There’s no doubt Toyota is taking it to their rivals with the Toyota Hilux GR Sport II.
But there’s more to the latest Gazoo Racing version Hilux than some fancy badges. The Toyota Hilux GR Sport II is a modified version of the standard truck with a wider stance and uprated suspension.
It's a serious upgrade on the previous iteration, launched less than twelve months before which was largely a cosmetic exercise in pimping up the Toyota Hilux to make it a bit more upmarket and lure in a few loyalists who might have had their heads turned by rivals like the Ford Ranger Wildtrak or Volkswagen Amarok.
The original Toyota Hilux GR Sport got some Gazoo Racing badges, large front fog lights, and grille surround, sports bar and some red colour accents. It also had upgrades to the standard suspension with a monotube shock absorber and new front springs. There was also some carbon fibre trim on the inside and JBL stereo. It was a modest improvement more inline with a special edition than a true halo product.
The Toyota Hilux GR Sport II, however, looks to set the record straight with several more substantial changes.
The most noticeable change to the Hilux GR Sport II is its width. There wheel arches have been flared to accomodate a wider track on the pick-up. This improves handling and grip, while making it more dynamic. The squared off black plastic trimmed wheel arches house new 17-inch alloy wheels that partially conceal red brake callipers. Behind the wheels there's new coil spring and shock absorbers.
The Toyota Hilux GR Sport II front axle has been widened by 70mm with a new stabiliser bar, and repositioned shock absorbers that have been moved further out. There's also a retuned shock absorber with a larger piston diameter that now measures 46mm. It's a similar story on the rear which sees the shocks positioned outside of the ladder chassis with the same large diameter pistons. Overall ride height has been increased by a modest 20mm, which has increased the truck's approach angle from 29-degrees to 30-degrees.
Other cosmetic changes include a new aero sports bar, revised black mesh grille and black side steps.
The Toyota badge across the grille has also been repositioned, and the surrounds for the fog lights are even more aggressive.
Toyota has also made some changes to the inside of the Hilux GR Sport II. These include black suede and leather sports seats that get silver perforations and stitching. There's also red coloured seatbelts, a new dash design and GR logos on the headrests.
The dials also get a Gazoo Racing tweak, and there are sports pedals for a racey feel in the footwell.
The Hilux GR Sport II also gets a Toyota Smart Connect+ multimedia system which is controlled from an 8-inch touchscreen. It supports wireless Apple CarPlay or a wired connection for Android Auto.
The multimedia system also gets a cloud-based navigation with real-time traffic and supports over the air updates for the software.
The Toyota Hilux GR Sport II gets the same 2.8-litre engine as the standard Hilux pick-up, so in essence, there is nothing special about the new truck in the power department.
It has 201hp and 500Nm of torque through a standard six-speed automatic transmission.
The upgrades to the Toyota Hilux GR Sport II are pretty significant when it comes to how the new truck drives. The most noticeable aspect is the sheer levels of grip available. Both front and rear hold the road exceptionally well, but when really pushed the nose does have a tendancy to understeer.
Ride comfort is also dramatically improved with a much more stable rear end. The standard Hilux likes to bounce around a bit, it feels unsettled when empty, but the GR Sport II is much better. There's still a small amount of shimmer noticeable on a smooth road, but it's a huge step up from the standard setup.
The 2.8-litre engine has always been a strong performer. Its 201hp is certainly sufficient enough for a fairly lightweight truck like the Hilux. In fact, the agility of the Toyota Hilux GR Sport II is probably its strongest card. Compared to the Ford Ranger Raptor, the Hilux GR Sport II is lithe and nimble - it's a ballerina compared to a boxer.
This second generation of Toyota's Gazoo Racing inspired pick-ups has a wider stance and together with new front and rear axles it improves the Toyota’s handling to such an extent that it is in some ways the best handling pick-up truck when on a smooth asphalt surface.
The lighter Hilux kerbweight makes it agile and you can place it precisely into a corner where you find huge amounts of grip. There’s a slight numbness around the centre point of the wheel, as initial turn in on the first few degrees of steering fails to communicate itself to the chunky new tyres, but after that it’s direct and purposeful.
The Hilux's brakes have also been upgraded and they are now significantly improved with bigger front discs and new rear disc brakes that replace drums. The stopping power is definitely impressive.
Unfortunately, for all it’s on-road merits the same can’t be said for the Toyota Hilux GR Sport II's off-road performance where the once smooth riding suspension jolts, crashes and shimmers over rough surfaces. Perhaps expecting Raptor-like ride quality is a step too far. On a dusty, bumpy dirt track strewn with small rocks it lags behind the off-road focused models like the Ford Ranger Tremor and even the standard Volkswagen Amarok.
For die hard Toyota Hilux fans, the upgrade to the GR Sport II is probably a no-brainer. It's still a fully functioning commercial vehicle (unlike the Ford Ranger Raptor) and it's a big improvement over the standard model.
But, the question is if the Hilux GR Sport really should be compared to standard models or specialist off-roaders like the Raptor?
Despite a significant number of revisions, it still feels like a Hilux. It's definitely not a performance pick-up like the Raptor. It's therefore more of a rival for the top-end standard pick-up trucks from Volkswagen and Ford. It's no off-road monster, but it's a fine on-road truck.
Most importantly of all, it's still a fully functioning pick-up with a one tonne payload and 3.5-tonne towing capacity.
It's improved but without compromises. That is the sort of Toyota Hilux buyers expect.