Toyota GR Hilux

The dual cab you've always wanted

There was a buzz in the Toyota hallways and lunchrooms; rumour was there could be an addition to the already impressive Hilux line up. And this time, it wasn’t just a clever marketing promotional refresh. This time, it was going to be special.

I can only imagine the energy and enthusiasm with everyone eager to make their mark on the final outcome – and nudging the finance department aside with a firm “Thanks, but we’ve got this.”

Can you imagine the design team’s brainstorming session? Multiple conversations at once; suggestions, ideas and sketches bounce back and forth across the long table. Everyone raising the volume to get their opinion heard on how to achieve Toyota’s intransigent and succinct brief; the new Hilux must turn heads and spark passionate interest among existing and potential Hilux owners nationwide.

Then the newest team member, who’s been quietly sitting at the back, tentatively raises a hand and patiently waits until finally the team lead looks over their oval-shaped glasses and snaps, “Yes, what is it?”

“Um, why don’t we send a Hilux to Toyota GR special branch?   Won’t they be able to create a rugged Hilux designed for true all-terrain performance?  And give it an awesome GR look that hints at amazing on and off-road adventure.”

As silence falls across the room and the team leader smiles, there are gaping mouths and blank stares everywhere. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

Well, that decision turned out to be a solid move on Toyota’s part, you see it just so happened that Toyota Gazoo Racing (GR special branch as I like to call them) already had a Hilux of their own, and they’d been having a little play and making a few tweaks, but not quite what you might expect. You see, GR’s Hilux was a racing thoroughbred! And this test vehicle directly influenced the engineering and design behind the GR Hilux as the perfect successor to the Rugged X.

What better place to start than with the expertise and extensive knowledge gained by GR having tortured, broken, rebuilt, blown up, improved and redesigned just about every component in the vehicle in brutal and arduous conditions?

All to achieve the level of endurance and reliability that enabled professional race car drivers Nasser Al-Attiyah and co-driver Mathieu Baumel to pilot the Hilux to dominate the 2016 and 2017 FIA Cross Country Rally World Cup championships, culminating in a triumph at the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia in 2019. Refusing to rest on past achievement, this dynamic team leveraged the Hilux’s tenacity and continued to push its endurance even further to secure impressive back-to-back wins at the Dakar in 2022 and January of this year.

With such a strong proven and reliable base to leverage, the idea seemed obvious and straightforward: develop a superior road-registered version of the GR Hilux with enhanced off-road capabilities and rewarding dynamics through responsive handling and engine performance to improve daily driver enjoyment.

Sounds simple enough, but it would be no small feat for the GR engineering team, given that Toyota Australia placed several caveats on the project, refusing to compromise capability for towing strength and safety, while retaining a respectable payload for a performance orientated on road vehicle, yet sacrifice nothing of the Hilux’s well regarded off-road capabilities.

They were adamant from the get-go, insisting that any changes to the base Hilux formula should not adversely affect or impact the vehicle’s reliability and durability.

Over two long and arduous years, Toyota Australia’s vehicle evaluation division put the Hilux GR Sport through extensive testing. 

The vehicle covered a gruelling 100,000km at Toyota’s facility in Anglesea, Victoria. With plenty of rigorous real-world testing, from the torque sapping and driveline crucifying sand dunes of SA to the hot, dry and dusty desert regions near Mildura, and the thick mud, slush and cold temperatures of the Victorian high country -guaranteed to scare the daylights out of any traction control system.

Additionally, the vehicle was put through repeated laborious towing challenges over extended distances, with varying terrain from long steep hills to flat plains. And, as part of its global development program, altitude testing was also carried out in Argentina under extreme conditions. The final test mules enduring many driving styles and demands to survive being driven like they’d been stolen.

Those well tested and brutally punished enhancements included changes to suspension, with engine and driveline upgrades, along with additional modifications to protect the underbody. All confirming Toyota’s determination to deliver a Hilux that could not only walk the talk but hold its ground in a strongly competitive market.

The prestigious GR insignia gracing the Supra, 86 and Corolla confirms the sophisticated design and engineering expertise built into this latest Hilux. And it’s not all below the skin as this latest Hilux boasts a tough and attractive exterior, courtesy of the collaborative efforts between Toyota’s Design team at Altona and TDEM (Toyota Daihatsu Engineering Manufacturing) in Bangkok. With both improved performance and stylish branding, the Hilux is likely to broaden its appeal beyond the existing die-hard fan base right across the dual cab market.

The difficult choice is which colour option suits you best. Could that be Glacier White, or Frosted White? How about muscular Eclipse Black or the striking Feverish Red? It always looked appealing on our test vehicle, regardless of whether it was clean on departing the driveway or when it came back drenched in mud from a day of testing.

