Toyota Fortuner and Hilux GR-S get more than just cosmetic and interior upgrades

If there's one thing Toyota Motor Philippines has been busy with of late, it's launching Gazoo Racing models in the country. After debuting the Vios GR-S, Toyota has decided to expand the Gazoo Racing Sport (GR-S) lineup with the Fortuner and Hilux.

Now looking sportier and more aggressive, the dressed-up SUV and pick-up now serve as the new top-of-the-line models. But what do these vehicles have that the LTD and Conquest 4x4 don’t? And are GR Sport models both show and go?

First Drive: Toyota Hilux, Fortuner GR Sport image

Classy and Flashy

Let's talk about the most obvious changes; those are on the exterior. Despite being based on the top-of-the-line LTD and Conquest variants, both the Fortuner and Hilux get some upgrades that are exclusive only to the GR-S.

First Drive: Toyota Hilux, Fortuner GR Sport image

Starting with the Fortuner, it gets a new front end courtesy of a redesigned bumper. It gets blacked-out foglight garnishes, a mesh-type front grille, and a GR badge to remind everyone it's no ordinary Fortuner. We also noticed that it gets new 18-inch alloy wheels finished with a black-tinted color coating and body-colored wheel arches which are exclusive only to this new variant.

Hiding behind those wheels are new red-painted brake calipers complete with the GR logo. The rear might not be as flashy, but Toyota did give it some subtle upgrades. Apart from the obvious GR badge, the dressed-up Fortuner gets a two-tone tailgate spoiler and a high-gloss black rear diffuser.

First Drive: Toyota Hilux, Fortuner GR Sport image

Moving to the Hilux, I was immediately pulled in by its bolder front fascia. The GR-S version gets a new mesh-type grille with 'TOYOTA' spelled out for all to see, a body-colored grille surround, body-colored wheel arches (with black accents), and a new front bumper with black foglight bezels.

Like the Fortuner, it also gets unique 18-inch alloys with red brake calipers up front that show off the GR logo. The rear relatively remains the same, but it does get a blacked-out bumper and a high-gloss black sports bar which further accentuates the pick-up's sportier vibe.

All in all, both the Fortuner and Hilux GR-S look absolutely flashy thanks to the abundance of GR goodies. But if I were to choose one based on looks alone, I'd go for the Hilux. With its more aggressive looks paired with the Emotional Red paint (which is a PHP 20,000 extra), the pick-up looks like it's ready to have fun.

First Drive: Toyota Hilux, Fortuner GR Sport image

Sleek and Sporty

Don't think that Toyota only made changes to the vehicle's exterior. Toyota was also busy making some key changes inside the Fortuner and Hilux GR-S.

Instead of just having the same black-red leather upholstery as the Fortuner LTD, the GR-S version makes use of leather and suede. Both the first- and second-row seats get the new material combination, while the third row gets draped in leather. Further sprucing up the Fortuner's interior is the new faux carbon fiber panel on the center console which is specific only to that model.

The Hilux also comes with the leather-suede seats – meaning those that choose the pick-up over the Fortuner will not be missing out. But as an added touch, it gets red highlights on the side which give the seats a sportier look and feel.

Just to remind everyone that they are in something special, GR badges dot the interior of both GR-S models. From the steering wheel, engine start/stop button, and the headrests, you'd be hard-pressed to forget you're riding in a GR Sport vehicle. It even gets a special start-up sequence which you can see on the multi-info display every time you fire up the engines.

But even before you hop inside either of the two, you'll already be greeted by GR-branded floor mats. They're so nice to look at that I actually felt bad dirtying them every time I jump inside. If that's not enough, even the keys to the two GR-S models come with GR badging for that extra touch of branding.

First Drive: Toyota Hilux, Fortuner GR Sport image

Packed to the brim

Since both the Fortuner and Hilux GR-S are based on the top-of-the-line LTD and Conquest models, it's no surprise they're fully loaded with features and amenities.

