Land Cruiser - lifts the 4WD bar - again
One thing I can say categorically about the Land Cruiser 200 is that it’s not my sort of car.
If I want an off-roader I want something rough and tough – a Jeep Wrangler, or a Land Rover Defender. Or, sense of ridiculous to the fore, something small like the astonishingly competent if long-in-the-tooth Suzuki Jimny.
The Land Cruiser? It’s too big (it seats eight if two are skinny) and, though competent, too ‘Remuera mum’. Except, as became obvious at the launch even to my cynical eye, it’s wasted on the Remuera mum, which is no doubt why it sells so well in the South Island.
Not for nothing has the Land Cruiser become a bit of an icon.
It’s been around for six decades in one way or another – more than four million have been built – and it’s on its sixth generation, now in three variants: workaday 70, smaller Prado, and range-topping 200.
The latest version was designed with more comfort in mind. It’s bigger – 60mm longer, 30 wider and 15mm taller on the same wheelbase.
But it’s another packaging miracle, for the interior is 130mm longer than before. You can see where it’s come from if you look carefully.
The bonnet is shorter, the windscreen and driver seat further forward, with the second and third row seats benefiting from the extra space.
That cab-forward driving position has another benefit – it makes this behemoth feel far more wieldy when you’re driving it, and allows you to judge its extremities more accurately, vital when tackling tight terrain.
It’s off-road where this Land Cruiser particularly shines. On the seal it still feels like a large truck, albeit one with impressive manners backed up by an alphabet soup of safety-related acronyms.
The most useful is the stability control. You can switch it off at slow speeds, but above around 50kmh it automatically cuts back in, an acknowledgement that this vehicle isn’t at home to on-seal hoonery.
Off seal, it’s another matter.
The powerplant’s basically the same 4.5-litre, V8 twin turbo common rail diesel engine as the Landcruiser 70’s, but with an additional turbo, and a six-speed auto transmission with a sport or sequential manual mode.
Power peaks with 195kW at 3400rpm, and a massive 650Nm of torque from a low 1600 to 2600rpm.
That’s one key to the 3.5-tonne tow rating, as is the fact the tow bar mount is now built into the rear chassis member. It’s this sort of attention to detail – refined over 1.3 million test kilometres in Europe, Spain, the Middle East, Japan, Oman and over 100,000km of Australian outback – that so stands out.
Inside, the plastics may feel a little cheap, perhaps to allow Lexus room to move for its version, but it’s all solid; the buttons and levers big enough to operate with gloves on.
The second row seat slides to and fro by 105mm to better adjust for passengers and luggage.
There are knee pads for tall drivers to brace against the central console; heck, at the micro level you can press a switch to prevent the side airbags deploying if you roll in a rut, and there’s even an electronically controlled hydraulic engine mount that changes the insulator spring to better cushion vibration at both driving and idle speeds.
The Land Cruiser gets full-time four-wheel drive of course, using a Torsen set-up with a torque-sensing limited slip centre differential, which usually sends 41 per cent of the torqe to the front wheels and up to 50 per cent when required, or as little as 30 per cent if accelerating while cornering, to minimise understeer.
Meanwhile, a rotary dial with a turn/push mechanism easily accesses low-range or locks the diff.
The wheelstroke has been increased to keep the rubber to the ground, and torsional and bending rigidity have improved.
But it’s the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) fitted to the $125,500 up-spec VX Ltd (and available as a $3500 option on the $109,500 VX base version) that’s truly impressive.
It’s a mechanical system that dramatically improves wheel articulation, using hydraulic cylinders at the front and rear, connected by pipes, to suppress roll on-road or increase wheel articulation off it.
Driving over a series of exaggerated humps and slumps felt underwhelming, the body riding almost flat and calm.
But clamber out to look part way, and you’d find one wheel jammed up under the wheelarch, while the other had dropped out of sight into the ditch – maintaining grip for as long as inhumanly possible.
Between that, the active traction control, the multi-terrain ABS, the hill-start and downhill assist, the thing crawled through everything thrown at it – even the water-slicked mud-chute of the test course, attacked on road tyres.
Sure, at 100 grand you expect competence. But this level of competence, in such difficult conditions, while carrying eight people in comfort, is going above and beyond.
Cheap plastics and Toyota’s now almost inevitably boring styling aside, the Land Cruiser has again lifted the bar for bush-bashing off-roaders that hide their considerable talents under a veneer of day-to-day comforts.
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