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Toyota Hilux Bruiser review – full-size Tamiya radio-controlled car driven

  • We test Toyota’s real-life toy on the road
  • Lifted suspension, massive tyres, r/c graphics
  • Superb details and great fun to drive

When Toyota announced in October 2017 that it had recreated the classic Tamiya Bruiser radio-controlled car in full size using its latest Hilux pickup, we had only one question: can we drive it?

Surprisingly, the answer from Toyota was absolutely.

So just a couple of weeks later the one-off 2017 Toyota Hilux Bruiser turned up at the office, and let us tell you – it looks even better in the metal than it does in the pictures.

What exactly is going on here?

The Toyota Hilux’s relationship with Tamiya goes back to the 1980s, when the original Bruiser r/c car was not only modelled on the Hilux of the time but also shown towing the real thing in television adverts.

Toyota Hilux Bruiser review - with the original r/c car

Fast forward to 2017, and in March Toyota UK recreated that stunt and carried out a series of other 'little and large' challenges comparing the most recent Hilux – introduced in 2016 – with Tamiya’s modern re-issue of the original Bruiser toy.

This all went down so well, it seems, that Toyota UK has now gone a stage further, and recreated the Bruiser as a real-life truck.

How has the Toyota Hilux been transformed into a real-life Bruiser?

First stop was at Arctic Trucks, the Icelandic off-road specialists made famous by the Top Gear TV programme. Here a 2017 Hilux was fitted with what’s known as the AT35 kit – including lifted suspension and wheelarches wide enough to accept 35-inch tyres.

Toyota Hilux Bruiser review - AT35 suspension and wheels from Arctic Trucks

Already the Hilux was starting to look more like a Bruiser.

A set of chromed wheels completed that particular exercise. The Hilux was then wrapped and liveried to match r/c car’s original decals, and then professional model maker Robert Selway was tasked with creating the finishing touches.

Toyota Hilux Bruiser review - giant on-off switch

These include a big on-off switch in the load bay, side bars and bumpers formed from stainless steel exhaust tubing, a bonnet clip like a giant version of those used on the original (this neatly is a magnetic add-on that can be removed when you’re parked), and a large faux aerial behind the cab.

So the end result looks convincing?

Does it ever. You probably need to be a bit of a radio-controlled car enthusiast to know exactly what it is trying to be at a glance, but even without that knowledge it turns the heads of everyone who passes it before the Tamiya stickers on the flanks finally give the game away.

Toyota Hilux Bruiser review - magnetic bonnet clip

Up close the Diamond Blue vinyl wrap that forms base of the graphics design has a real sparkle to it, while the Hilux’s new found stature means it towers over other vehicles, fully capturing the caricature nature of the toy.

Our favourite part, however, has to be the clever way the decals change the extended cab bodystyle of this modern pickup to match the appearance of the original model. Especially the louvres on the rear window, which use two-dimensional stickers yet look surprisingly convincing up close.

Toyota Hilux Bruiser review - window louvre graphics

It puts a smile on your face before you’ve even opened the door.

What’s the Toyota Hilux Bruiser like to drive?

The first challenge you’ve got on opening the door is actually getting into the cab in the first place.

The Bruiser’s body is a lot higher from the ground than the standard Hilux, and since we weren’t sure how sturdy that exhaust tubing along the sides was supposed to be, we ended up having to launch ourselves over it to get on board.

Even after several goes, we can tell you there is no graceful way of doing this. But that’s probably all part of the charm.

Toyota Hilux Bruiser review - front view driving in traffic

Once inside it’s modern Hilux as standard – meaning a smart, swooping dashboard with a fancy touchscreen infotainment system, neither of which would look out of place in a car. That said, the graphics over the rear windows do make the interior rather dark..

There are no changes to the 150hp 2.4-litre turbodiesel engine. We were worried this would leave the Bruiser feeling rather gutless – that engine is one of the least powerful available in any pickup now – but with gearing suitably modified to suit those giant tyres and a healthy 400Nm of torque, it gets itself going rather nicely.

Toyota Hilux Bruiser review - turning corner in traffic

In fact, whisper it, but we thought it possibly drove better than the standard Hilux. Obviously you have to keep an eye on the extra width, but the increased height helps with this and it isn’t so wide that you’ll be knocking off door-mirrors driving down the high street.

Did you take it off-roading?

Er, no. We took it to the shops. Largely because we wanted to see the looks on everyone else’s face – after all, it’s not every day you see a full-size radio-controlled car coming towards you in the traffic.

Toyota Hilux Bruiser review - rear view, parked outside Toys R Us

We were also tempted to take it into a tyre fitters and tell them we had a puncture, but in the end decided to park it outside Toys R Us instead. It just seemed the right thing to do.

The Hilux is already one of the better-riding pickups on sale at the moment, but as well as giving you a good view of the road ahead, the modified suspension and massive tyres seem to smooth the ride right out. So overall it feels much more comfortable than the standard Hilux.

Toyota Hilux Bruiser review - at traffic lights

The big tread blocks on those tyres mean it does move around a little more beneath you, and there is a bit of a drone at motorway speeds. You’ll also find the turning circle isn’t quite as good as it was – though pickups aren’t exactly the most nimble machines anyway; it’s not an enormous problem really.

Final question: why has Toyota built the Hilux Bruiser?

Because it can? Sorry. Because it just feels it’s worth reminding people of the Hilux’s heritage every so often - and we can think of few more captivating ways in which to do so than this.

The Bruiser is also a useful reminder that although the current Hilux is only available with a four-cylinder engine that produces just 150hp – in a sector where closer to 200hp is becoming the norm – its generous 400Nm of torque still gives it plenty of muscle.

Toyota Hilux Bruiser review - turning corner in town

Sadly, the Hilux Bruiser is only a one-off – you can hardly blame Toyota for that, the market for 1:1-size radio-controlled car replicas presumably being rather small.

But if the Isuzu D-Max AT35 is anything to go by, there could be a small opportunity for a short-run Hilux AT35 special edition with all the off-road bits on it. And maybe a Tamiya sticker pack…

Also read:

>> Toyota Hilux full review

>> Isuzu D-Max AT35 returns for 2017

>> new pickups coming soon – and recent launch round-up