In effect, it has become the byword for all things bakkie-related in this country and the benchmark vehicle in a segment that has been growing exceptionally over the last few years.
With 2019 also marking 50 years of Hilux sales in South Africa, Toyota has, as has been the case since 2004, re-introduced the Legend series in the form of the Legend 50 as a replacement for the flagship Raider, while at the same time unveiling its most extreme model to date, the limited-run Hilux GR Sport.
Initially billed as nothing but a study when it debuted in Brazil last year, the double cab-only Hilux GR Sport re-introduces the Gazoo Racing brand to South Africa after the Yaris GRMN, but with a limited production run of 600 models instead of the originally claimed 535.
Visually, the GR Sport’s much more aggressive appearance includes model specific black 17- inch alloy wheels, Toyota lettering on the gloss black honeycomb grille, GR branded side steps and black mirror caps, black wheel arch extensions, black door handles and a GR badged black sports bar.
In accordance with its moniker, the GR Sport comes with the official Gazoo Racing red, black and white decals, further reflected in the choice of three colours; Glacier White, Attitude Black and Crimson Red. Regardless of the hue chosen, all models have a black roof and bonnet, GR badges on the doors and tailgate, white or red fog light surrounds and Toyota Gazoo Racing decals on the tailgate.
Like the Legend 50, the GR Sport’s interior revisions are small and includes the same infotainment system, a GR start button, black leather seats with red stitching, GR embroidered headrests and carpets, red inserts on the dashboard with piano key black detailing and a commemorative plaque behind the gear lever. The GR Sport costs R707 400.
Having set the ball rolling with the Legend 35 and subsequent models every five years since, the Legend 50 represents the swansong for the current, four-year old Hilux, and like its predecessors, differs from the Raider in receiving mainly exterior and interior upgrades.
In the case of the former, the grille gets a gloss black finish and the fog light surrounds decked-out in chrome, while a satin silver front skidplate, Legend 50 badges, black two-tone 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in all-terrain rubber, black side steps, a Legend 50 black sports bar, blacked-out taillight clusters, a tow bar and heavy duty tonneau cover rounds the changes off.
Despite being available in single, extra and double cab body styles, only the latter pair comes with chrome mirror caps, black side moulds and satin silver roof rails as standard.
Less extreme is the interior which benefits from gloss black and chrome detailing, black leather seats with blue stitching on extra and double cabs only, Legend 50 branded scuff plates and door mats, keyless entry and a new eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with satellite navigation. Pricing for the double cab range starts at R579 100 and goes up to R712 100.
In a departure from the norm, Toyota opted for Botswana and Zimbabwe to showcase the Legend 50 and GR Sport, with the first leg being behind the wheel of the former.
Despite the attire, nothing much has changed with the Legend 50 feeling comfortable and compliant on the well-kept Botswana tar roads, while a stint on the equally good gravel roads resulted in an acceptable ride.
Across the border into Zimbabwe, the switch to the GR Sport immediately told. Aside from its exterior and interior upgrades, Toyota has tweaked the suspension in the form of stiffer front coils springs and twin mono-tube shock absorbers with better damping.
It is a setup that provides a hard ride on tar surfaces and not as comfortable in likely everyday usage as the Legend 50, but which installs more confidence when taken off-road.
Unlike its sibling, the GR Sport soaks up the bumps and ruts much better, which really inspires the driver to take it by the scruff of the neck and make full use of the 130kW/450Nm provided by the unchanged 2.8 GD-6 turbodiesel engine up front. Unfortunately, the GR Sport’s main handicap is its complete lack of steering feel and the slightly hesitant six-speed automatic gearbox.
While Toyota has adamantly stressed that it does not rival the Ford Ranger Raptor, a quick consensus with my colleagues was that it could have felt more special and with a dash of extra power.