Alternatively, you could add a little individual touch by selecting the option for a two-tone look with a black roof paired to either Glacier White, Frosted White or Feverish Red.

The GR’s tough truck aesthetic is stamped with distinctive gloss black badging, door handles, and exterior mirrors, giving it a rugged and durable appearance.

Easily noticeable on the GR is its wide and commanding stance, achieved through a 15mm increase in ride height. This height adjustment is accompanied by a considerable boost in track width, reaching 135mm at the front and an impressive 155mm at the rear.

To accommodate these changes, the GR boasts large dark grey over-fenders to house its 265/65R17 Bridgestone Dueler all-terrain tires, which are neatly fitted onto sleek gloss black 17-inch alloys.

Peeking through these wheels are eye-catching bright red brake calipers proudly displaying the GR logo.

Emblazoned in bold silver lettering, the word “Toyota” adorns a sleek black grille embellished with the striking GR mesh design and logo. This spacious opening serves to cool the powerful 1GD-FTV turbo-diesel engine effectively, even during strenuous pulling tasks.

Enhancing the rugged aesthetic of this GR, sleek black winglets extend outward from the grille, creating a distinctive ledge under the menacing darkened headlights. The lower bumper boasts striking design elements in silver and dark grey, which not only add to its handsome appearance but also improve its off-roading capabilities with a wedge-shaped design. These seamlessly integrate with the fender flares and feature futuristic fog lights, while also creating a smooth transition to the external shoulder that houses the aerodynamic ducts near the fog light bezel, reducing turbulence around the front wheel arches.

The newly designed skid plate, situated beneath the front bumper, is constructed from 4mm-thick pressed and laser-cut aluminium alloy with a matte silver powder-coating for added durability and sleek appearance.

It proved effective as it crossed a steep dry creek bed, with the plate smoothly brushing against the gravel upon exit.

Knowing that safety system compatible protection has been built into the design to protect the components behind provides comforting reassurance when hitting the gnarlier tracks.

It’s great to see that the GR badge is a sign of serious business. Instead of the usual side steps for looks, there are heavy-duty rock rails that are the real deal! And let me tell you, they’re impressive. Made from 2mm-thick steel tube and coated in durable black powder, they can hold a fully loaded Toyota thanks to the 350MPa grade steel used for the underbody square tube and mounting points.

The step bumper at the back allows for effortless access to the rear tub, which features a five-piece black liner and a branded headboard with ‘GR’ logo. The floor is designed to prevent slipping, and built-in dividers help secure load separators for hassle-free packing of awkward or bulky items.

Ok, there is always room for improvement. It was disappointing to discover that the GR’s tail gate lacked a lift assist. It may sound lazy, but given it’s becoming increasingly common across the board, why hasn’t Toyota done the same? And while we’re on the topic of affordable luxuries, it would be nice to have a 12v socket for the car fridge and maybe a light as well.

However, hats off to Toyota for clever planning and avoiding unnecessary costly additions that many buyers don’t want.

Whether you want a soft tonneau cover, hard lid, canopy, sports bar or dust defence kit because of your daily gravel road commute, the decision should be yours. How many pricey chrome plated sports bars have you seen ditched in favour of a practical canopy or sturdy racking? Thanks for being smart, Toyota!

The tail gate includes a satisfactory reversing camera, but my biggest tick went to the striking red recovery points.

These are built with 20mm thick steel plate and a sturdy cross-sectional design, and have been proven to handle an 8,000kg snatch strap or 9,000lb winch. Impressive!

High tensile bolts securely attach them to the towbar, which is equipped with a tongue, tow ball, and wiring harness as part of the standard package, allowing for a maximum towing capacity of 3,500kg for braked trailers.

Open the door and you’ll find the standard Toyota Hilux layout—nothing unexpected or extensively updated. If you’ve owned a newer Hilux and are looking to upgrade, you’ll feel right at home as everything will be familiar to you, which is kinda nice, like pulling on a favourite, comfortable pair of jeans. Or, if this will be your first Hilux, the layout is well-designed and easy to navigate, making it easy for you to adjust and get comfortable.

For your hard-earned GR dollars, you’ll get GR surface treatments adding a touch of personalisation not found on other models.

The front sports seats are moderately bolstered, a practical approach for ingress and egress into a dual cab ute that requires a little leg up effort. Once you’re aboard, you’ve got a commanding view of your surroundings.

The seats are nicely wrapped in suede and leather, accented with contrasting grey stitching and the essential GR insignia on the headrests; this cabin has self-gratifying tactile and visual appeal about it. To complement the GR’s darker interior, they have changed the headliner to black, creating a sportier feel.

