Car reviews - Toyota - LandCruiser - 200 Series 5-dr wagon range
Satisfying V8 diesel performance, smooth six-speed auto, upgraded petrol V8, improved off-road ability, low noise levels, refinement, improved ride/handling, build quality, improved fuel consumption, improved rear legroom, improved active and passive safety features
Room for improvement
Tight rear headroom, uncomfortable rear seats, annoying VSC chime during traction loss off-road, rear parking sensors not standard, reduced departure angle, dash-mounted low-range selctor takes longer to engage than 100 Series' lever, noisy low-range transfer case whine, same cruise control stalk as $20,000 HiLux, KDSS optional on most popular variant
7 Nov 2007
TEN years is a long time between drinks for those in the market for a redesigned LandCruiser and, thankfully, Toyota has not missed the opportunity to make significant on and off-road advances with its biggest, most iconic model in its eighth iteration.
Not surprisingly, Toyota has made some big claims with its redesigned full-size off-roader, which hits Australia almost 10 years after the legendary 100 Series.
But, as one of the largest vehicles on the road, the first vehicle ever exported by Toyota and the product of nearly 50 years of development (much of which took place in the Aussie Outback), Toyota was not about to mess with what has become the dominant vehicle of choice when the bitumen stops.
Which is why the newest ’Cruiser, dubbed “200 Series”, follows the same tried-and-tested formula of its seven forebears. It comes wrapped in a slightly more stylised bodyshell that makes it more obviously part of the Toyota SUV family that also includes RAV4 and Kluger – but is still unmistakably a LandCruiser.
At about an inch wider and a couple of inches longer than before, yet offering a cabin that has grown up to five inches in length, the newest ’Cruiser offers more second and third-row legroom, but no more headroom.
In fact, the third-row seat, which doesn’t stow away under the floor like many other SUVs today and continues to rob luggage space by only folding away on both sides (albeit via an easier release system), goes without a footwell and only offers adequate headroom for children.
Further, the seat splits in half directly underneath the centre occupant, making it even more uncomfortable than the thinly padded (but at least reclining) second-row seat, which is split 60/40 in the GXL and 40/20/40 in upstream variants, making it even more compromised.
So the bottom line is the bigger new LandCruiser continues to deliver long-distance seating for only four adults, plus four kids.
On the road, the 200 Series is astonishingly quiet for such a large, bluff wagon, with wind, engine and road noise significantly reduced from 100 Series levels. The slightly rounder and much more slippery shape all but eliminates wind noise well beyond the national speed limit. No longer does the big Toyota SUV feel like a wind sock under deceleration.
Design and build quality within the highly ergonomic interior seems beyond reproach, and the woodgrain highlights, leather trim and colour touch screen in more expensive variants makes a convincing luxury statement.
However, the screen is difficult to see in direct sunlight or when covered in dust and, in the vastness north of Alice Springs where the press launch took place, the DVD satellite-navigation system didn’t reveal too many roads.
We wonder, too, how the touch screen will hold up to abuse in the bush, and how those on the land will cope with the standard Smart Entry and Start systems, which do away with an ignition key for both un/locking and starting.
But when it comes to performance, both on-road and off, the 200 has moved into a new league from both its predecessor and rivals like Nissan’s Patrol.
While the entry-level 4.7-litre petrol V8 is smooth, responsive and sounds sweet all the way to 6000rpm, it is also claimed to be cleaner-burning and slightly more frugal than before, though we returned an average of more than 20L/100km on the mostly off-road launch loop. It’s hooked up, as standard, to the same five-speed auto as before because there is no longer a manual version.
Yes, the brand-new 4.5-litre twin-turbo diesel V8 (Toyota’s first V8 diesel and the company’s first twin-turbo) is the star of the 200 Series show. Despite peak power being down slightly compared to overseas versions to due our inferior diesel fuel quality, the V8 oiler’s 195kW output is worlds ahead of the 100 Series’ straight-six diesel and the Nissan’s four-potter.
Of course, the real story here is a bruising 650Nm of torque, on tap from just 1600rpm. Mated to a new six-speed automatic transmission (also with manual-shift mode, which refreshingly overrides on downshifts, but not upshifts), it delivers a seamless surge of thrust in any gear, from any speed.
A familiar diesel clatter is only evident with the windows down and, even better, fuel consumption is at least 3L/100km better than the petrol V8. The icing on the diesel 8 cake, however, is the fact it now comes at a $10,000 premium over petrol variants – down from almost $13,000.
The diesel 200 Series is a vastly quicker vehicle than its forebears, despite a kerb weight gain of just over 100kg at GXL level, thanks in part to the extra safety of standard stability and traction control, plus at least six airbags as standard.
But the new ’Cruiser’s on-road performance gain is eclipsed by its advances in off-road capability, which begins with a new "Torsen" centre differential and and a higher-riding body (ground clearance is up substantially to 225mm, but the departure angle has beed reduced thanks to more rear overhang).
Fitted across the range as standard except in the diesel GXL (in which it’s an affordable $2500 option), the Australian-invented Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) effectively “decouples” the front and rear stabiliser bars at all four corners to drastically improve wheel articulation when required off-road and to improve body control on the road.
Simple, ingenious and highly effective, KDSS ensured our ’Cruiser sat mostly flat and kept its feet on the ground as it crawled up the steep, mogulled “Widowmaker” hill outside Alice Springs – an incline that tests most off-roaders as their occupants jostle around in the cabin while they wobble from side to side with wheels dangling in the breeze.
Throw in the three-speed Crawl Control function for petrol models (the “off-road cruise control” system has not yet been developed for the diesel LandCruiser, which offers Downhill Assist Control instead) and there’s no doubt the new model has increased its already formidable off-road capability by a sizeable margin.
The 40 per cent stiffer body-on-chassis structure not only improves refinement but seems to have made the new LandCruiser better behaved on the road, too.
There’s no escaping the size and weight of the latest example and mid-corner bumps still send a subdued shimmy back through the chassis and (quicker-ratio) steering, but our limited exposure to fast, tightening bends revealed the 200 body is better-controlled, more adjustable and less upset by road irregularities at speed.
So what would you expect to pay for such improvements in styling, refinement, on/off-road capability, performance and economy? Unfortunately, the answer is considerably more than before, at least at base level.
Reflecting its advances in almost all areas, LandCruiser pricing now opens $14,000 higher than the previous model at a far more upmarket $70,000 (for the now-entry-level GXL petrol). The GXL diesel is expected to be the top-seller (despite a $4500 price rise, which Toyota says is offset almost two-fold by extra equipment) and diesels are expected form two-thirds of all sales.
Toyota says that, in lieu of the Standard specification grade this time around, customers will migrate instead to the new standard-grade Prado (which is both smaller, less capable and about $10,000 cheaper) or the new 70 Series wagon, which lacks a third row of seats, airbags and ABS for around the same price.
It also says it is working to develop airbags for the 70 Series wagon, but with Australia being the world's only significant market for the 20-year-old workhorse (with around 600 sales per month - slightly less than the 100 Series average of about 800/month), that's unlikely to happen soon.
Disenfranchising those who seek a modern full-size go-anywhere SUV at a relatively accessible mid-$50,000 pricetag is not likely to dent the popularity of Toyota’s legendary (and lucrative) off-roader, however, as pent-up demand has already produced a waiting list that stretches out almost six months for the most expensive Sahara variant.
It may have become more rapid, more capable, more refined and more expensive than ever, but in the world’s largest LandCruiser market it seems Toyota’s toughest truck is also set to remain as popular as ever.
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