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Car reviews - Toyota - LandCruiser 70 - Single-cab GXL

Our Opinion

We like
21st Century safety and emissions, beautiful finish and quality, surprisingly good ride, unstoppable off-road, improved on-road, tough as guts, lovely diesel V8, nicer five-speed manual
Room for improvement
Safety upgrades exclusive to single-cab, almost intolerably loud at speed, new seats uncomfortable, different axle widths front and rear, huge turning circle, costly servicing for buyers exempt from capped-price program

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Toyota logo15 Mar 2017

By HAITHAM RAZAGUI

Price and equipment

THE Toyota LandCruiser 79 Series tested here is a top-spec GXL single-cab priced at $66,490 plus on-road costs. It is $5500 more expensive than before but still does not include the $2761 air-conditioning or $550 for the beautiful Midnight Blue premium paint option applied to our vehicle.

Come on, Toyota. Who doesn’t fit AC to their LandCruiser? Make it standard!On the positive side, cruise control is also now standard, as are auto-locking front hubs with manual ‘lock’ option, while diff locks front and rear are also included on the GXL. Toyota has also noticed people tend to heavily accessorise their 70 Series and provided a bank of 10 extra fuses to help owners safely connect various electrical gadgets.

But much of the price increase is down to the five-year development and evaluation program undertaken in Australia to modernise safety and emissions performance for the top-selling LandCruiser variant, in doing so ensuring an even longer shelf life by remaining relevant with fleets that are increasingly demanding five ANCAP stars and remaining legal in Australia where Euro 5 tailpipe toxicity controls are now mandatory.

The frame and cab have been substantially strengthened and stiffened, with numerous new panels including a serious bonnet bulge designed to improve pedestrian protection, even if it obscures the view ahead slightly and therefore makes impacts a little more likely.

Five airbags are now fitted comprising dual front, side curtains, one for the driver’s knee and under-dash padding for the passenger. The steering linkage has also been moved behind the front axle, but this has led to the twin 80-litre fuel tanks being replaced by a single 130L unit. Toyota claims improved engine efficiency overcomes the reduced fuel capacity.

GXL specification highlights include chrome bumpers and door handles, cloth seats (a new supposedly more comfortable design), seat-back storage, carpet floor coverings and a variable intermittent wiper setting. You read that last bit correctly. Unusual for a ute and unexpected in such a basic vehicle is steering that adjusts for both reach and height.

Also standard is a two-speaker CD-radio with Bluetooth streaming and USB socket, a lockable glovebox and a solitary cupholder.

Interior

A popular aftermarket upgrade for the 70 Series is Recaro seats. They cost upwards of $2000 but after our 90-minute drive home from Toyota’s Queensland headquarters, we were desperate to hand over some hard cash for superior seating. A central armrest would be nice, too.

Toyota says it has improved the seats. Your correspondent’s aching body judged their efforts as not nearly enough. There is little adjustment and they do not recline far enough, forcing a too-upright position. Taller people may also find they cannot position the seat far enough back, and find the backs of their heads sun-roasted through a rear windscreen that is a literally too close for comfort.

Noise, vibration and harshness levels have been reduced, again according to Toyota. They need to do more on the noise, particularly the cyclone-grade wind noise at 90k/h and above.

Again, a popular aftermarket upgrade on this model is sound-deadening. Our aforementioned motorway journey had us exhausted from sensory overload and reaching for our imaginary chequebook, again.

This is a vehicle for long, hard days in even harder conditions. Perhaps we desk-jockey journalists just aren’t hard enough for the LandCruiser. But we know how big the aftermarket comfort upgrade industry is for this vehicle, so it is nice for Toyota to support some sources of home-grown Australian ingenuity.

Oddly enough, we found it pretty refined and pleasant to bimble around the suburbs. Until it came to parking, in which case the massive 14.4 metre turning circle made every shopping centre car park a four-point manoeuvre. Big, wide country town streets with angle parking are what the LandCruiser is all about.

It seems unfair to judge the cabin layout and design, because it is clearly unchanged from the 1980s. Except there is Bluetooth streaming (which works well) and a USB socket (which also works well, even if its location on front of the tinny sounding CD player is a recipe for trailing wires). There is also a suspiciously smartphone-shaped slot in front of the solitary cup-holder.

