GEROTEK, Pretoria - McLaren 650S and Mercedes-AMG C63... I've had the pleasure of driving some amazingly quick vehicles in 2015.
But when my editor asked me to fly up to Gauteng for the Toyota Racing Experience I anticipated something special.
Toyota SA didn't disappoint as I experienced a rather special V8-powered Hilux, the automaker's most powerful version yet.
Million Hilux bakkies sold
The Hilux and Ford's Ranger are tussling in the local sales market, but one achievement Toyota can boast is surpassing the one million mark in Hilux sales in July 2015.
The first Hilux was sold in November 1969 and the next-generation bakkie is due in 2016.
The millionth Hilux, a single cab 3.0 D-4D Legend 45 model, was bought by Pretoria resident Shabier Aboobaker (pictured below). The businessman's previous Toyotas included: a 1982 Corolla Sprinter, a 1986 Cressida 2.8i and various Camry models.
Gerotek test for a Hilux?
To celebrate the milestone, Glyn Hall, Toyota's motorsport chief engineer, was given free reign to build the fastest, loudest Hilux yet.
With the aim to build a Dakar-spec Hilux for the road, Hall and his team used D4-D double-cab as a base. They've even retained the back seat.
Rex, as its affectionately called, uses the Lexus IS-F 5.0 litre V8 producing 335kW/600Nm, a twin plate AP racing clutch, stiffer dampers (front and rear fully adjustable) and stiffer springs. After testing the Hilux for 1500km, the automaker claims its special Hilux can reach a top speed of 235km/h.
It's also lowered by 50mm compared to the production version. The brakes are 350mm discs with billet aluminium 4-piston calipers from Power Brake - Dakar Hilux brake suppliers.
Gerotek, a proving ground for manufacturers just outside Pretoria, was the perfect location to drive the Toyota Hilux Racing Experience or Rex.
Wait, I can drive it?
Then came the twist: I'd have three laps with Rex around a short off-road circuit. I grabbed a racing helmet, tightened the strap and patiently waited my turn behind the wheel.
Mercifully, my turn to pilot Rex arrived and I hopped into the snarling beast, sunk deep into the racing seat and faced a steel sports steering wheel with a sliver of alcantara.
Hall mentioned the clutch needed some bite before changing gears but it wasn't as bad as I thought.
I wanted to savour the experience like a smoker taking his last drag before quitting. I'd only have three laps: sighting, flying and a cool down (as if I'd slow down).
I gave it horns from the beginning, swopping cogs via the five-speed manual 'box and was rewarded with a V8 snarl akin to an angry werewolf.
The steering was light and intuitive, from the start/finish I race up to the first corner, a slight left which turned into a long right sweep, down into second gear and I stepped on the loud pedal. This was petrolhead heaven!
Listen to Rex in action:
" I went airborne'
I felt more confident with Rex on the flying lap and went considerably quicker around the track, even going airborne as slammed the throttle while approaching a mini-hill!
What struck me was how easy the monster Hilux was to drive and the power on tap was stupendous. Behind the wheel, it's easy to imagine yourself as one of Toyota's Dakar drivers, namely Giniel de Villiers and Leeroy Poulter...
And then Leeroy came around...
Leeroy Poulter, SA's current rally championship leader, national off-road championship driver and Dakar driver (whew!), made an appearance and we'd be riding shotgun with him in Rex.
The Instagram video below shows the skill of Poulter:
Clinging on to the grab handle as Poulter drifted around the course was like watching Barcelona playing 'tiki-taka' on the pitch - flawless, controlled and bewildering.
I couldn't help but laugh and throw in the occasional expletive whenever I thought the multi-talented driver was going to lose it but that never happened.
Bite and the bark
It might have looked imposing but driving Rex was easier than I thought it would be, and a lot more enjoyable. It's probably an experience I'll unashamedly talk about at the next dinner party.
Using a tubular exhaust, Rex's bark is intoxicating and if you're lucky enough to see this one-off creation at a local Toyota event, make sure to ask them to rev it. You won't be disappointed.
More from Toyota SA
I spotted a Lexus RC-F recently, the fastest version of Lexus' latest coupe which Wheels24 drove in July 2015.
The RC-F ironically has the same 2UR-GSE engine used by Rex. The model pictured below belongs to Toyota SA's vice president of sales and marketing. It's one of only three in the country and arguably a direct rival to the BMW M4, unfortunately it's not coming to Mzansi.
Local Toyota Fortuner and Hilux fans will be happy when the duo arrives in 2016.
More news in SA
SA traffic video reveals driver-metro 'animosity'
The viral traffic video 'demonstrates the unnecessary animosity that exists between road users and the Metro Police,' says Justice Project South Africa.
Readers reveal No.1 killer on SA's roads
What do you think is the biggest cause of road deaths? More than 40 000 readers reveal SA's No.1 killer on our roads.
Western Cape traffic blitz: 184 fines, 36 arrests
2251 vehicles stopped, 184 fines, 36 arrests... the Western Cape traffic department reveals results of its weekend traffic blitz.