From £23,0907

Well-established workhorse receives an on-trend pseudo-sporting makeover

Find Toyota Hilux deals
Offers from our trusted partners on this car and its predecessors...
New car deals
From £23,090
Nearly-new car deals
Sell your car
In partnership with
Powered by

Plenty of car makers have abandoned Europe’s light pick-up truck market, having made their doomed experiments. But for two market institutions in particular – namely Ford and Toyota – the battle to be top dog in Europe’s pick-up showrooms rumbles on, and as it does so, it’s letting off some interesting fireworks.

The second-generation of the Ford Ranger is now in production, and it will present some stiff competition to this week’s road test subject. But the Blue Oval’s offering needs to get some years in yet to make it to its eighth model generation or its sixth decade on sale, as the Toyota Hilux has already managed.

The Hilux sticks with a classic pick-up mechanical configuration: body-on-frame construction, with a leaf-sprung live rear axle for optimal load-carrying capacity.

For the past half-decade, the Ford Ranger (2015-2022) and Hilux have duked it out to be Europe’s biggest-selling pick-up, just as they have in Australia and elsewhere. Ford already has the newly turbo V6-powered Ford Ranger Raptor to grab our attention for its flatbed. So now we turn to Toyota’s riposte for that workhorse-with-racing-tackle: the Dakar Rally-inspired Toyota Hilux GR Sport.

With a four-cylinder diesel engine, this Hilux may be considered closer in concept to the first-gen Ranger Raptor diesel than the second-generation V6. Rather than trading carrying capacity for a high-end suspension makeover as the Ford did, however, the Toyota retains its leaf-sprung rear axle, its one-tonne load-bay rating and its intended role as a working vehicle.

Back to top

But will that decision grant it a dynamic selling point alongside any other Hilux model in the range, other than simply a cosmetic one?

Range at a glance

The foot of the Hilux model range is where anything other than a double cab body is found; there’s also a chassis body for special vehicle conversions. The range for customers buying with their own money opens with Icon spec and goes upwards through Invincible and Invincible X.


2.4 D-4D Single Cab

2.4 D-4D Extra Cab148bhp
Toyota Hilux 2.4 D-4D Double Cab148bhp

Toyota Hilux 2.8 D-4D GR Invincible Double Cab

2.8 D-4D GR Sport Double Cab*201bhp
2.8 D-4D Invincible X AT35 Double Cab201bhp

*As tested


6-spd manual             

6-spd automatic (standard on GR Sport and AT35, otherwise a £1500 option)


02 Toyota Hilux GR Sport RT 2023 front driving

This eighth-generation Hilux first appeared in 2016, so even in this form, our test subject is already a little long in the tooth. A mid-cycle update in 2020 brought a styling refresh, some equipment enhancements and the addition of the 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel engine to the range to sit alongside the less powerful 2.4.

It’s the bigger engine that powers the Hilux GR Sport. Producing 201bhp and 369lb ft, this is clearly not a motor that’s likely to appeal to the kind of customer who might otherwise buy an imported, V8-powered, American-market truck. It’s potent enough to make the Hilux GR Sport a good two seconds quicker from 0-62mph than its 2.4-litre rangemates, though, and slightly quicker on paper than Ford’s last-generation Ranger Raptor diesel. Even so, it isn’t going to win many sprinting competitions, being a 2125kg model with less than 100bhp per tonne.

In a reference to the 1980s Hilux lusted after by Back to the Future’s Marty McFly, the GR Sport’s black-framed grille loses the Toyota badge and gains some carbonfibre trim and ‘TOYOTA’ spelled out in capital letters.

The only gearbox option in this trim is the Hilux’s six-speed torque-converter automatic, connected downstream to a switchable four-wheel drive system with low-range transfer gearing and a lockable rear differential.

The Hilux’s chassis, like the engine, also shows that its intended role is balanced more towards that of utility tool than out-and-out plaything. The regular vehicle’s body-on-frame construction survives, as does its ‘live’ rear axle and leaf-sprung rear suspension. That particular combination allows for the car’s axle articulation during more demanding off-roading, as well as its one-tonne load-carrying capability. But at a stroke it also puts paid to the idea that this Hilux might offer the transformed on- and off-road dynamic sophistication of the Ford Ranger Raptor, whose suspension was much more widely and radically overhauled.

