Tested: V8 Hilux is a Roaring Rex

By Jesse Adams Time of article published Nov 3, 2015

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ROAD TEST

Toyota Hilux Racing Experience

Johannesburg - It’s almost a shame for the flashy sticker job, because the expressions on fellow road users’ faces would be all the more hilariously confused if this Hilux were finished in its original and unassuming silver.

Confused because it’s not every day that a doublecab bakkie rolls up to a stoplight with an exhaust rowdy enough to rattle the windows of cars 10 places back in the queue. No lies. We’re talking Nascar loud here. Newspaper salesmen ducking for cover loud. Scaring the purple off jacaranda trees loud. One guy on his BMW adventure bike could hear the roar through his helmet from the other end of the M1’s double-decker bridge, and I know this because he chased me all the way to the Jan Smuts offramp just to tell me.

He then, predictably, asked what evil resides under the hood. The short answer, and the one I gave him as the light turned green and I hoofed away with another hedonistic howl, is, “a Lexus V8”.

With more time I could’ve explained in better detail how this pickup, known as Rex (short for Racing Experience), uses the same 5-litre V8 engine as the two race bakkies which gave the big-budget factory Mini team a hard time at this year’s Dakar Rally. Basically, it’s a direct transplant from a Lexus IS-F, but with a custom header-back exhaust, a fancy ignition management system, some intake tweaks and a hand-made sump crafted specially to clear the Hilux’s front axle.

RACING BAKKIE FOR THE ROAD

Rex started life as an ordinary Hilux D-4D four-wheel-drive doublecab, complete with leather-trimmed cabin and niceties like a touchscreen multimedia system with a rear-view camera, but was plucked from Toyota SA’s fleet for a one-off conversion at the skilled hands of the same dudes who build those badass Dakar dune-shredders. Toyota cites the sale of its millionth Hilux in SA as a celebratory justification for the special project, but we know this is really a because-they-can situation. If an organisation like this has the ways and means of creating a road-legal vehicle, which can offer the few lucky people to drive it at least some idea of what it’s like to pilot a Dakar machine, then why not? As one of the lucky few, I’m not arguing.

Save for the lurid livery, the conversion is a tasteful one. The driver seat’s been replaced with a Cobra racing bucket, the steering wheel has been swopped for a two-spoke OMP design with suede covering, and an AIM digital racing display with shift lights is now perched on top of the steering column, blocking the standard instrument cluster.

Thankfully the standard, and very important, fuel-level gauge can still be seen peeping out from behind the AIM unit.

Except for these three additions, the cabin’s just as it left the factory. Black leather still abounds, all carpets and floormats remain, the windows roll up and down electronically, and the airconditioning blows ice cold. A standard Hilux key with functional remote central locking operates the ignition just like any run-of-the-mill Toyota bakkie, but with one twist the engine’s octet fires with a ferocity to trigger your neighbour’s car alarm.

Actually, no. When it’s cold, it takes a good three-to four spluttery attempts before the V8’s happy to idle on its own – engine swops like this always come with a few bugbears. But, once warm and running, Rex’s gas pedal works like a hair-trigger volume control for the sharp vwamah, vwamahs it shoots from its two stainless steel tailpipes.

TRICKY TO PILOT

From a stop it’s a little tricky to pull off smoothly because a grabby AP Racing clutch bites hard midway through its pedal’s travel. It’s almost impossible to get away without chirping the 18” back tyres when in two-wheel drive, and it bucks off the line with 4WD engaged unless you’re very decisive with the throttle. And, because Rex runs a standard five-speed gearbox, it can be a little sticky across its H-pattern meaning cool-sounding throttle blips and heel-and-toe techniques are almost a necessity. That’s what I told my wife anyway.

Rex pulls like a pack of crazed horses under full acceleration, but because its ratios are so short it loses a lot of time to shifting gears. Toyota estimates around 335kW and 600Nm are available, which is plenty to outrun most boy racers’ hot hatches, but where those cars (most with higher-tech transmissions) need only two or three gears to get to 100km/h, this maniacal bakkie needs four.

Our attempts at setting a 0-100km/h time unfortunately resulted in a broken rear-diff, but it should take around 7.5 seconds. Drag racing isn’t Rex’s forte anyway, but it can aurally annihilate anything on the street.

Just ask my neighbours and all the now naked jacaranda trees around Jozi.

FACTS

Toyota Hilux Racing Experience

Engine: 5-litre, V8 petrol

Gearbox: 5-speed manual

Power: 335kW @ 6000rpm

Torque: 600Nm @ 3250-4500rpm

0-100km/h (estimated): 7.5 seconds

Suspension: Fully adjustable front and rear

Brakes: 350 mm discs, 4-piston calipers

Star Motoring

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