Both come with a touchscreen infotainment system that supports Bluetooth, USB, Aux, and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay as standard. Both vehicles are also equipped with dual-zone automatic climate control and a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel. Available in both vehicles are the paddle shifters as well.

Adjusting the front seats on the Fortuner can be done with ease, as both benefit from power adjustability. The Hilux, on the other hand, only makes do with one and it's only for the driver's seat.

First Drive: Toyota Hilux, Fortuner GR Sport image

For extra peace of mind, the GR-S version of the Fortuner comes with Toyota Safety Sense (TSS). Also available on the Q and LTD versions, this gives the SUV added protection. It gets smart technologies such as the Pre-Collision System that is made up of a front collision warning plus pre-collision braking, lane-departure alert, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitor, and rear-cross traffic alert.

The Hilux doesn't come with TSS, but it does come with the new Panoramic View Monitor which acts as the vehicle's extra pair of eyes. Don't worry Fortuner GR-S owners, this feature also comes available on the SUV.

With its level of equipment, those that feel they will get shortchanged will not be disappointed with the GR-S Hilux and Fortuner when it comes to amenities.

First Drive: Toyota Hilux, Fortuner GR Sport image

Easy Rider 

While I can talk about just how powerful the 2.8-liter turbo-diesel is on the Fortuner and Hilux, we already know about that from our past reviews of the LTD and Conquest 4x4. With 204 PS and 500 Nm of torque from a 2.8-liter turbo-diesel engine, there's always pull when you need it, and it doesn't lose any steam. Did I mention both come with Hoodlift Assist as standard?

First Drive: Toyota Hilux, Fortuner GR Sport image

But what I can talk about are the GR-S' ride and handling. That's because both the SUV and pick-up don't just get cosmetic upgrades. Underneath, both vehicles now come with new Monotube Shock Absorbers. So what was it like out on the road?

First Drive: Toyota Hilux, Fortuner GR Sport image

Behind the wheel of the Fortuner, I was surprised by how smooth the ride was. While it was still relatively firm, it delivered a softer ride on paved/asphalt roads. This comes as a surprise since the Fortuner is known for having a bouncy ride no matter the terrain. Over rough roads, however, it still tends to deliver a bit of a jarring ride.

We weren't able to test its ride quality while seated at the back, but we'll make sure we get to test that when we do a proper review of the Fortuner GR-S soon.

The Hilux also comes with the new monotube dampers. But since it still has rear leaf springs, the pick-up's ride quality is what you'd expect: bouncy. What I did notice, though, is that it had less body roll. When faced with tight turns and curved roads, the Hilux remained relatively flat. While ride comfort on the Hilux still leaves something to be desired, it's nice to know that the new dampers actually made it handle just a bit better.

First Drive: Toyota Hilux, Fortuner GR Sport image

Is it worth it?

After getting to drive both vehicles for an extended period of time, I have to say that both the Fortuner and Hilux get more than just cosmetic upgrades. Sure, Toyota could have just slapped on some nice Gazoo Racing extras and called it a day, but they actually went and put some niceties in both the SUV and pick-up.

Then there are the new monotube dampers that actually give both vehicles better handling and ride comfort. While it's not a full-blown suspension upgrade, the new shock absorbers do give the Fortuner and Hilux better road manners.

First Drive: Toyota Hilux, Fortuner GR Sport image

But with sticker prices at PHP 2,509,000 (for the Fortuner GR-S) and PHP 1,985,000 (for the Hilux GR-S), they're expensive, to say the least. But for buyers that are looking for a fully-equipped SUV/pick-up plus styling points to boot, they'll have to look no further.

First Drive: Toyota Hilux, Fortuner GR Sport image

They may not exactly offer value for money, but that is not what Toyota is aiming for with the GR-S. They're actually looking for buyers that want a fully decked-out vehicle that carry the Gazoo Racing heritage, and then some.

Others might say that the Gazoo Racing Sport model lineup is just a cash grab for Toyota. But if you actually take a closer look, you're paying for more than just an exterior/interior upgrade, you're actually paying for some cool upgrades that others can only wish to get.