► Toyota’s toughest pepped up for 2015
► Enormous, practical, old-school 4x4
► Read on for our full Land Cruiser review
With the impending demise of the Land Rover Defender, Toyota's Land Cruiser is one of a dwindling number of safari-spec tough off-roaders from the old school. Authentic 4x4s that put go-anywhere duty ahead of niceties such as cornering on rails or high-street posing. SUVs with the emphasis on Utility Vehicle, with less of the Sport.
It makes a lot of sense when you pause to think about it. CAR has long questioned the need for go-faster off-roaders, the multi-discipline whores of the car world, trying to do a bit of everything.
The Land Cruiser has stood apart from this trend to sportify everything for decades. It’s diametrically opposed to a twin-turbocharged BMW X6 M gangsta-mobile. And with the 2015-model-year model pepped up with a few new improvements, it’s an apt time to test Toyota’s timeless tough nut.
What’s new on the 2015 Land Cruiser?
There’s a modest facelift for the venerable four-by-four from Japan, although if you blink you may indeed miss the upgrades. This is a timelessly sturdy (read: boxy) design and one that doesn’t need much tinkering.
Instead, Toyota has concentrated on giving the latest iteration some new gizmos inside. So there’s now the latest touchscreen infotainment system, complete with Google Street View (fitment that was an industry-first in the UK at the time of launch last year).
It is, isn’t it - stretching to 4780mm long, 1885mm wide and a towering 1875mm tall. This is one car even tall drivers can’t see over. It guarantees huge presence and a commanding view out - with generous reserves of space for bodies and baggage within.
This is A Good Thing. You’ll be wildly comfortable in the front two rows, and even the third row of pop-up seats will accommodate a pair of grown-ups. Maybe not with quite the generosity that a Discovery affords, but this is a proper seven-seater alright.
All passengers have access to heated seats and the third row pops up electrically (depending on spec) from a surprisingly high floor. There are drop-down TV screens like on a plane and pleasingly rubberised grip handles all round to help jump in or out and hold you secure during savannah runs. It’s generously equipped, but everything feels like it’s from a 1980s Boeing airliner; lacking modern class, but time-warp sturdy and built to last.
A blast from the past
The ancient underpinnings expose themselves throughout the Land Cruiser's cabin. There are no one-nudge-three-wink indicators or any modern nonsense like that. The cabin feels like it’s been developed in tandem with on-off partner Subaru - that unpretentious, farmyard Tonka toy plastic that you know will survive the rigours of a safari, let alone family life in Shrewsbury.
There are a few concessions to modern gadgetry, though: a fridge in the front armrest, keyless entry, electric steering column adjustment and a second rear-view mirror to keep an eye on nippers or errant grown-ups lurking in the back on the run back from the pub. And that touchscreen display works much better than what went before.
Although everyone enjoys an imperious view out from the high-mounted perches, we rue the LC’s unnecessarily awkward side-hinged tailgate: it’s heavy and difficult to open without clonking passers-by/other cars/bits of car park. An annoyance you'll notice every single day.
How does the 2015 Toyota Landcruiser drive?
This car has a dynamic character all of its own. It’s way more comfortable than a Defender or Wrangler; although they share driving duties in wilder climes, they are in truth completely different beasts. Think of the LC as halfway between a Range Rover and a Landie. It’s more akin to a more affordable Merc G-wagen.
On the one hand the Land Cruiser is a proper tough off-roader. There’s some beefy Africa-spec differential technology, and you can lock the middle and rear diffs to retain traction in even the most ludicrous conditions. Air suspension lifts the car up or down at the touch of a button and the dampers can switch from Comfort, Auto or - misnomer alert for a 109mph flat-out 4x4! - Sport.
Yet the ride from the Bridgestone Dueler H/T tyres (265/60 R18s on our test car) is far from ludicrously bouncy. It’s actually surprisingly refined at a motorway cruise, although you do end up sawing away at the wheel in the manner of BA Baracus from The A Team. A toddler responds better to minute inputs than a Land Cruiser’s steering wheel.
The giant 2982cc four-cylinder diesel can sound quite gruff at lower speeds. Noise, vibration and harshness - the NVH triplets - do introduce themselves from time to time, but it’s far from terrible. Shame the ancient five-speed automatic transmission feels indecisive, lacking the finesse of its Lexus slusher cousins. But then you’d expect that, no?
Eco tech? Not round here - there’s no start-stop and Toyota claims around 35mpg combined economy. But with an 87-litre fuel tank (expandable to 150 litres) you’ll rarely have to fill up. The fuel needle didn’t budge off the top marker after three days of testing.
Priced from £34,995 the Land Cruiser is actually something of a bargain (although if you get carried away you can end up spending £64k). We love its tough-as-nails ambience, go-anywhere pluck and vast practicality. This is a unique Africa-meets-Asia luxury SUV with pleasingly few pretensions. It’s an almost-classic, a worthy alternative to me-too German premium crossovers and exactly the kind of robust car we’d pick if we were preparing for the Apocalypse...