Toyota channels a little Lexus into the improved and altogether more efficient 2.8-litre Land Cruiser. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Many serious off-road vehicles are about as comfortable as going over Niagara in a barrel when used on the road but Toyota's Land Cruiser is one champion mud-plugger that can hold its own on the tarmac. The latest 2.8-litre model may have a slightly smaller diesel engine but it offers more torque, greater efficiency and a slicker six-speed auto gearbox.
When it comes to reputation, there's little that can touch the Toyota Land Cruiser. It's the most indestructible of all big 4x4s and has spawned its own legend. Australian backwoodsmen tell you that if you need to get to where you're going, buy a Land Rover. If you need to get back again, choose a Land Cruiser. Here in the UK, however, there's often little requirement for a vehicle that can ford swollen rivers and wade up to its axles in mud. It's not that we're lightweights. We just require a little more versatility.
The latest Land Cruiser responds to that call. Yes, it can still take you wherever you choose to go once the tarmac runs out, but now it's a much more pleasant place to be for the majority of the time it's being used as a car rather than a cross-country assault weapon. It's hard to mess with a legend that has over 60 years of heritage behind it. Has Toyota been successful?
The 2.8-litre diesel engine now on offer is not only slightly smaller than the previous 3.0 D-4D lump but also a little down on power, the previous 188bhp unit now replaced by this 174bhp powertrain. Not that previous buyers will notice much difference. Toyota talks of improved torque delivery and there's still a lusty 420Nm of pulling power through the gears of the much improved six-speed automatic transmission. In fact, there's an extra 30Nm of grunt available between 1,600 and 2,400rpm, so overtaking should be easier than before. That said, a performance SUV this is not.
This doesn't mean to say the Land Cruiser need be hard work to drive. Suspension modifications made in recent years offer an improved balance of stability and ride quality. This applies both to the standard set-up and the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System featured on higher grade models. On the standard system, damper performance has been optimised, while the Kinetic setup benefits from an increase in thickness/diameter for several components, including the front anti-roll bar to create smoother vehicle behaviour with better front-to-rear weight transfer when cornering. This improved on-road refinement hasn't come at the expense of off-road ability though. That's sacrosanct and Toyota only green lights developments that can benefit both roles.
Design and Build
The Land Cruiser's styling is as rugged as ever, with a front end focus on a bold branded grille with five parallel vertical bars that sinks into the upper edge of the front bumper. The headlamp clusters and daytime running lights form a single unit with the grille and the entire structure is set high, making it less vulnerable to damage when driving off-road. The over-size bumper has a two-step design that further protects the headlights above. The wheelbase and rear overhang are unchanged, with overall vehicle lengths ar 4,335mm (three-door) and 4,780mm (five-door).
The Land Cruiser's cabin is largely unchanged too - and a lot smarter than it used to be, with trims and detailing that raise the overall tactile and perceived quality. The dashboard has been designed with a focus on making the vehicle's drive systems easier to access and monitor. The centre console features a switch panel that brings together the controls for the on and off-road driving technologies. The dash features a 4.2-inch TFT colour screen set between the main meters in the driver's instrument binnacle, while the Optitron dial pack offers a slick look. There's a brushed metal finish to the centre console above the central seven-inch colour display. Piano black and wood grain finishes feature around the cabin. In the five-door Land Cruiser, access to the third row seats has in recent times been made easier by increasing the folding angle of the second row seats from 33.8 to 46 degrees.
Market and Model
If you want the best, you tend to have to pay for it and the Land Cruiser has never been conspicuously cheap. Prices are in the £36,000 to £55,000 bracket, which is around £5,000 pounds less model for model when compared to the latest Land Rover Discovery. Advantage Toyota.
Equipment levels have never been a Land Cruiser Achilles heel and the latest range doesn't want for standard kit.
The entry-level Active grade models now come equipped with DAB digital radio for better quality radio reception. The options list has been extended to include the 'Toyota Touch 2 with Go' set-up, which adds intuitive and comprehensive navigation functions to the vehicle's high-resolution, touchscreen-controlled multimedia system. Customers can also specify leather seats for the vehicle. On three-door models this also includes heated front seats and leather door trims. While on the five-door Active variant, the package includes power adjustment for the front seats and triple-zone automatic air conditioning.
The Icon model also adopts DAB and the more sophisticated 'Toyota Touch 2 with Go Plus' infotainment system, adding voice command recognition, 3D city mapping and a text-to-speech function. At the top of the range, Land Cruiser Invincible gains the same features, plus all the elements included in an optional Safety Pack. This includes Adaptive Cruise Control and a Pre-Crash Safety system. Then there's Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, a Blind Spot Monitor and a Multi-Terrain Monitor which gives a 360-degree view of the vehicle's immediate surroundings.
Cost of Ownership
The combination of a smaller 2.8-litre powerplant, Euro6 engine technology and a more efficient six-speed auto gearbox help this Land Cruiser achieve around a 9% improvement in fuel economy and CO2 emissions. The combined cycle performance is rated at 39.2mpg and there's a CO2 figure of 194g/km, these returns for the five-door model. That's still a way off what you'd get from cheaper but less rugged rivals like Kia's Sorrento and Hyundai's Santa Fe, but it's about the same as you'd get from comparably tough competitors like Mitsubishi's Shogun, SsangYong's Rexton W and Land Rover's Discovery. An Eco Driving Indicator is there to help owners get somewhere close to the published figures.
It'll be expensive to tax then - but at least residual values are and will stay very strong: expect around 52% of your original purchase price back after the usual three year standard ownership period. That's thanks to the relatively low numbers sold, this car's bullet-proof quality and its loyal following. Insurance groups are pitched at 31 for the three-door and five-door five-seat models. And group 34 for the rest of the range. As before, maintenance costs can be kept down thanks to a fixed price servicing plan. And there's a 5 year/100,000 mile warranty that you'll almost certainly never need.
Yes, this improved fourth generation six cylinder Land Cruiser has smartened up its act, but it still remains a proper 4x4 intended for a proper 4x4 lifestyle, not the smiley marketing one you see in the brochures of lesser SUV models. It'll never let you down and it'll very comfortably get you and six passengers wherever you want to go, be your destination Kensington or Kenya. Such has always been the appeal of this Toyota.
This 2.8-litre MK4 model though, has had its all-round on and off road superiority threatened by the excellence of rivals like Land Rover's Discovery. Which is why Toyota has responded in kind, producing a vehicle just as capable and probably better suited to the many third world users who wouldn't be seen dead driving anything else. It's a slightly better bet for roadgoing use too, though if it's a tarmac SUV you want, then this isn't it.
No, this remains a vehicle fit for purpose, a car that'll still be happily ploughing through mud ruts when you've long ago forgotten you ever owned the thing. As an ultimately capable long term ownership proposition, there isn't much that beats it.