The GR Sport is the toughest, torquiest, and most expensive Toyota HiLux yet. Just how well does it live up to that price tag, and that prodigious badge?

The Toyota HiLux is one of Australia’s most popular vehicles, scoring second-place in overall sales last year and topping the charts for seven years prior. However, there’s no escaping the fact that the venerable brand-name ute is feeling outdated and outclassed next to a slew of newer rivals. Keep in mind that this eighth-gen HiLux has been around since 2015, while the top-selling Ford Ranger launched in late 2022 and an all-new Mitsubishi Triton launched just this year.

While there have been a few facelifts and minor updates in that time and there’s an industry-first 48V mild hybrid model around the corner, one thing that was lacking from the range until last year was a proper beefed-up off-road performance variant that could give the HiLux a chance against the likes of the Ford Ranger Raptor, Nissan Navara PRO-4X Warrior, and new Mazda BT-50 Thunder Pro.

Cue the GR Sport. With the idea and its development led by Toyota’s Australian team, the aim was to add some of the essence of the brand’s Dakar Rally-winning HiLux to the road-going model, without going quite as far as the Ranger Raptor in terms of performance upgrades. The price of entry? $74,310 before on-road costs, placing it right in the middle of the aforementioned competition.

Toyota is quick to point out that the Raptor isn’t this GR Sport’s main competition, though, and it’s a fair call to make considering this makes do with an uprated version of the HiLux’s four-pot diesel rather than the Ford’s twin-turbocharged petrol V6. However, there are some similarities when it comes to the enhanced off-road abilities of this range-topping HiLux.

To address the obvious up front, the mother of all wide-body kits has been fitted, with its massive flared arches being accompanied by massive track width increases of 135mm at the front and 155mm on the rear axle. There’s also a 20mm increase in ground clearance to take it to 265mm, front and rear vented disc brakes, new KYB monotube shock absorbers, smaller 17-inch alloy wheels, and a bespoke front bumper design which is more aerodynamic. Add that all up, and it looks pretty tough, although a sports bar or sail plane would add some much-needed intrigue to the rear.

There are also a few locally-developed and fitted features on Australian models, including a front skid plate, rock sliders along the door sills, and 20mm steel recovery points. A tow bar is also included as standard although a Redarc electric brake controller is an optional extra, while a GR-branded plastic tray liner is also standard.

Inside, the changes aren’t exactly revolutionary, although a lot of nice-to-haves are now incorporated. That includes specific GR-branded seats with red stitching, red seatbelts for a splash of colour, a clearly tacked-in JBL audio system, and a GR-branded perforated leather steering wheel with a set of paddle shifters on the back. Mind you, it doesn’t have a proper manual mode, but instead places an upper limit on which gear you’re in – so if you’re in ‘S3’, it will still use first, second, and third, but not fourth or above.

Given the HiLux’s age, the cabin ergonomics aren’t on quite the same level as those of its newer rivals such as the D-Max, Ranger, and Triton, and the limited reach adjustment of the steering wheel made it challenging for me to find the ideal driving position as someone whose height is in their legs. The cabin materials – outside of the new Alcantara seats which feel straight out of a GR Corolla or Yaris – are also lagging behind, with its harsh plastics serving as a reminder of its tradie-spec origins. It’s also still quite noisy inside the cabin when you’re on the move.

Fortunately, visibility is good considering the GR Sport’s substantial width, although it certainly comes close to maxing-out the limited sizing of standard Australian car parking spots. Do also consider that there’s no standard tonneau cover like on other HiLux variants such as the equally-wide Rogue, so this is clearly a variant built for fun rather than grocery shopping.

Despite the extra width, the HiLux GR Sport’s tray remains unchanged, measuring in at 1569mm long, 1645mm wide with 1109mm between the wheel arches, and 470mm deep. Do also keep in mind that it tips the scales at a hefty 2270kg, so payload is limited to 780kg due to its GVM rating of 3050kg. Maximum braked towing capacity remains unchanged at 3500kg, although its GCM is also quite limited at 5850kg.

Considering the extra weight and the pedigree that comes with that GR badge, some extra power was certainly in order. Thankfully, Toyota has turned up the wick on its 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel engine, so it now manages to produce 165kW at 3000rpm and 550Nm from 1600-2800rpm – both noteworthy increases of 15kW and 50Nm over other automatic 2.8-litre models.