The ways in which Toyota has upgraded the Hilux’s suspension specification for this GR Sport version are quite telling, however. Stiffened front coil springs are intended to sharpen steering response and rein in body control a little, but they’re teamed with uprated monotube shock absorbers both front and rear, with knobbly looking Bridgestone Dueler all-terrain tyres as standard (where most Hilux models are fitted with more typical road tyres).


09 Toyota Hilux GR Sport RT 2023 dashboard

The Hilux can be specified in single-cab or extra-cab bodystyles (the latter being what other pick-up makers call a king cab, with some storage space behind the front seats) at lower levels in the range. But the GR Sport, like other high-end forms, is double-cab-only, making this a vehicle with four doors and two rows of passenger seats. The rearmost seats are usable by most adults, but the available space is closer to that of a medium-sized saloon than a large SUV.

It has a flatbed load bay measuring almost a metre and a half in length and which can be ordered in an open configuration or have covered with a hardtop. We tested the car with an open flatbed, in which form it gets a black ‘sports bar’ as standard. Some might prefer a single cab and a longer load bay, but the lifestyle pick-up market is made up almost entirely of double-cab trucks like this, for whose owners the usability of a four- or even five-seat cab is key.

Some uniquely upholstered sports seats are an attempt to lift the ambience of the driving environment: they’re leather/Alcantara with ‘GR’ stitching and are comfy and accessible.

Two gloveboxes are better than one if you have tools to carry. The top one is slightly hidden, opened by a button on the dash that could easily be a model badge.

Some predictable performance touches are in evidence: metal-look ‘sports’ pedals and ‘GR’ badges on the steering wheel and sill trims, and one on the transmission tunnel that looks especially like an afterthought. If the idea of dressing up an interior such as this – clearly designed for durability and simplicity of functionality – to feel at all special seems strange in principle, the effect is likewise odd in practice. The glossy, red-accented carbonfibre trim on the dashboard doesn’t sit comfortably next to the plainer, harder-wearing mouldings around it. The speakers of the JBL premium sound system, plonked unflatteringly on the dashtop, look borderline absurd.

The primary control ergonomics are at least decent. The Hilux could do with more telescopic steering column adjustment for taller drivers, but that shouldn’t stop most people from getting comfortable at the wheel. Between a pair of gloveboxes, a good-sized armrest cubby and useful door bins, the cabin offers plenty of storage. Visibility is good in all directions, with surround-view cameras helping you park what is, don’t forget, a 5.3-metre-long vehicle.

As such, and compared with large SUVs especially, the practicality compromise offered by vehicles such as this remains a particular, and slightly strange, one. A medium-sized SUV offers greater passenger accommodation for a family, in a vehicle of a much more easily manageable and parkable size. The case for the pick-up hinges on what it might cost to run, what it might carry besides people and what else it might do for you.

Multimedia system

14 Toyota hilux gr sport rt 2023 infotainment 0

The Hilux’s ‘Toyota Touch 2’ infotainment system is nearly a decade old and has long been replaced in most of the firm’s passenger cars. While you perhaps don’t expect debuts of cutting-edge digital tech in a car such as this (it’s likely that many Hilux buyers would happily go without entirely), when what you’re offered feels like yesterday’s news, you can’t help feeling a little disappointed.

The system works through an 8.0in touchscreen interface surrounded by shortcut buttons, so it’s fairly easy to navigate without a lot of jabbing and swiping. Wired smartphone mirroring for both Apple and Android is included, but wireless charging isn’t.

The GR Sport is the only Hilux to get Toyota’s nine-speaker JBL premium audio system as standard, but it doesn’t do much to move the soul. Sound quality is still fairly thin, and the poor integration of the speaker design leaves much to be desired.


18 Toyota Hilux GR Sport RT 2023 engine

To judge the abilities of a vehicle such as the Hilux through the prism of on-road accelerative performance is to disregard about 95% of all that it’s designed to do. And yet, as with any car that features red seat stitching and the word ‘Sport’ in its name, that’s where our departure point must be.

