Car reviews - Toyota - LandCruiser 70 - 78 Series cab chassis utility
Flexible and responsive turbo-diesel engine, increased cabin space, front coil spring suspension
Room for improvement
Primitive interior, over assisted and vague power steering, dated styling
29 Apr 2002
RIGHT about now, in some bar or over a paddock fence or in the smoko shed on a work site there will be someone telling the tale of how their LandCruiser got them through a tough section of track or pulled a mighty load or just kept going and going when it should have been retired - such is the legend of LandCruiser in Australia.
And you can't help but smile when you think that the ute was an Aussie invention - a celebrated response to yet another outback challenge overcome by Australian ingenuity.
But nostalgic as we are about its origins, the truth is the toughest utes now come from Japan.
Toyota has been building the LandCruiser workhorse for over 30 years and through that time model changes have been slow and progressive but have stayed true to the fundamentals of toughness and reliability.
The release of the 78 Series shows that Toyota is still serious about making industrial-strength, six-cylinder petrol and diesel four-wheel drive vehicles.
The move from 75 Series to 78 Series LandCruiser in October 1999 was certainly not equal to a model change by any other manufacturer but with revised front and rear suspension, increased chassis length (by 200mm) and stretched cabin length (by 150mm), it was enough for Toyota to call it a new generation of LandCruiser.
The increase in cabin size was long overdue, and without it may have resulted in a decline in Toyota's ute sales in the face of stiffer competition from its long-standing rival, Nissan's Patrol.
Nissan has always matched the front of its utility to its wagon, while Toyota ties the utility styling to its Troop Carrier, as does Land Rover with the Defender utility. This has tended to age the Toyota when compared to the modern styling of the Nissan.
In 1999, Nissan ended its GQ Patrol cab chassis model, redesigning it to produce a larger, more comfortable interior in the GU Patrol as well as offering a new six-cylinder turbo-diesel engine and full coil spring suspension as an option.
In a delayed response, Toyota added a turbo-diesel to the 78 Series line-up (as tested) in November 2001, after the engine had spent a year in the 100 Series wagon.
This engine now puts Toyota back in front with impressive power and torque figures of 122kW and 330Nm - an increase of 8kW and 50Nm over Nissan's diesel.
The 78 Series LandCruiser is a pure workhorse and offers little in the way of creature comfort unless you spend the extra $3000-$4,000 to get the RV options such as bucket seats, carpet, fabric trim, door pockets, power windows, central locking, CD player, alloy wheels and wheelarch flares.
Getting into the vehicle is a hop step and jump or climb, as the seat height is well off the ground. The large door and raised roof height help considerably with this manoeuvre.
The cabin on the base model is plain and all surfaces that are not metal are covered in vinyl. This makes the vehicle very serviceable but again it lacks the soft finish of the Nissan.
With a switchable four-wheel drive system, heavy-duty suspension and manual transmission, the LandCruiser is not very comfortable around town but on rough roads and tracks it is very much at home.
The upright seating position makes for good all-round visibility and the increased head, foot and legroom give taller drivers and occupants extra room to breath.
The addition of a driver's footrest helps to stabilise you when travelling over rough ground and the common hand throttle helps to hold accurate revs on very rough ground or when power take-off devices are in use.
The power-assisted recirculating ball and nut steering is vague and over assisted when travelling in two-wheel drive mode and is better weighted in four-wheel drive mode, which for many 78s is the norm.
With a kerb weight of 2027kg and gross vehicle mass of 3300kg, the clutch and brake systems are not surprisingly heavy duty and require a little extra pedal pressure than smaller four-wheel drive vehicles - but match the bulky feel of the vehicle well.
The turbo-diesel engine is smooth and responsive, delivering more than enough torque and at times overpowering the live-axle, leaf-sprung rear end when the vehicle is empty - even with a limited-slip differential as standard.
Built for carrying heavy loads, the LandCruiser is designed to extrude maximum power and torque from the least amount of revs and at 1400rpm you notice the engine smooth out as it begins to enter the zone in which it operates best.
By 2000rpm you can feel it has taken hold of the vehicle's heavy frame and is pushing it forward with great force. This continues until you reach 2600rpm when noticeably the engine changes its tone and begins to climb further through the rev range to extract maximum power at 3400rpm.
All this is done without shaking or rattling and within acceptable limits of cabin noise.
The engine capacity is still 4164cc, as it has been since the release of the normally aspirated HZJ75RP in 1991 that delivered 96kW and 271Nm.
Toyota has added a number of refinements other than a turbo unit such as four valves per cylinder, electronic injector pump, direct injection, aluminium alloy pistons and a redesigned combustion chamber and cylinder head.
Toyota claims the engine is not only a class leader in terms of output of power and torque, but also that its emissions measure one tenth of the mandated Australian Design Rule standard.
The five-speed manual transmission is a derivative of the one used in the 100 Series turbo-diesel LandCruiser and has also undergone a number of changes, all of which are aimed at improving durability.
Shifting gear in the turbo-diesel is no issue as the gearbox is smooth and positive in all gears. The gearstick is at a good height for the average sized driver and the weight of the stick helps make the shift feel right.
Toyota makes full-time and selectable four-wheel drive systems and has a lot of experience at both. The 78 Series offers selectable four-wheel drive and the transfer case is operated manually.
High four and high two-wheel drive changes can be made on the move at speeds under 100km/h but low four-wheel drive must be selected when the vehicle is stationary. The transfer case has a neutral position for running power take-off devices such as recovery winches and farm machinery.
Front suspension revisions on the 78 are the biggest change to the utility in many years. Coils with L-beam leading arms on a wide front track of 1435mm replace leaf springs.
Toyota claims that adopting coil springs has meant that the front spring rate could be better tuned now that they no longer performed an axle location function.
Rear suspension is rigid axle with leaf springs and leaf override. Gas shock absorbers are used front and rear to give the vehicle an overall ride that is rough but controlled and acceptable enough given that it has been engineered to take a serious pounding.
Toyota has given the turbo-diesel utility a final drive ratio of 4.1000:1, which pushes the revs up when travelling at 100km/h making the cabin a little noisy.
Highway travel is not something that a 78 Series LandCruiser is best suited to, nor designed for. Going to town now and then or long trips on back roads at 90km/h is more appropriate for this vehicle when it is not hard at work.
Limited-slip differentials front and rear are now standard, with locking diffs a Toyota option pack. This gives the LandCruiser tremendous traction and when that is combined with the torque of the turbo-diesel it makes this utility almost unstoppable.
Off-road, the new front suspension helps to keep the vehicle on a more even trim than its predecessor but the rear suspension still throws the vehicle off balance easily when unloaded.
Will Toyota ever make the RV available with full coil suspension to match the ride quality of the Nissan? Maybe.
Build quality and attention to detail - albeit in a rugged and robust form - is a reason that many people choose LandCruiser time and again.
When you look hard under the skin of a Toyota you can see that it has taken notice of the years of customer feedback and testing from some of the harshest driving environments in the world and produced a vehicle that can handle it.
An example of this is the high altitude compensation (HAC) that ensures reduced smoke emission and reduction of engine oil contamination in high altitudes.
Toyota says that demand for turbo-diesels in 2002 could make up 60 per cent of the entire heavy 4x4 workhorse market. The driving difference between turbo and non-turbo in these large vehicles is enough to see why this statement has a ring of truth.
Changes to the LandCruiser don't come around often but when they do they are usually worth the wait, and in this case the introduction of a turbo diesel, an increase in cabin size and revised front suspension should be enough to keep those loyal owners coming back.
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