Car reviews - Toyota - LandCruiser - 300 Series
Impressive driving dynamics, great dashboard design and function, unstoppable off-road fun, fat 3500kg tow rating, sense of unburstable strength.
Room for improvement
Cabin lacks space efficiency, price is getting exxcy, service costs higher, fuel tank smaller.
Toyota slam-dunks beloved 200 with slick, all-new 300 Series wagon
23 Oct 2021
By NEIL DOWLING
If you think nothing can detract a man’s attention from the front door of Bunning’s store, you’re wrong. I’ve found it.
Few vehicles have received such a welcome. In a sea of Bunnings customers, a few quickly broke ranks in their voyage to the front door. Their target was the Land Cruiser 300, parked up, deserted and to the trained eye, clearly very new.
This became typical of the week-long test in the 300 in its upper-spec Sahara VX version - a regular visit of enthusiasts keen to look, feel and discuss a car that they all pronounced were eager to buy.
Aside from the “how does it go?”, the common question was all about delivery times. A few - very few - asked about the price.
And in answer, it’s a long way ahead of its predecessor, the 200 Sreies, and addresses a lot of the hiccups with the 200 while stubbornly retaining some carry-over annoyances.
It has a waiting list of anywhere from a quoted nine months to a more likely 12 months, depending on the variant.
The price of the Sahara ZX is $138,790 (plus on-road costs) which is up $7017 on its nearest 200 Series equivalent, the Sahara Horizon.
Will the 300 be as successful as the 200? As sure as Bunnings is the church of any amateur handyman.
To get this right, the 200 Sahara was driven first, before slipping fresh into the 300. Back-to-back testing shows immediate differences and highlights even small changes.
Personally, the 200 is - and has always been - a ponderous wagon in comparison with many large SUVs.
It was practically indestructible but had a sluggish, truck-like V8 diesel engine that had its own technical faults; long-travel and vague steering; and gooey suspension (especially the front) that pared back a lot of on-road confidence, especially at country-road speeds.
The 300 is sharper - a lot sharper. The small-diameter steering wheel guides a faster rack with more direct feel without being overly light. Singularly, the steering changes the entire vehicle. Put it in the 200 and it would instantly change that model.
Further handling improvements come from the ZX’s standard rear Torsen differential to enhance on-road driving. It gets bitumen-friendly Bridgestone Dueler A/T tyres at 265/55R20 sitting on 12-spoke chrome-look wheels. The full-size spare carries over its location under the chassis at the rear.
From the driver’s seat, the cabin feels smaller as the dashboard pushes into the driver’s lap and the centre console sits higher. It makes it feel a bit sporty, but mainly shrinks the size of the interior and gives the impression it’s a smaller vehicle.
On the road the engine is a sparkler - a term not used lightly for a diesel - for its responsiveness and great low-down grunt. It really makes the old engine a slug.
The 10-speed auto sounds great on paper but it’s hard to feel the benefit as it skips cogs in its search for the best in performance and economy.
Big ticks to the ride comfort (though the 200 was never harsh) and the sound deadening that bring a lot of peace to the cabin, especially on long country runs.
In the dirt the 300 is equally as capable as the 200. The Bridgestone tyres are more road-oriented but performed well on the sand during this test and are a good compromise suited to the more urban-centic Sahara ZX owner.
In size, the Sahara ZX is 25mm longer than the outgoing 200 Sahara, but sits on a new platform with a wider track that grows 27mm and the front and 33mm at the rear to 1667/1668mm respectively.
It’s higher (obviously) at 1950mm (up 5mm) and wider at 2000mm (up 20mm), sits on an identical 2850mm wheelbase, gets a welcome ground clearance lift to 235mm (up 10mm), and weighs 170kg less at 2570kg.
Sahara ZX is a five-seater. If you want room for seven, there’s the “standard” Sahara, or the GXL or VX. Seven seaters now fold the third row into the boot floor which is a welcome move compared with the side-clipped seats before.
But the centre row still tumbles forward and takes up a lot - about 300mm - of cargo room length. Rivals can fold this row into the floor to create a flat floor and it’s difficult to see why it’s impossible for Toyota.
Still, the available room is substantial. Cargo space is 1131 litres with the two seat rows in place, and 2052 litres with the second row rolled forward.
