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Toyota Hilux tackles Dakar stage in SA

2018-01-10 07:00

Image: Charlen Raymond

Charlen Raymond

Lamberts Bay - It’s that time of the year again, for the world’s most gruelling endurance race to take flight. Literally! The 40th edition of the Dakar is back in South America and again Toyota South Africa is ready to take on the mighty Peugeot team, with Stellenbosch-born Giniel de Villiers - 2009 Dakar champion - the lead driver for Toyota Gazoo Racing (TGR).

In the 2017 edition of the race, TGR put up a strong fight against the French team, but in the end the onslaught just wasn’t enough to halt Peugeot driver, Mr Dakar, Stéphane Peterhansel, from souring to his tenth win in the category for cars. But even so, TGR has been chomping at the heels of the Frenchies and came tantalisingly close to winning the Dakar in recent years since first entering in 2012.

This year’s race is one Toyota SA is very excited about, especially since the Hilux they’ll be competing with has seen a large scale improvement over the 2012 - 2017 challenger. And though it features a 2.8-litre diesel engine as opposed to the Dakar bakkie’s 5.0-litre V8 petrol engine, I had the chance to put the refreshed Toyota Hilux Raider 2.8 4x4 through its paces in a few mock-up Dakar stages.


Kicking up dust

One of the Hilux’s best attributes is its road holding. The way the front bites into a corner and the stability at speeds. But that’s on tar. Everyone knows that how a vehicle handles on the black stuff is very different to the loose surface that is gravel. Thankfully, the Raider is equipped with a 4x4 system you can activate while driving at speeds up to 100km/h. However, this is only allowed to switch from 4x2 high to 4x4 high. To activate 4x4 low, the bakkie has to be at a complete standstill and the six-speed manual gearbox in neutral. But for now, a good stretch of gravel awaits and there is no need for 4x4L at all.

The Western Cape, as is too common a topic nowadays, is facing a serious drought. Even Lamberts Bay, a coastal town some 250km North of Cape Town, is not immune to this. And one only has to drive on some of the gravel roads around the little town to see the effects. Turning off the tar and onto the gravel, the corrugated road immediately makes it presence felt. It’s a gentle approach at first, getting a feel for the road, but it’s not long before the Hilux starts to stretch its legs. In normal 4x2 mode, it’s only the rear wheels that have to deal with all of the engine’s 130kW/420Nm. But the loose gravel made its presence felt and it wasn’t long before the bakkie felt uneasy on the slippery surface. Granted, driving at 70km/h would have sufficed for this surface, but something as formidable as the Hilux can surely do with 100-110km/h.

READ: The road to Dakar 2018: Meet Toyota SA drivers

But it wasn’t to be. Flirting with the national speed limit on a road that has the bakkie veering across it… nope, not gonna tempt anything. Without wasting another second, 4x4H is activated as soon as the speedometer dips below 100km/h. Yes! Immediately there is more grip available as drive is sent to the front wheels as well. The system prefers to function up to a maximum speed of 100km/h, otherwise the drivetrain can take a bit of damage. Even cruise control will deactivate itself if higher speeds are reached with 4x4H active.

Soon the road surface improved and could the bakkie revert back to 4x2. Now we’re talking, as the Hilux slips past 120km/h and beyond. Though not nearly close to what Giniel and co. achieve in the Dakar, this Hilux had a ball of a time showing off. Steering felt sturdy at (almost Dakar) speeds and the bakkie created a sense of occasion as the dust bellowed behind its silver rear.

Rock climbing

The Dakar is not just about driving as fast as possible over gravel, but also seeing whether your vehicle can withstand souring heat in treacherous, almost inhospitable, terrain. Now, I did not venture where my survival skills would be put to the test, but I did manage to find a scalable mountain with a loose and rocky surface. And no other driving mode but 4x2 will be used for this brief section of road (hell?).

The mock-up stage starts at the foot of this mountain-ish hill, where after it twists and turns before making an S-bend between two big boulders. It continues upwards towards the loosest section where all the grip is needed to make it out the other side. Should be fun…

READ: Toyota's Dakar 2018 contender: All new racing Hilux

Traction control deactivated, I launch the bakkie on the awaiting trail. The back squirms around as the rear wheels fight for traction, but the bakkie holds firm as the speed increases. Once past 60km/h, the traction control automatically reactivates itself, which steadies the loose rear again. Then brake, as the two boulders lie waiting. Manoeuvring between the rocks was deliberately done at a lower speed, because can you imagine the explaining I’d have to do if I had to drive into either one?

“Dear Toyota SA. Please forgive me as I have damaged your Hilux; just like they do in Dakar.” Uhm… nope!

Back to the section of road. Past the rocks, the Hilux jolts up the gravel to the toughest part of this path. Throwing caution to the wind, I tread carefully as to not damage the bakkie or its tyres. Traction control deactivated again, the Hilux squanders for grip, but manages to find a foothold on the loose rocks. Dust everywhere, it clambers without fail and with a tail-happy moment makes it out the other side.

Bakkie for your thoughts

As we’re readying for the start of Dakar 2018, fans of foe alike are very much interested to see what our local team will achieve this year. Every year, for the first two weeks in January, we are plastered in front of the television or portable streaming device just to see what’s happening at Dakar and how TGR is performing. And this year is no different. The team is ready to go and give Peugeot a run for their money. By the way, this year will be Peugeot’s final participation in the race and TGR will be looking to spoil their farewell celebrations (in the good sense of the word).
But all South African eyes will be on the locally built and converted Hilux and how it fares this year. The Hilux is a bakkie that captured the hearts of our nation and many want to see it achieve the ultimate success in the Dakar; albeit in an entirely different trim to what we’re seeing on our roads.

Following the extended test with the Hilux Raider 2.8 4x4 double cab

Good:
- Strong, powerful engine;
- Noticeable performance difference between Eco and Power modes;
- Good comfort over long distances.

Bad:
- Squeaking sound from the front suspension when driving;
- Loading bay cover needs some pulling to reattach at the rear;
- Audio system does not allow for radio stations to be entered manually.


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