For all its bare-bones basicness, like the exterior paintwork and panel fit – which we just loved as it was all so clearly crafted with the care and love usually reserved for restored classics – the interior is all well bolted together and seems built to last well beyond life as we know it.

Storage is pretty limited, with slim door bins and an average-sized glove compartment plus the aforementioned single cupholder and phone slot. There is also a two-tier lidded compartment where the central armrest should be, a couple of odd slots in the dashboard that are not quite angled right for coin storage and an ashtray.

Between the seats is a bin with a movable dividers device that we mostly used to store large drinks bottles and behind the passenger seat is room to stuff additional items. We would not recommend putting anything behind the driver’s seat due to the lack of space for its occupant in the rearmost setting.

Our test vehicle had the Toyota steel tray fitted in matching Midnight Blue, so it looked great and was as tough as they come.

Engine and transmission

Peak power of 151kW and 430Nm of torque seems pretty low considering the LandCruiser has a 4.5-litre turbocharged V8 diesel engine. Much smaller ute engines variously produce more power and torque. For example the Volkswagen Amarok V6 lacks 1.5 litres of displacement compared with the Toyota but produces 9kW and 120Nm more, without the overboost function kicking in to temporarily provide even more shove.

Many LandCruiser owners liberate a fair bit more from the V8 by simply swapping the exhaust for one that also releases more of the engine’s iconic bark. But GoAuto understands the addition of a diesel particulate filter for Euro 5 emissions compliance, or more specifically its location, has caused a few aftermarket headaches.

But the point of these lazy outputs is engine preservation through low stress, even if some lament the passing of its bomb-proof straight-six predecessor compared with this reputedly more fragile V8. Peak torque from just 1200rpm isn’t bad either, and peak power is achieved at just 3400rpm, well before the 4500rpm redline.

In any case, pinning the LandCruiser’s throttle never delivers a sensation of being pushed into the seat, even unladen. Most modern utes feel pretty swift by comparison. This Toyota is built for the more relaxed pace of life enjoyed by people far from our bustling urban centres. And its steady-as-she-goes response is perfect for careful off-road or towing work.

To that end, the engine’s incredibly linear power delivery means it barely feels turbocharged. Predictability is good news in the rough.

Even without any fancy performance exhaust fitted, there is plenty of noise from the engine bay. It’s a funny sound, which constantly made us feel as though the engine revs were higher than the reality. Even when lugging along at suburban speeds in fifth. On the motorway it had us reaching for a non-existent sixth, but it’s just noise rather than unnecessarily high revs.

With the driver’s window down the V8 can be heard gurgling and gulping in air through the snorkel. Which, by the way, is not designed to prevent the engine from having a fatal drink during deep water crossings. You need to visit an accessory provider for one that is fully sealed.

The five-speed manual transmission is a pleasant box of cogs to work with and we enjoyed its slick, reassuringly positive throw. It does not like being hurried, though, and grinds its gears in protest – but that is this whole vehicle down to a tee. By comparison, the low-range selector lever (no on-the-fly electronic controls here) is reassuringly clunky in operation.

All in all, we found the LandCruiser drivetrain more pleasant to use in urban and suburban environments than its much more modern HiLux stablemate. This probably says more about the current manual HiLux than the ’Cruiser.

Fuel consumption of around 13 litres per 100 kilometres during our week-long test makes the official combined figure of 10.7 litres per 100 kilometres seem optimistic, especially as we did a lot of unladen long-haul motorway driving.

We also noticed the fuel gauge plummeting when we were driving hard.

Ride and handling

Having experienced bone-shaker 79s in the past, we were pleasantly surprised with the ride quality of this single-cab, even unladen. Toyota has clearly done something right and its claims of improved ride and handling ring truer than those of improved seat comfort and interior noise.

Although the LandCruiser’s brakes can haul the thing up pretty impressively, one thing that is truly awful about this vehicle is a pedal feel that is overly resistive and utterly wooden with no apparent relationship between pressure applied and the resultant deceleration. Guess what? The aftermarket has a fix for that, too.

For off-roading, the unequal front and rear track widths continue to be a problem on sandy or rutted surfaces. The aftermarket provides a number of solutions, all of which are expensive and why Toyota never addressed this for the update speaks of the do-the-minimum philosophy that led to only the single-cab being engineered for a five-star ANCAP safety rating.