The Hilux is likeably straightforward to drive, and its transmission has manual controls, albeit buttons and knobs that need a moment or two to actuate the changes you have in mind but which get there soon enough. And yet launching the car from rest in rear-drive mode, on dry asphalt and with the stability control switched off, produced precisely the same 0-60mph time (10sec flat) as the car did with the forward driveshafts engaged and the electronics activated. Proof, as if it were needed, that a four-cylinder diesel isn’t likely to excite you too much with its sheer speed when powering a two-and-a-bit-tonne pick-up.

The shift paddles on the wheel act more like a shift limiter. Flick down to third, and while the car might drop to second if it needs to, it won’t go up into fourth.

The roll-on acceleration is pretty one-paced too. The 2.8-litre engine doesn’t need to be revved to produce useful force; it’s a lot more noisy and a little clattery at anything above 2500rpm than when operating in its comfort zone, while the gearbox doesn’t work its way through the intermediate ratios with particular keenness. Upshifts have a slurred, rubbery feel as they’re delivered, and some ratios feel as if they have only half-engaged to begin with, only for the engine revs to drop again a second or two later.

Torque is what this powertrain is all about, as with any utility vehicle intended to haul, climb, crawl and tow. The engine makes a great deal of it, and in a particularly accessible way. The squashy feel of that transmission’s engagement would be ideal when managing a heavy trailer, for instance, or closely controlling your momentum when climbing a steep, rocky incline.

The Hilux’s torque converter really feels like it’s multiplying the engine’s low-rev muscle on part-throttle, as it winds up and then sets loose that little bit more than was asked for by your right foot.

So whether crossing a shallow river, pulling a trailer out of a muddy field or building speed on a motorway slip road, it’s seldom a good idea to go hell for leather in this Hilux – as in any other. That may not make for the most exciting of powertrains, granted, but a truly sporting product could do with a greater propensity for thrills.

Even so, in this one, you just dial up a medium-sized dose of revs and let the mechanicals do the rest, as you quietly marvel at the places they can take you, and the things they can do, without really seeming to break a sweat.


19 Toyota Hilux GR Sport RT 2023 cornering front

The outright bulk, axle specification and standard tyre fitment of the Hilux GR Sport are all significant limiting factors here. Buy one with off-roading in mind, or regular heavy-duty on-road driving, and that may be just fine; it’s simply a question of understanding what you’re buying and what the vehicle’s strengths are.

But those buyers who have been attracted to the brand over the past few years because of the fresh wave of interest conjured by its top-level Gazoo-badged performance models should be in no doubt: however it may be badged, this pick-up truck would make a fine track-day tow car for your GR Yaris or Supra special, but it won’t even approach either for on-road driver appeal.

The stop-start system knows the difference between just enough brake pressure to hold you stationary (keep her running, please) and more pressure (stop the engine, we’ll be here a while). Why does it take a commercial vehicle to solve such a universal driveability problem?

At more than 5.3 metres in length and standing 1.8 metres tall at the kerb, this is a big vehicle. And, unlike the Raptor, it’s not blessed with suspension that can do much to disguise that.

On their standard shocks and tyres, other Hilux models have shown slightly better body control, both on the road and at normal speeds. The GR Sport, though, has a habit of bounding off the top of bigger bumps and transverse ridges, its compression damping plainly tuned to absorb bigger inputs than it finds on a typical UK country road, while its rebound damping is apparently absent. That leaf-sprung rear does its familiar, slightly restless, brittle-feeling shuffle over more complex surfaces, making you wonder whether carrying 300kg of aggregate around permanently might make it settle.

The all-terrain tyres have an impact, too, on the amount of grip the Hilux GR Sport generates on the road. It’s not a drastic compromise and in no way dangerous, but it’s clear enough to be revealed by our stopping distance tests, and to feel when you throw the Hilux around a bend or roundabout with much enthusiasm. It turns in with some initial agility, but it rolls, too, and generally runs out of front-axle purchase before you can get a feel for the lateral adhesion of the loaded rear tyre.

