I have to admit that the day the Japanese firm called Motor Journalism to test the Toyota 4 × 4 range, I couldn’t help but smile like a child. After all, I have a true passion for off-roading and off-road driving. But that smile soon turned into pure happiness when I discovered that I was also going to be able to co-piloting the Toyota Hilux of the Dakar by Isidre Esteve.

The Toyota Hilux 2021 receives cosmetic changes and a new engine

I could not believe it, I was going to sit to the right of Isidre Esteve, a pilot who is a personal reference for his human quality, ability to excel and determination. And if that were not enough, he was also going to be able to experience first-hand the extraordinary capabilities of the machine and pilot in the environment in which they feel most comfortable: in the field. From the moment I found out, it was clear to me that this was going to be one of those experiences that are burned into memory. And now that it’s gone, I can say that it even exceeded my expectations.

Taking advantage of the event organized for ports to test Toyota’s range of SUVs and SUVs, the Spanish division of the brand wanted to give the attendees a very special gift. Because I can’t think of a better way to define the experience to co-pilot Isidre Esteve’s Toyota Hilux That as a real gift, especially if you have always liked the Dakar and the top racing cars that compete in this very tough test.

Because it should be remembered that Esteve’s Hilux, a frame developed by Overdrive -structure that also provides technical support-, is a true competition all-rounder. So much so that it could be said that it is virtually identical to the Hilux with which Nasser Al-Attiyah conquered the Dakar in 2019. The last edition of the Dakar held, that of 2021, was the first that Esteve and Txema Villalobos raced aboard this incredible vehicle, achieving finish in the top 30 of the final classification -specifically in the 28th position-.

A stunning image, heavenly sound and the smell of competition

In person, the Toyota Hilux of the Dakar by Isidre Esteve has imposing proportions. It is extremely wide compared to a standard Hilux; it has a considerable ground clearance thanks to its independent suspensions; and its battle is relatively short … It really is a racing monster with an elaborate tubular chassis that has little or nothing to do with the street Hilux beyond the logos, headlights and drivers. At the end of the day, it is a vehicle that competes in the T1.1 category, that is, in that of modified 4 × 4 gasoline SUVs.

Observing the car from outside, everything catches my attention. From the robust wishbones of the suspensions, with double spring and shock absorber per wheel; going through the tires BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KDR2; or even obvious details like the fact that all the body panels are made of composite materials, which in a way can convey the feeling – wrong – that it is flimsy. But nothing is further from the truth: it has survived several Dakar, unequivocal proof of its remarkable robustness.

Hidden in a central-front-longitudinal position, Esteve’s Hilux hides an evolution of the engine 2UR-GSE from Lexus, Toyota’s luxury division. It is an atmospheric V8 gasoline engine with 5.0 liters of displacement, a mechanism that derives from the block used by cars like the Lexus RC F (test). Due to the restrictions of the regulations and the specific needs of a vehicle of this class, it develops in this case a maximum power of about 350 hp and a torque of more than 800 Nm. I have to say that without any limitation it would possibly exceed the barrier of 800 HP of power.

This engine emits a heavenly sound even at idle speed, which turns to a glorious roar as it spins up as you accelerate until the explosion of shifting gears hits. Because this 5.0 V8 naturally aspirated engine is associated with a sequential transmission Sadev with six speeds with an integrated self-locking center differential that transmits power to the front and rear wheels through two other limited-slip differentials.

A brutal balance and a pilot with magical hands

Once I have managed to get on board the Hilux bypassing the tubes of the safety cage, Isidre Esteve welcomes me with that smile and kindness that characterize him. Take advantage of the first moments to show me how the adapted controls that you have installed in the car are like, which allow you to control everything with your hands: accelerator, brake, clutch, gear change, steering … At that moment I can’t help but think that I would not be capable or dreaming of making all that work and much less of being competitive.

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Once the explanations are done, we get going quite smoothly for a racing car. During the first few meters you brake and accelerate at the same time to warm up the brakes (some AP Racing), this way you will get an adequate response when you reach the first corner and want to stop the car. It takes about five or seven seconds to do that and immediately opens the gas to the maximum.

We shot out, pushed by that exceptional engine. The traction capacity is truly incredible. I have ridden other quite level competition SUVs, but nothing to do with this one: it accelerates and brakes as if it were on asphalt. Upon reaching the first corner, I discover that Isidre applies the brakes almost without stopping accelerating at any time and after a small movement of the steering wheel, the car gets into the turn sliding with all four wheels at the same time.

This shows that he is incredibly balanced in his response. Special mention should also be made of the suspensions. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the car, because they filter potholes and stones so well that it seems that they are not there. When driving a normal SUV through the country, you tend to try to avoid sinkholes or ditches; but in Esteve’s Hilux it is not necessary, they are nothing more than mere anecdotes that do not disturb the stability or trajectory of the 4 × 4 at all.

At that moment I can’t help but think about the number of spare wheels we carry and how much fuel is in the tank. Above all, knowing that it can carry up to three complete wheels and that the tank capacity exceeds 500 liters. At the end of the tour, I ask: we have two tires -one on each side- and between 80 and 100 liters of 110 octane gasoline. And as a good curious that I am, I also ask about him gasoline consumption in these circumstances: about 100 liters per hundred kilometers, that is, this car moves at the rate of one liter per kilometer. And the most amazing thing is that this data is even worse on dunes.

At the end of the tour, Isidre looks at me with a smirk and asks me: “What did you think of Nacho, better than the other racing SUVs you had ridden on?” My answer is obvious: “of course I do.” What I didn’t tell him was that what had impressed me the most was seeing him perform magic with his hands live, that what I had liked the most about the experience was having been able to sit next to him and share his ambitious project with him, although just outside for a few minutes.

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