The tailgate is now a one-piece lift-up (electric in upper-spec models including the ZX) so many will miss the split gate with its fold-down ‘picnic seat’ arrangement shared with Range Rover and Volvo.
From the front seats, the bonnet looks short and the scalloped centre - although merely a styling exercise - improves forward view through the middle - both commendable for inspiring operator confidence.
Inside there’s the two dashboard screens - a 12.3-inch for the infotainment centre and a 7.0-inch ahead of the driver for upper-spec versions, with a battery of controls and functions to glide through full communications, navigation, HVAC, and audio options.
There’s a lot buried behind the buttons but the 300 impresses with its ease of use and logical layout.
The park-brake is electric, so the small button integrates onto the horizontal console area leaving space for the 4WD controls, while the drive mode is a rotary switch on the vertical area.
It gets a multi-terrain select (MTS) control system with six modes for off-road driving - dirt, sand, mud, deep snow, rock and an auto mode - and for on-road, five engine-transmission modes of Eco, Normal, Comfort, Sport and Sport+.
The crawl function carries over and there’s now a low-mounted camera for views ahead of the off-road track.
Nothing carries over from the outgoing 200 Series. This is the first time Toyota has applied its TNGA platform design - common now on its cars and SUVs - on a full-frame chassis. It promises a lighter weight, better rigidity and is more sympathetic to ride comfort (using new adaptive variable suspension on the Sahara ZX) and handling demands.
The engine is a 3.3-litre bi-turbo diesel and is the first Toyota V6 diesel engine. Coded F33A-FTV, it shares nothing with its previous engines.
Its two turbos, which are not identical so it’s not a ‘twin turbo’, are ‘hot’ and nestle in the centre of the engine’s V hard up against the exhaust ports. There is a primary turbo with engine demand triggering the action of the second turbo, so they work together or singularly.
Intakes are ‘cold’ and outside the V. This is an unusual design step for Toyota but is used extensively by European car-makers (Audi particularly) to maximise engine efficiency.
The result is 227kW at 4000rpm and torque that comes in low and flat from 1600rpm to 2600rpm to peak at 700Nm. Importantly, these outputs are up 27kW/50Nm on the outgoing 4.5-litre turbo-diesel of the 200 Series.
Fuel economy benefits with Toyota claiming an average of 8.9 litres per 100 kilometres, a saving over the old 4.5’s 9.5L/100km claim. In practice, the figures are different. On test, the Sahara VX averaged 11.4 L/100km.
Part of the fuel saving can be attributed to the 10-speed automatic transmission (replacing the 200’s six-speed unit) that gets a new transfer case with faster shift points, with a standard lockable centre diff added to improve off-road capability.
The 300 weighs 150-190kg (depending on variant) less than its predecessor thanks mainly to aluminium door, bonnet, roof and tailgate, but helped by factors including the lighter engine and smaller fuel tanks, now totalling 110 litres from the 200’s 138.
Toyota said this weight reduction equates to a rise in payload of up to 90kg, so for the entry-level GX model it’s now 785kg and for the Sahara ZX tested here, it’s 670kg.
For the record, it can still tow 3500kg and even comes standard with a tow kit.
Safety gear is impressive with even the base GX kitted with radar and camera sensors for the AEB that detects vehicles and pedestrians night and day.
There’s also lane-change assist, intersection-turn assist and on the VX grades and above, emergency steering assist - a first for Land Cruiser - along with blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, parking sensors and 10 airbags.
It also gets the availability of Toyota Connected Services (TCS) that provides emergency assistance to occupants in the event of an accident and can locate the vehicle if stolen.
Warranty and service: The LandCruiser 300 Series is covered by Toyota's five-year/unlimited kilometre Warranty Advantage.
It has also been, for the first time on the Land Cruiser, extended from three years/60,000km to five years/100,000km.
That means there’s capped-price servicing for the first 10 services at a cost of $375 each, but service intervals are still low at every six months or 10,000km.
Toyota said that owners will be able to extend their warranty on the engine and driveline to seven years by sticking to the service schedule and using Toyota dealers.
Verdict: Better without being bigger and thirstier. The drive experience is far superior to the 200 and even a big improvement over the Prado. The price is up by as much as $10,717 (VX) but the tech and features make up for it. Delivery is slow, with GoAutobeing quoted anywhere from nine months to 12 months. While you’re waiting, you can always think about the resale value.
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