JOHANNESBURG - Like the Legend 50 which, with a couple of exterior and interior tweaks, elevates a standard Hilux into something slightly different, the Hilux GR Sport offers something more exclusive for South Africa's favourite double cab.

GR stands for Gazoo Racing While GR Sport is the second tier in the pyramid, which encompasses suspension upgrades and cosmetics. You may have noticed the GR logo emblazoned across the winning Dakar Hilux driven by Nassar Al Attiah and Giniel de Villiers, and the other motorsport events that Toyota takes part in.

Well, the GR Sport isn't in that category but it does provide an opportunity for only 600 South African enthusiasts to get behind the wheel of individually numbered vehicles with a branded production plate and serial number.

The only change mechanically to the standard Hilux is the front suspension with the shock absorbers that have been changed to a mono-tube design with revised damping working in conjunction with increased front spring rates. The rear leaf springs remain as is to maintain the existing payload.

Toyota says it offers better off-road handling and steering as well as a sharper on-road feel.

I drove the Legend 50 back to back with the GR Sport and to be honest there's really not that much difference between the handling characteristics on the road.

On the dirt, though, I gave the GR Sport a proper work out on the drive back from a weekend at Marloth Park.

The appeal of the Hilux still remains a car that anyone with a lifestyle that doesn't include lying on the couch all day, doing nothing, very much wants. A student in the group couldn't get enough of the GR and he's already saving up for a 4x4 double cab so that he can put down a decent deposit when he starts his working career.

Anyway, we decided to take an alternative road back to Lydenburg via dirt and forest roads. The roads were covered in powdered sand as a result of logging trucks and a lack of decent rain so we put the luggage and cooler boxes on the back seat because despite having a tonneau cover dust seeps through everywhere. We'd loaded a couple of bags of wood in the back and it wasn't as skittish as it might have been had it been empty.

Driving in 4H long stretches of dirt were in decent condition so I gave it a bit of stick and the suspension held up well except once when a rather large bump was hidden by soft sand and we were airborne before bottoming out with an overnight bag or two up against the headrests.

Mission accomplished then with the suspension while the rest of the mechanics are the same as a standard Hilux, including the 2.8-litre GD-6 turbodiesel engine with 130kW and 450Nm.

From the outside there's nothing standard looking with Gazoo Racing branding with red, white and black decals. You have an option of three colours - glacier white, Arizona red or attitude black. The bigger front grille has gloss black finishing and all 600 of them have a black bonnet and roof while the rubber is mounted on GR Sport specific 17 inch alloys.

Inside leather seats with red stitching and embroidered GR logos on the headrests and carpets add to the exclusivity. As with the Legend 50 the bigger 20.3cm touch screen is flush mounted and integrated in to the dash.

South Africans like their once-off vehicle models and the Hilux GR Sport is right up there. There are 600 people out there smiling every time they push the GR-branded start button.

Drive360