Australian designers and engineers initiated the creation and led the design and development of Toyota’s new tough-truck, the 2023 Toyota HiLux GR Sport.
Now entering dealers in Australia, the Toyota HiLux GR Sport replaces the old Rugged X as the new flagship of the top-selling ute range, priced from $73,990 plus on-road costs and powered by a beefed-up 165kW/550Nm turbo-diesel, making it both the most expensive and most powerful HiLux ever sold here.
While not a rival for the rampaging Ford Ranger Raptor on price or performance, the HiLux GR Sport does line up against off-road focussed dual-cab 4×4 utes such as the Ford Ranger Wildtrak X, Nissan Navara Warrior and GWM Cannon XSR.
There are already 1600 orders placed in Australia for the HiLux GR Sport, which has an anticipated annual sales rate of at least 3500, but it is also scheduled to be sold in multiple markets around the world.
“This [program] is certainly up there,” confirmed Toyota Australia sales and marketing chief Sean Hanley at this week’s HiLux GR Sport launch.
“HiLux is one of our most biggest selling vehicles. It’s a big piece of work for us and an important piece of work for us.
“It’s inline with exactly what our expertise is becoming. Our niche market is as a testing ground for off-road Toyota vehicles.
“We are certainly getting more credibility and more requests for this type of testing because of the work we have done in the past.”
It’s not unusual for Australian designers and engineers to contribute to global programs, especially off-road and commercial vehicles.
In the recent past Toyota Australia has detailed its involvement in the development of both the LandCruiser 300 Series and the ‘WTF’ four-cylinder LandCruiser 70 update that launches in November.
It has already started hinting at its involvement in the new 250 Series Prado that launches in Australian in mid-2024.
However, the HiLux GR Sport appears to be a different case because it was a concept that was born locally and has since been adopted globally.
The initial planning for the GR Sport started in 2018 when Toyota Australia management was mulling what would eventually replace the freshly-launched HiLux Rugged X.
That led to a Toyota Design Australia study inspired by Toyota’s Gazoo Racing Dakar rally-winning HiLux desert racer.
The proposals were submitted to HiLux chief engineer Yoshiki Konishi, who supported development of the GR Sport not just for the Australian market but as a global product.
“The concept behind the HiLux GR Sport was to deliver high-speed off-road and sporty on-road performance,” Toyota Australia development team member Rod Lyons said.
“It’s a project that was born and bred and led from here in Australia.
“Much of the testing and evaluation of the HiLux GR Sport was also carried out in Australia for the world.”
Toyota Design Australia, led by Nic Hogios, had styled previous iterations of the HiLux GR Sport for international markets such as Thailand, but Lyons said the ambition was to “take this vehicle to a whole new level”.
From Konishi’s approval emerged a co-operative development program that included Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) in Japan.
Toyota divisions in Thailand, where our HiLux is built, and places where previous generations of the HiLux GR Sport were popular, such as Argentina and South Africa, were also involved.
The Australian design team developed substantial exterior updates dubbed “functional beauty” that focused on the front-end.
Underpinning features include wider tracks, prominent wheel-arches and a 20mm higher ride height.
Key individual styling changes include a three-part grille with what Toyota calls a G-mesh insert, a silver bumper element, wide-mounted air curtains, removeable aero spats and in-house designed 17-inch alloy wheels.
TDEM (Toyota Daihatsu Engineering Manufacturing) in Thailand played a role in exterior styling and designed the subtle interior updates that included new front seats and steering wheel.
Components including the underbody protection, side rock rails and a tub liner were designed and engineered in Australia by Toyota’s conversions and accessories department. They are fitted locally at Toyota’s Altona facility in Melbourne.
Two red recovery points at the rear are made from 20mm-thick plate and can accommodate an 8000kg snatch strap and 8000lb winch.
Other standard features such as bullbars and sailplanes have been avoided in the name of added cost.
Toyota Australia also led the chassis upgrade that includes 135mm wider front and 155mm wider rear tracks in search of increased high-speed stability, plus new KYB monotube shock absorbers and rear disc brakes instead of drums.
These changes – apart from the KYBs – were first seen in production on the 2022 Toyota HiLux Rogue.
“This is not just about bolting on some wider wheels as there have been some major engineering changes,” said Lyons.
“The suspension arms are longer, the driveshafts are longer and the dampers sit further out. At the rear the rear axle is wider and, importantly, the dampers sit outside the [ladder] frame, which make it much more effective in controlling the ride and handling.”
The front spring rate has also been slightly increased and the rear stabiliser bar added to the Rogue has been removed.
Turbocharger and fuel-injection software changes that boosted the 1GD-FTV 2.8-litre four-cylinder engine’s power by 15kW and torque by 50Nm were developed by a TMC, along with a recalibrated six-speed auto with HiLux-first gearchange paddles to sharpen shift feel.
The part-time 4×4 system with low range and locking rear diff remains unchanged.
Over the course of the past two years, HiLux GR Sport prototypes were tested over more than 100,000km, with the majority undertaken at Toyota’s testing facility at Anglesea in Victoria.
It was also tested in South Australian sand dunes, desert areas around Mildura and the Victorian high country, plus towing heavy loads over long distances. Extreme altitude testing was conducted in Argentina as part of the global development program.
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