Our opportunities to test the Hilux off the road were limited but sufficient to tell that it’s most likely better at low-speed off-roading than it is at Baja-style dune-hopping. It’s got the outright grip, clearance and drivability to go anywhere you’re likely to want, but it lacks the dexterity or outright damping authority to control its axles or to jump and jive at speed off crests anything like the latest Ford Ranger Raptor can. 

Comfort and isolation

Plenty of different sources of noise, and a bluff pick-up body, all take a small toll on the Hilux GR Sport’s cruising manners – but it’s far from an intolerable one.

On a fairly still day, our noise meter measured 67dBA of cabin noise at a 70mph cruise in the car. Plenty of passenger cars do worse. The fact is, while it’s coarse when working hard, that engine quietens down quite a lot when it’s cruising along at lower revs, and while the wind does whip around those large door mirrors, the noise admitted as a result isn’t significant.

The Hilux GR Sport’s slightly restless ride is probably a bigger obstacle to its touring comfort than anything. Toyota does fit a torque management system to the Hilux, intended to smooth out body pitch and bounce with imperceptible throttle adjustments. But its effect was hard to gauge in our test car, which rode adequately well on motorway surfaces but was easily disturbed on back roads and could be awkward over bigger urban lumps and bumps.

The car’s seats are broad and comfortable and offer enough lateral support in most circumstances. There are grab handles on the A-pillars to help when climbing up into, and down out of, the cabin, and for extra stability when off-roading.

Off-road notes

A three-metre wheelbase (the same on all bodystyles) is the greatest barrier to the Hilux’s off-road ability. It reduces the breakover angle (23deg), while a long rear overhang is a lesser but still significant hurdle. The most rugged 4x4s clear 30deg of approach and departure angle, but the Hilux trails them. Ground clearance and wading depth is a match for the most serious off-roaders.

Those clearance angles, and no lockable front diff, mean this isn’t a vehicle in which you might attempt the kind of rock-hopping that a Jeep Wrangler could do. But the Toyota can climb, descend and wade very impressively, thanks to that torquey low-speed drivability, low-range transfer gearing and the rough-stuff grip of those all-terrain Bridgestones. Throttle response is well tuned for steady progress in low-range mode, and both the traction control and Downhill Assist Control are effective.


01 Toyota Hilux GR Sport RT 2023 Hero cornering

Toyota’s decision to stay sensible with the chassis makeover makes the price of the Hilux GR Sport only a modest stretch: less than £2250 beyond an equivalent Hilux Invincible X model and less than £50,000 in all. An equivalent Ford Ranger Raptor diesel will be 12% pricier again.

Combined with the one-tonne-pick-up tax classification (making it, for right or wrong, as cheap on benefit-in-kind as a plug-in hybrid), that stands to make the Hilux a realistic proposition for buyers who couldn’t quite justify its Ford rival. Toyota adds warranty cover that could extend to 10 years and 100,000 miles, dependent on main dealer servicing and maintenance.

Not sure if I would prefer the GR Sport as a manual – not that Toyota offers it. The honesty of a manual shift would suit this truck, although only with the auto ’box can the 2.8-litre diesel output all 369lb ft of its torque.

The Hilux managed an on-test cruising economy of 32.5mpg. And if there’s one modern vehicle whose reliability can be taken for granted, this ought to be it.


21 Toyota Hilux GR Sport RT 2023 static

It was smart of Toyota to position its sporty pick-up differently from the one with which it will be inevitably compared. We knew in advance that ‘GR Sport’ on the bootlid of any Toyota would stand for something milder than, and distinct from, GR, and giving up any utility value at all, whatever the gain, would be especially hard to justify on one of the defining utility vehicles of our age.

And so the Toyota Hilux GR Sport is precisely the vehicle we should have predicted: one of performance and handling gains that are very hard to perceive on the road – perhaps a little easier on mud, rock and gravel – but very few compromises. A truck you can run and use like any other, with the same appetite for work but little more appetite for speed or engagement, except perhaps in more extreme circumstances.

It’s hard to argue with the unburstable capability of a vehicle such as this. As a more utilitarian part of a several-car ‘dream garage’, it could clearly do an excellent job. But the GR Sport is no great leap for the Hilux, while for pick-up regulars who like plenty of sauce with their sausages, it will probably be lacking in piquancy.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Toyota Hilux First drives