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CHOBE, Botswana – Thanks to its success in the Dakar Rally (and similarly gruelling off-road events), Toyota Gazoo Racing has become something of household name in recent years. And with the Hilux now celebrating 50 years of service in South Africa, it’s the perfect time to launch the GR-Sport derivative, alongside the long-awaited Legend 50 range.

While the latter treatment has become somewhat of a tradition at Toyota South Africa Motors – remember the Legend 35, 40 and 45 that came before? – the new GR-Sport variant is something a little different. Yes, the Japanese firm has joined the very popular movement of adding a dash of “macho bling” to its bakkie.

Well, the trend actually started some time ago, when single-cab bakkie owners wanted to stand out (as much as those in their GTIs and GSis, perhaps?). They would swop sensible wheels for ridiculously hard-riding over-sized mags (with the minimum of rubber wrapping), add a metallic paint job (that may or may not include purple or green), bolt on a free-flow exhaust and, well, be noticed.

Nowadays, though, the double-cab bakkie has taken over. So Toyota now beckons the “stand-out” crowd with its GR-Sport. Looks mean a lot to a double-cab buyer and this one certainly gets you noticed thanks to the blacked-out treatment for the alloy wheels, door handles, side-mirror caps, side steps and grille. On the latter, the traditional Toyota logo is replaced by large chrome “Toyota” letter that is reminiscent of the FJ series … except even larger.

The bonnet and roof are also finished in black, but not just a monotone hue; no, the automaker has added a faint, almost dark-blue metallic sheen to the paint. Just three body colours are available – white, red or black – each complemented by bold Gazoo Racing decals.

Inside, you’ll find black leather upholstery with red stitching as well as a red strip in the facia to brighten up the darkness. Toyota has interestingly made a few ergonomic adjustments to the GR-Sport’s cabin (as well as those of the Legend 50 models and 2,8-litre Fortuner variants), with a new, larger eight-inch touchscreen arrangement gaining physical dials for volume control and tuning. Of course, the good ol’ digital clock (complete with flashing colon) has been retained, perhaps now also forming part of the legendary heritage.

While the Legend 50 runs on 18-inch wheels, the GR has 17-inchers wrapped in 265/65 tyres for better off-road suppleness. This combines with stiffer suspension and monotube shock absorbers to noticeably improve off-road manners and agility. However, it also results in a slightly harsher ride. The steering is a tad sharper, too, allowing for a quicker directional response.

Toyota opted not to hand the GR-Sport any more oomph, preferring instead to employ the 2,8-litre turbodiesel engine with an unchanged 130 kW and 450 N.m sent to all corners via a six-speed automatic transmission with a low-range transaxle. And that’s certainly sufficient grunt to have some fun off the beaten track.

The roads we travelled during the launch route (covering areas of Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia) were very dry, enabling us to confirm the impressive dust-worthiness of the cabin (obviously using the air-recirculation function). Furthermore, the many deep ruts formed months ago in the rainy season tested the suspension. Again, no bottoming out or rattles and shakes here, despite the firmer set-up.

The rest is standard Toyota fare, with no obvious flaws and that familiar solid feel that suggests it’s perfectly at home in the bundu. Should the GR-Sport tickle your fancy, take note just 600 units (up from the earlier allocation of 535) of the GR-Sport will be offered in South Africa, each with a numbered plaque between the front seats to remind you of what you’re driving...

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