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Monday, November 1, 2021

First Drive: 2022 Toyota Hilux GR Sport

Being a petite-sized Asian means that I rarely get behind the wheel of vehicles the size of pick-ups. In fact, I’ve probably only driven less than a handful. It was, therefore, a bit thrilling to take one of the most iconic pick-up models in the Philippines on a 60-kilometer road trip. Beyond that sense of personal accomplishment though, does the Hilux live up to the expectation, even in the new GR Sport guise, that it’s drivable by every kind of motorist?

The first thought that came to mind when I stood in front of the Toyota Hilux GR Sport was, “Wow, this truck means business.” Perhaps it was the way the exclusive black gloss G-Mesh front grille gave off such an imposing stance. Or how the 18-inch alloy wheels made it look extra massive. Or, maybe, it was how the show-stopping Emotional Red color made the vehicle pop against the green foliage it was parked against. Whatever it was, it spoke to me and dared me to drive it.

The Toyota Hilux GR Sport is Toyota’s newest variant of its bestselling pick-up truck that, for the first time, bears the Gazoo Racing badge. This combines the spirit of Toyota Gazoo with the brand’s ever-reliable International Multi-Purpose Vehicle (IMV) platform. The intention is to bring the thrill of Gazoo Racing to the daily drivers of motorsport fans by offering sportier versions of their favorite Toyota vehicles. That is exactly what Toyota was able to achieve at the onset with the Hilux GR Sport.

Come face-to-face with the all-new Toyota Hilux GR Sport and the most accurate immediate observation will be “refined sportiness.” Refined, because it has a well-balanced roundedness, unlike the previous generation Hilux; less of the tough corners and more of a sophisticated, sleek appeal. Sporty, because it has lost none of the ruggedness and maintains that sturdy, solid stance that is expected of a pick-up with off-roading capabilities. This is depicted in how the design elements are well-proportioned, especially in how the shape of the front grille is consistent with the linear-cut of the LED headlights. Launched side-by-side with the Fortuner GR Sport variant, it can easily be described as the yin to the latter’s yang.

Make no mistake of how massive a pick-up the Hilux GR Sport still is. To climb into the cabin meant making full use of the side steps and grabbing the door-side handles securely. This makes the Hilux still a challenge for most average to below-average sized individuals who may not be keen to exerting arm and leg strength just to get in and out of a vehicle. Once you’re in, however, settling in is a no-brainer. Both driver and passenger enjoy 8-way power adjust seats, while the cabin features dual-zone climate control, and paddle shifters.

But let’s take a moment to appreciate how interior of the Toyota Hilux GR Sport really sets it apart from the standard pick-ups on the street. The beauty of the interior design is not simply in the finishing touches, but how every detail was well thought of, all the way to the tasteful placement of the GR branding across the cabin.

First, at a glance, the entire dashboard looks very much like those that you would expect from a top-tier variant. The leather details, complemented with the signature GR red stitching are impeccable. Add to that is a touch of modernity from the black gloss of the infotainment display at the center of the console.

Secondly, this premium finish is carried over to the leather and suede combination of the seats, offering actual comfort to the driver and passenger that goes beyond the aesthetic. The same consistent red stitching can be seen along the side leather seams. And lastly, special mention goes to the race-inspired steering wheel design, a clear nod to Toyota’s GR heritage.

So, what was it like taking the Toyota Hilux GR Sport on an actual first drive? Before we even began, the height and visual clearance it offered gave instant confidence that, okay, this truck can take me through anything and I can see practically everything. Once Waze was activated through the built-in Apple CarPlay system, we were good to go. A few seconds in and my nervousness at handling such a big vehicle subsided. The smooth, sturdy handling, and responsive 6-speed automatic transmission made it feel like I was driving an SUV; not something built for hauling.

The Hilux was in its element on the unpaved provincial highway, more than on city streets. The non-GR Sport variant can already take all the bumps, hits, and potholes without breaking a sweat, but as my passenger often comments, it also likes to jar the passengers in the process. This one though, not so much. This can be attributed to the new monotube shock absorbers which some softened bigger cracks better as not to judder the cabin. The differences aren’t significant, mind you, but they are there. Even more beautiful is that it felt light and easily rolled across the bitumen without fuss.

The powertrain of the Hilux GR Sport is exactly similar as that of the Hilux Conquest 4x4. Running on a 2.8-liter engine with 204 horsepower and 500 Nm of torque, it held no apprehensions at accelerating; gradually, but quickly building up speed as needed. On the flipside, the response to braking is as sensitive as the engine is powerful, with the car able to slow down and come to a full stop without fear of last-minute gliding.

There is nothing more to be said when we reached the city, considering how well the Hilux GR Sport did on the off-road highway. Perhaps the biggest challenge would be parking, since the length of the bed takes getting used to, especially for people who are used to sedans, hatchbacks, and SUVs.

What is good to note for motorists is that each vehicle has its own specialty and for the Hilux, it’s the great outdoors. More than the usual transit vehicle that it is often used for, the Hilux is designed to support the thrill and spirit of adventure, and that is what it achieves with the GR Sport variant. Now imbued with the heritage of Gazoo Racing, this variant reaches out to those who are keen on the extraordinary and in enjoying the excitement of exploration without sacrificing comfort, performance, and practicality.

Words by Gen Tiu.

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