Dynamically, although the driver has no idea what is going on at the front wheels through the LandCruiser’s slow and vague steering, the big bus hangs on remarkably well through fast corners, its Dunlop Grandtrek all-terrain tyres barely emitting a screech.

We would go as far as to say the well-driven 79 Series will not frustrate following traffic on a reasonably twisty road with speed limits between 80km/h and 100km/h. The more we pushed, the more this vehicle surprised us considering what it was conceived to do.

Again we could draw a favourable comparison against the HiLux: The LandCruiser never felt as though it was going to trip over its front tyres the way its smaller stablemate does when driven briskly. In fact, we preferred the 79 over the HiLux on our dynamic test route.

For the long stints on dirt tracks many examples of this vehicle will endure, we found a reasonable degree of confidence on corrugated and loose surfaces and put down any occasional sketchiness to the fact we had nothing in the tray.

Safety and servicing

Toyota managed to boost the LandCruiser 79’s three-star ANCAP crash-test rating to five stars for this latest update, due to the addition of safety features including electronic stability control, brake assistance, electronic brake distribution, cruise control and curtain and driver’s knee airbags.

Only single-cab variant tested here received the full range of body strength and airbag upgrades to be eligible for five ANCAP stars, and managed a respectable combined overall score of 35.75 out of 37.

A perfect score in both the side impact test and pole test helped, while 14.75 out of 16 in the frontal offset test was also not a bad effort.

Whiplash protection was deemed ‘good’, but 12.17 out of 36 for the pedestrian protection test led to a ‘marginal’ rating, so stay well clear of boxy ’Cruisers when crossing the road.

Maintenance intervals are six months or 10,000km, with the Toyota Service Advantage capped-price servicing offer quoting $340 per visit until 36 months and 60,000km at the time of writing.

However fleet, government, not-for-profit and rental buyers are not be eligible for capped-price servicing, so Toyota supplies a maximum logbook service price quote, which ranges from $342.56 to $1047.42 during the same three-year period, averaging at $662.90 over the six pit-stops (prices correct at time of writing).

Toyota provides a three-year, 100,000km warranty.

Verdict

In the same way old cars are simultaneously lovely and awful to drive, the LandCruiser 70 Series both delights and demoralises. Overall we found this updated model much easier to live with than expected.

But there is no other vehicle out there quite like it, justifying Toyota’s ambitious but always-achieved asking price.

For similar capability and toughness – but not necessarily at the same time – the alternatives are American trucks or the Mercedes-Benz G-Professional, with prices deep in six-figure territory. Failing that, there is always the ridiculously tall Iveco Daily 4x4 that also costs more than the old ’Cruiser.

We can see why the 70 Series succeeds, but we can also see why almost every owner modifies theirs. The first things we’d splash cash on would be noise insulation and aftermarket seats.

The same upgrades we would apply to almost any lovingly restored classic if it was to be driven every day.

It is a vehicle that is easy to fall in love with and so elicit the extra spending on improvements Toyota really should be making at the factory.

But given the model’s popularity, what incentive do they have? Rivals

Iveco Daily 4x4 Cab Chassis Single Cab from $88,000 plus on-road costs
The next-closest thing to a Unimog and looks like something from the set of a post-apocalyptic movie. Even though it is more modern than the LandCruiser, it lacks any kind of airbags. Like the Toyota it is manual-only, but there are two low-range modes and three diff locks in the Iveco and while its engine is a cleaner Euro 6 compliant unit, the 3.0-litre four-cylinder produces just 125kW and 400Nm.

Ram 2500 from $139,500 plus on-road costs
A 6.7-litre Cummins diesel engine punching out 276kW and 1084Nm of torque. Is that a Newton kilometre? Everything is bigger in America, but it’s been converted to right-hand-drive right here in Australia. The cost is high, but so is the level of standard equipment. Dual-cab only, but it can tow almost seven tonnes. Yee haw!Mercedes-Benz G300 CDI Professional from $119,900 plus on-road costs
The closest 70 Series rival yet and at least as ancient, even though it only hit the Australian market in December 2016. Huge 2085kg payload but paltry 2120kg braked towing capacity. It does have an automatic transmission, three diff locks and its 3.0-litre diesel V6 puts out 135kW and 400Nm. Arguably the Benz will go further off-road than a LandCruiser, but the price is high enough to put most people off being too adventurous.

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