sport. This one wants to take the fight to the big guns. And Toyota has gone about it smartly, by keeping it simple. Bolted under the hood is a familiar, but potent 4.0L, 6-cylinder, V-TYPE (1GR-FE) with 24 valves. This tried-and-tested motor has found application in many other Toyota vehicles and rightfully so. Coupled with it is a 6-speed automatic transmission, again a safe and reliable option. Where the numbers matter, it produces 235 metric horses at an accessible 5,200rpm at the crank and a max. torque of 375Nm. Not too shabby, I’d say!

On the road, the high-riding GR Sport towers over almost everything giving you a free view of the road ahead and its surroundings, which certainly comes in handy especially while off-roading. Granted, it isn’t a bullet on wheels. If you stomp the throttle, it doesn’t throw you back into your seat like some of its turbocharged rivals, but it moves with a purpose making traffic stop getaways and highway overtaking manoeuvres easy. I believe the claimed number for the sprint to the 100kmh from a standstill is a respectable 8 seconds and I don’t doubt that.

And while it has been made sufficiently civilized for everyday motoring, it’s a bit “truckish”. There is a certain amount of road and wind noise that creeps into the cabin and the ride is surprisingly stiff. It isn’t bone-crushing, but it's not as plush as the ride height suggests.

It's when you go beyond the tarmac that it comes to its own. We didn’t get the opportunity to take it deep into the desert, but with every sandy outing, our trust in the GR Sport’s off-roading capabilities got further fortified. The 323mm grand clearance and groovy tyres ensure you skim over the sand with ease. And those who have a deeper sense of adventure know that GR Sport has been given suspension and steering revisions to help negotiate the toughest of terrains. It is also equipped with switchable four-wheel drive – the crux of its mechanical motivation – and an automatic limited-slip differential that improves its on-road ride and handling and its off-road controllability.

As for fuel economy, the V6 isn’t especially known for its efficiency but the 80-litre tank will take you to your destination and back worry-free.

Features and practicality

For something that is 'just' a pickup truck, it does come with plenty of conveniences and features to help satiate the regular traveller. It comes equipped with a 6-speaker audio system that won’t disappoint, a wireless charger for your phone, and a dual-zone air conditioner.

As for purposes of off-roading, it also comes equipped with downhill assist control system which helps the vehicle maintain a constant low speed when descending a steep hill; and Active Traction Control (A-TRAC) that detects and automatically applies the brakes to the wheel with no traction, which then helps transfer power to the wheel with traction propelling the vehicle forward. It is also equipped with Hill Start Assist.

Also, to be noted is that the GR Sport comes with a rear bed-liner as standard as well as a rear-view camera, parking sensors, and an on-board air compressor. If anything was amiss, the loading bed isn’t the largest. But that isn’t a deal breaker for a lifestyle vehicle, is it?

Verdict

The Toyota Hilux GR Sport is a souped-up workhorse from the brand that manufacturers possibly the world’s most reliable vehicles. It is not a sophisticated off-roader with gimmicky electronics and an overly inflated price tag that would make one dread the proposition of a dune-bashing session. Instead, it's quite the opposite. It is a back-to-basics off-roader that is plenty capable in the dirt, one that will continue to serve you for years to come…with the advantage of furniture-hauling capabilities.

GOOD - Rugged exterior; potent powertrain; reliability, functionality; off-roading prowess

BAD - Relatively unknown; stiff ride; rear quarters is tad cramped.

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