Is it just us, or does it seem extraordinary that Australia’s top-selling car brand, which also claims the country’s top-selling vehicle, seems to almost wilfully ignore the high-performance space in a market with such a well-established taste for it?
What we’re trying to say is: where the hell is a high-performance Hilux?
Ford Australia has acknowledged that its Ranger Raptor is a ‘nearly there’ proposition, and is poised to correct that with the eagerly anticipated Mustang-V8-powered Ranger. HSV, meanwhile, has the SportsCat, and Nissan has weighed in with the Navara N-Trek Warrior. Admittedly these latter two are all about chassis upgrades, rather than heavy-hitting under-bonnet muscle, but it still begs the question: where’s Toyota?
Well and truly AWOL, we’d suggest. With the GR Yaris, the parent company has shown its willingness to produce a niche performance model that’s loaded with bespoke bits that are expensive to develop.
We reckon Toyota is missing an opportunity for a premium-priced, low-volume, seriously high-performance variant of the Hilux; one that would target cashed-up buyers who want the visceral thrill of a petrol V8 in a family-friendly 4x4 ute.
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So let’s have a rifle through the various Toyota parts bins to see how such a model could be pulled together.
For starters, Toyota has a choice of V8 engines that would drop straight in, while the TRD catalogue from the USA bristles with bolt-on bits like suspension and brakes.
And before anyone shouts, “What about the TRD Hilux offered around the middle of 2017?”, let’s be clear: it was a classic shit ’n’ glitter job that is precisely what we are NOT looking for. Throwing on a bunch of exterior accessories – like the TRD-branded skid plate, black grille, and fender flares – with zero attention to chassis or powertrain, is never going to create a desirable Raptor V8 rival.
But locally, the company does have form with injecting some performance appeal into its ubiquitous 4x4 ute. Those with long memories may recall that back in 2008, Toyota Australia offered two grades of a TRD Hilux, both based on the V6 SR5, with the 3.0-litre petrol engine fitted with an Eaton M90 three-lobe blower that boosted outputs to 225kW and 453Nm.
So, which engine could power a contemporary GR Hilux? First inclination may be towards the 2UR-GSE, the 4969cc naturally aspirated V8 fitted to the Lexus IS-F, RC-F, GS-F and LC 500. It’s an all-alloy, DOHC, four-valves-per-cylinder unit with Yamaha-designed high-flow cylinder heads, titanium inlet valves, high-lift camshafts and a dual-length intake. It’s good for around 350kW at 7100rpm and 540Nm, depending on final tune and exhaust routing.
But we can grudgingly acknowledge that this engine would likely be too top-shelf for a Hilux application, and its rev-hungry character wouldn’t be a natural fit for a vehicle of this weight.
So more realistically, the 5663cc V8 (coded 3UR-FE) would be a more viable choice, especially as it’s already been proven in heavy-duty applications: in the USA, it’s fitted to the Toyota Tundra, Sequoia and Land Cruiser, and in Australia, does duty hauling the Lexus LX570.
The 3UR-FE is port injected (no direct injection) but does feature variable valve timing on both inlet and exhaust, and is easily capable of producing around 285kW at a lowish 5600rpm, backed by 540Nm at a very accessible 3600rpm.
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The all-aluminium construction means this engine weighs in at around 230kg, so it has a handy weight advantage over the Hilux’s current 2.8-litre diesel four (the 1GD-FTV). The oil-burner weighs a hefty 280kg, so there’s a circa-50kg weight saving over the nose to be had straight off the bat.
Now here’s the even better bit: it’s supercharger-ready. For a time, Toyota offered a bolt-on TRD Eaton Twin Vortices Series roots-typesupercharger kit for the USA Tundra and Sequoia models, which was dealer-installed and covered under factory warranty. With the blower fitted, this engine instantly cranks out 375kW, right on the magic 500hp in the old money, backed by a very healthy 750Nm.
That level of muscle would make the hi-po Hilux one sprightly jigger in a straight line. The likes of Porsche’s Cayenne Turbo – similar power- and torque-to-weight ratios – suggests 0-100km/h acceleration comfortably in the sub-five-second bracket.
Moving to the chassis, it again appears that Toyota has a ready-to-go solution offered by Fox, as evidenced by the TRD catalogue available to the US market.
Dig around there and you’ll find a Fox set-up developed for the Toyota Tacoma, the US model most closely related to our Hilux. The TRD Pro Tacoma front struts feature eight bypass zones (five on compression, three on rebound) and are paired with TRD-tuned springs that provide an additional 25mm of front lift. The matching rear shocks have seven compression settings, four for rebound, and are paired with 50mm piggyback reservoirs.
According to the TRD website, TRD and Fox co-developed this suspension package via multiple tuning sessions to ensure it provides an optimum balance of damping control and ride comfort. So there’s every reason to believe that such a set-up under the Hilux could come close to matching the supple, long-travel damping we’ve admired in the Ranger Raptor.
And getting the thing to stop? Again, the hardware is right there in the TRD parts bins: 370mm vented and cross-drilled front discs clamped by six-piston calipers, and a slightly less aggressive rear set-up to replace the drums, all needing little engineering work to fit onto existing Hilux components.
Finally, garnish the interior with supportive sports seats, a liberal lash of Alcantara and a splash of aluminium trim. Give the exterior enough embellishment to make it look primed for battle; not so much that it looks like a cartoon character. Given that Toyota Australia retains a local design studio, and showed its expertise in 2018 with the restyling and accessorising of the Hilux Rogue, Rugged and Rugged X variants specific to our market, the exterior styling would likely be the expeditious part of the development process.
So, job done. Even with a six-figure price tag, can anyone really claim there wouldn’t be a healthy queue forming for the mythical GR Hilux? So how about it, Toyota?