The driver’s seat is power-adjustable in eight ways, while both front seats come with heating capabilities. You can also expect go-fast red seatbelts, a sporty leather-clad steering wheel with paddle shifters, and toggle controls for audio, phone, vehicle settings, and cruise control.

Plus, you’ll notice a GR emblem at the bottom of the wheel and a red 12 o’clock marker.

The aluminium pedals add a nice touch to the overall design. And the trim pieces on the top of the dashboard and the doors have a funky appearance with a finish known as “Technical Mesh.” A refreshing change from the overdone trend of fake carbon fibre inlays. A purpose designed GR Sport shift lever and all-weather floor mats are also noteworthy additions, especially useful when walking through messy conditions. Drop a brand-new GR in the mud; sacré bleu… of course, we will!

The instrument cluster receives the GR treatment, sporting a distinctive start-up animation, and it’s backlit with a blue hue to match the other controls and interior lighting.

The infotainment system is via the floating 8.0-inch touchscreen, equipped with satellite navigation and the familiar AM, FM, and digital radio features. It also offers Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and voice recognition as standard.

In addition to standard features such as Hilux door pockets, bottle holder and coffee cup recesses, you also enjoy the convenience of those nifty coffee cup holders that pop out of the dash for driver and passenger, there’s dual zone climate control, a smart entry and start function, auto headlights with USB, and dual 12V accessory sockets with an additional AC220V socket.

Like many drivers, I enjoy listing to my favourite playlist while cruising the K’s away to my favourite holiday destination. But I’ve always found the audio systems in the Hilux a little underwhelming. In this GR, the audio quality has been enhanced by adding a nine-speaker JBL premium system, and there’s definitely improvement. However, if you’re enamoured of your mate’s GR L300 audio setup, this one might not meet your expectations. It seemed to require a good dose of additional treble, midrange, and bass adjustment to achieve a satisfactory sound. Based on the sound I’ve heard in other Toyotas, perhaps the Hilux cabin has poor acoustics that make it an audio challenge.

The GR Sport comes equipped with a standard panoramic view monitor, which allows owners to see their surroundings easily when manoeuvring into tight spaces. Which is also really handy on those tighter tracks when needing to thread yourself and your GR through overgrown bushes while minimising the pin striping on that flash Feverish Red duco. However, I overlooked the activation button located down by the driver’s knee, a little obscured from sight, as I assumed it would be accessible through the central touch screen, displaying the camera outputs like most vehicles. Doh!

But where the real magic comes together for the GR is in the driveline and suspension setup. Unequivocally, the GR drives better both on and off-road than any previous Hilux.

Starting with the power plant, Toyota turned their attention to the humble 2.8L. In the guise that sits in the Hilux Rogue, it churns out a very respectable 150kW and 500Nm of determination. But by changing the turbocharger’s delivery characteristics and fuel injection control through the dark art of ECU remapping, they have effectively unleashed a potent 165kW of urgency and sufficient torque to pull the door off a bank vault liberating no less than 550Nm of grunt from only 1,600rpm and pegging it there until you run north of 2,800rpm.

What’s that mean in real terms for on-road performance? The short version.

This is a Hilux with attitude!

Granted, its drinking habits are around 8.4L/100 but don’t expect that if you enjoy using the extra grunt. With a standard 80L on board, you should be good for around 900ks, but that will drop when hauling toys.

With that much forward go now readily available on tap, the six speed auto needed a little help to harness this GR’s newfound energy and gusto. A tweak here, a small enhancement there, plus a simple change in operating oil pressure control has seen shift speeds sharpen, allowing the Toyota boffins to take full advantage of the 2.8’s new capabilities by enhancing the shift characteristics for a crisper more responsive reaction to driver demand in either normal or sport mode.

The GR drives with an assertive confidence.

You rarely pull on its burly capability in daily driving, but if you need to, it will respond with authority. This is what the Hilux has been waiting for, it’s now got the performance to match its bold good looks. Good job!

With plenty of forward thrust to get the show on the road, it’s very reassuring to know the GR’s stopping power is courtesy of those bright red calipers we mentioned earlier. It’s a firm stop with four-piston fixed calipers at the front and large single-piston floating callipers at the rear, each of them capable of biting down hard on the sizable ventilated discs on all four corners.

But as I was to discover, the best was not just crisp potent engine performance … from the moment I pulled out of Toyota’s driveway, the change in ride quality was immediately apparent.

I was convinced the engineers had somehow replaced the old, outdated suspension system with memory foam!

Hit a bump in the road and it can be felt, but the cabin jarring jolt is subdued, the abrupt force encapsulated and quickly smothered as the suspension compresses and rebounds as though the shock absorbers were filled with honey.

