IN A bid to shore up its dominant share of the large SUV market segment, Toyota Australia has given its LandCruiser a mid-life facelift and added high-end technical features to its luxury Sahara model.
Although year-to-date sales are running at 6338, almost 60 per cent of the large SUV segment, LandCruiser sales have softened from a high in 2003 of 14,425 sales – and last year dropped to below 14,000.
It still has a formidable presence in the market, with VFACTS figures showing that for the six months to June 31, 2005, the Cruiser owned 26.5 per cent of the total Australian SUV market.
The updated 2006 LandCruiser range launched this week comprises eight models, spanning three variants – 100 Series Standard, GXL and luxury Sahara.
Prices have risen for turbo-diesel and petrol models – an extra $2600 in the case of the Sahara V8 – however the entry diesel-only Standard, mated to a five-speed manual transmission, continues to retail from $52,600.
GXL prices have also climbed a mere $110.
Visually, the LandCruiser gains a revamped front-end with twin-pocket design headlights and a more muscular grille with three horizontal bars.
The flagship Sahara gains variable gear ratio steering, active height control and Toyota’s semi-active electronic modulated suspension, as well as traction control and vehicle stability control.
The mechanical features are designed to increase Sahara’s steering response, manoeuvrability, rough-road ride comfort as well as off-road ground clearance.
In particular, the variable steering system is claimed to provide increased assistance and a quicker steering gear ratio at low speeds for easier parking, and optimum driving feel during lane changes or when driving on winding roads.
Sahara’s new electronic suspension provides semi-active roll control for passenger-car-like ride and handling, with three levels from Comfort to Sport.
Like the Range Rover, the active height control has an automatic self-levelling function that can vary ride height for easier entry and exit. It also has anti-squat and anti-dive functions.
The system provides variable ride height by as much as 50mm using a system of pneumatic adjustable cylinders front and rear.
Like its Lexus cousins, the Sahara is also equipped with Optitron backlit instruments as well as a sunroof, leather upholstery, satellite-navigation system, trip computer, electric front seats, foglights, tinted rear windows, alloy wheels, electric reach and height-adjustable steering column and a six-disc CD stereo.
From next month, Sahara will be fitted with an upgraded sat-nav system that can electronically memorise a series of GPS co-ordinates to retrace its path for a maximum of 200km. It can also operate in unmapped territory.
Both the Sahara and GXL LandCruisers feature side-folding and removable third-row seating, while the Standard and GXL now have an adjustable driver’s seat and improved lighting.
The Standard also offers an air snorkel and barn-style rear doors.
As befits its more rugged application, the naturally aspirated diesel has a rigid three-link front suspension configuration with gas pressure hydraulic dampers and stabiliser bar.
Turbo-diesel and petrol models use independent double wishbone suspension with torsion bars.
Rear suspension across all models is a rigid live axle with five-link coil springs, panhard rod and stabiliser bar. The Sahara adds hydro-pneumatic adjustment front and rear.
Engines continue unchanged. The oil-burners comprise a 96kW/285Nm 4.2-litre six-cylinder diesel or 150kW/430Nm intercooled turbocharged engine of the same capacity mated to a five-speed manual or optional ($2700) five-speed automatic.
The petrol engine GXL and Sahara share the same 170kW/410Nm 4.7-litre V8, which is available as a five-speed manual or ($2700) auto in the GXL and auto-only in the Sahara.