Speaking of, an Aisin six-speed automatic transmission is standard on the GR Sport, with it having been recalibrated for this uprated engine tune, as is part-time four-wheel drive.

Thanks to that extra power, the HiLux GR Sport feels a lot more spritely next to the rest of the competition, particularly considering the unchanged power outputs of the Navara Warrior and BT-50 Thunder. Sure, it’s no Ranger Raptor when it comes to straight line performance, but this tuned oiler has good initial pickup and a strong mid-range which makes it far more pleasant to drive as it can be worked less hard. The even gearing of the Aisin transmission also helps bring the best out of it. Mind you, there is plenty of engine noise to contend with even in the middle of the rev range as it’s quite a gruff-sounding thing.

Most impressive to me is the improvement in ride quality thanks to its uprated shock absorbers. There’s still quite a bit of firmness to the springs themselves, but there’s more composure when it comes to ironing out smaller bumps and the rebound from larger ones. Having four-wheel disc brakes also adds some confidence considering the GR Sport’s heft, and the new stoppers work well.

Since it wears all-terrain rubber rather than all-out mud-terrain tyres, it still handles fairly well without as much complaining from the tyres as you might expect should you hurl it at some corners. However, its steering still lets it down in this regard. With the HiLux still utilising hydraulic assistance, it feels slow and heavy, requiring far more input than the variable ratio electric-assisted steering racks in newer utes.

There is some benefit to this steering when you’re off-roading, though, and particularly if you’re a bit of a novice. The HiLux does a particularly good job of letting you know just what’s going on underneath you, meaning you’re not second-guessing each manoeuvre or turn of the wheel you make. Given its ground clearance, the only real thing to worry about is the flared arches, although they’re still black plastic for a reason. At higher speeds on gravel, it does feel surprisingly tail-happy even with H4 engaged, although it feels easy to control given its track width and wheelbase. Really, this thing will have little trouble tackling the tracks most buyers would ever pit it up against.

All told, though, there’s not a huge difference between this and a regular HiLux when it comes to the driving experience. Rather, it feels like the most full realisation of this platform and engine, with the measured improvements in performance and ride quality helping it feel more refined than any other HiLux I’ve tested yet. Granted, its age prevents it from feeling as refined as some rivals, but Toyota has done what it needed to in this department.

Despite the extra power and weight, this engine is still quite economical which has long been one of the HiLux’s strengths. After my 805km of testing, I saw a verified return of 9.9L/100km (while the trip computer indicated 9.4L/100km) relative to its 8.4L/100km claim.

As with all Toyota models, the HiLux GR Sport is covered by a standard five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, and so long as you service it on time – whether at a Toyota dealer or not – you’ll get seven-year coverage for the drivetrain.

Unfortunately, though, the HiLux still suffers from short and less convenient six-month/10,000km service intervals. There’s also only capped pricing for the first three years or 60,000km, and even at a reasonable $280 per visit, that adds up quickly to $560 per year which is more than many rivals.

On one hand, the HiLux GR Sport looks menacing, performs well, and handles any off-road terrain confidently. On the other, it’s expensive to buy, costly and inconvenient to service, outdated inside, and still somewhat lacking dynamically in terms of on-road performance.

Considering the age of the vehicle Toyota has conjured this up out of, it has done a solid job of making the right changes to fulfil the brief. The retuned powertrain and reworked suspension certainly bring with them a worthwhile – if admittedly minor – improvement.

Think not of it as a Raptor rival, and it makes the most sense. Relative to other beefed-up utes which leave the engine unchanged, this is a better blueprint for how it should be done. Of course, the HiLux is let down in some areas by its age, and there’s no denying Toyota should have added this to the range much sooner than it did, but with it finally here, it serves as a worthwhile flagship for a model that ought be replaced soon.

2024 Toyota HiLux GR Sport List Price: $74,310
  • 8/10
    Performance - 8/10
  • 7.5/10
    Ride & Handling - 7.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Tech & Features - 7.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Practicality - 7.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Value for Money - 7.5/10

Pros: Retuned powertrain adds some much-needed zest, capable and confident off-road, improved ride quality compared to regular models, looks the part
Cons: Limited payload and GCM, interior feels outdated and agricultural in areas, noisy engine and cabin, no sports bar or tonneau cover as standard

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Toyota Australia for one week with all fuel expenses covered.

Patrick Jackson
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