The engineers must have spent days around the cauldron looking for incantations to get the suspension this good. Was it a total transformation to sports heaven? Of course not, but for an unladen dual cab ute with origins nearly back as far as Fred Flintstone. It was pretty darn close.

Technically, it’s all pretty simple and robustly reliable. Up front you’ve got double wishbone and a stabiliser bar, outback old-fashioned leaf springs and hang on… where’s the stabiliser bar?

Toyota has spent a considerable amount of time in recalibrating the front coils to get just the right amount of stiffness, to deliver well-mannered on road dynamics, allowing the front end to remain taut and responsive for cornering, without being so rigid that it crashes over bumps sending shock waves through the cabin. On the black top unladen this is an impressively smooth ride (for a vehicle in this class). On the open road at 110kph, the GR feels solidly planted and predictably responsive to even minor driver inputs.

The GR may not have the flexibility of a yoga instructor or the bragging rights of a highly modified after-market 6-inch lift kit.

But to give credit where due, the GR’s factory setup is supple enough to allow the suspension to stretch and compress for good wheel articulation, further helped by the absence of that rear sway bar impeding rear spring sag and compression.

Which effectively allowed us to keep the wheels in contact with terra firma for longer, assisting the GR’s well calibrated traction control system to make the rear diff lock look redundant for all but the most challenging of obstacles. Although I’d never underestimate its usefulness and necessity when the situation arises.

Toyota chose to install KYB mono tube type dampers with increased piston diameter for both the front and rear.

Tuned specifically to suit the Hilux GR Sport, the level of ride comfort and control over choppy surfaces is impressive, whist minimising the relentless vibrations in the cabin when traversing rough, secondary gravel roads.

It’s interesting to note that the OEM towbar also helps improve the torsional rigidity of the chassis, contributing to enhanced handling stability while maintaining its 3,500kg braked towing capacity.

Throughout the day the GR copped a beating… we threw it into dips, holes, slippery off camber corners, steep climbs and descents, bent it into awkward twisted angles contorting the suspension, bounced through deep wash outs, then splashed it through goop and muddy puddles and the GR just played through all of it. But the most noticeable impact and what left a delible impression on our opinion of the GR, was at the end of the day; after leaving the dust, ditches, slush, and rough surfaces behind us; the GR drove home like a well-mannered family daily driver.

When it comes to occupant safety, it’s a Hilux to its core. The GR Sport offers all the active safety technologies found in the Hilux Rogue. There’s Toyota Safety Sense4 Pre-collision system with day and night pedestrian and daytime cyclist detection, high-speed active cruise control, lane departure alert with steering assist, road-sign assist (speed signs only), blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert and panoramic view monitor—just remember to turn it on! You get two front and four rear parking sensors, ABS, vehicle stability and traction control, Toyota Connected Services, trailer sway control, downhill assist control, seven airbags, ID Box anti-theft immobilizer and two rear ISOFIX points.

As for protecting your new investment, you’re covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre Toyota Warranty Advantage. This is extended to seven years on engine and driveline when having it serviced by a registered Toyota dealer. And every new Hilux comes with capped price servicing of up to $290 per service up to 3 years or 60,000 kms, whichever comes first.

What can I say? It’s a Hilux.

Only this one’s better for all the right reasons and even if you’ve not before been a brand fan, then the GR Hilux is one dual cab you need to consider for pride of place in the driveway!

Vehicle: Toyota Hilux GR Sport

Price: $81,867 (at time of writing)

  • Options: Premium paint: $675 Two-tone: $1,000
  • Engine: 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
  • Output: 165kW/550Nm
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic
  • Fuel: 8.4L/100km
  • Warranty: five-year/unlimited kilometre
  • Safety rating: ANCAP 5 Stars (tested 2019)

Drive Editor - Ray Cully

Drive Editor – Ray Cully

About our Motoring Editor: Ray has been passionate about all things automotive since he first started collecting Matchbox and Hot Wheels models when he was five. Since leaving his executive role at General Motors (GM), he’s been sharing his driving experiences with Australian audiences for nearly 20 years, commencing his automotive journalist career with a popular WA-based magazine and was writing his own column in The West Australian for 8 years.

Ray’s strong love of automotive engineering and clever design has seen his articles and photography featured in prominent national magazines in Australia and the UK. He loves sharing his passion with other drivers, including via a long running stint as Senior Instructor for Land Rover Experience, providing training and education for new vehicle owners.

Recently Ray has been presenting on TV shows including Ready for Adventure and the very popular Caravan and Camping WA, to showcase some of the great products, vehicles and companies that make getting out and exploring Western Australia that much more enjoyable.