Toyota's Land Cruiser. Since 1954 and with five million made, it’s gone on to be the world’s best-selling SUV. The Range Rover’s an upstart compared to this, and Toyota’s world domination started with exports of the Land Cruiser. As such, the company treats it reverentially.
That’s why it allowed a team of 1500 engineers the luxury of five years to develop the new version. That’s twice lean Toyota’s norm. And how to make the most satisfied customers in Toyota’s line-up (and of any luxo-SUV) even happier? Give them more of what they like. No off-road compromises for this most all-terrain of 4x4s. The problem came in lessening the on-road compromises…
It looks like a Land Cruiser always has.
Good - that's the idea. It may not be an icon here, but it is to Toyota and many others who love it. So the high-shouldered, edgy design sketches morphed into this massive, subdued machine with RAV4 sides and humungous front-end detailing. Dull to our eyes, not to the rest of the world.
The company says the £55,995 Land Cruiser’s interior is more premium, but look beyond the soft leather, backlit blue dials and quality dashtop plastics and things fall apart with hard lower-dash plastics, offensive plastic wood and a vinyl centre stowage box lid. You can feel the moulding line on the plastic wood steering wheel, while the LED glare of the clock is plain Datsun Sunny. Build quality is irreproachable, precision better than a Benz, but heavy-duty takes the place of rivals’ tactility.
It’s got a separate chassis. How quaint…
That’s for reliability and off-road ability anywhere on the planet. Land Cruiser drivers aren’t the most erudite off-raoders, but they still want to drive it anywhere. So it needs to be able, yet easy. And buoyed by a central Torsen diff, off-road-sensing anti-lock, up to 240mm of wheel travel and the height-adjusting suspension’s ability to eliminate anti-roll bar effects for even greater wheel articulation, it is. Even crawling over rocks that normal 4x4s would consider obstacles, it ploughed on in our hands, uneventfully. It’s praise indeed to say the Cruiser feels so competent off-road that it’s almost dull. The excitement comes when you watch from outside.
There’s even something called ‘Crawl Control’. Think off-road cruise control - it can be set at 0.5, 2 or 3mph, helping make best use of the electronic systems and leaving the driver free to simply steer. Pointless? Not for hardcore off-roading, when you need to hang out of the window to see where the wheels should go. Shame the monster torque and delayed response of the diesel means, for now, it’s a petrol-only feature.
So why have Toyota’s rivals dumped the separate chassis?
For on-road prowess. It’s here where, despite clever interconnected quasi-hydraulic suspension, the Land Cruiser slips. The ride suffers most, picking out surface knobbles and thumping into obstacles a Range Rover would smother. The thudding, heavy-wheel feel is not helped by a disconnected and vague steering feel at speed, with plenty of wallowy roll through corners.
It’s advanced height-control dampers means the roll isn't as bad as it feels once you tip from vertical and ‘wake up’ the anti-roll function, and it’s considerably less boat-like than you expect. It’s no X5.
Couldn’t they just fit air suspension, rather than combining traditional coils with all the height-sensing hydraulics?
No, not really. That wouldn’t be guaranteed bulletproof reliable in the 140 countries where the Land Cruiser’s sold. Remember, unlike ‘premium’ rivals, this 4x4 works for its money. The garage with a hammer in northern Russia or the Gobi desert is unlikely to have a laptop and data cable to diagnose the fault code that’s flashed on the dash – and it’s for these conditions that the Land Cruiser’s been designed to cope.
That’s also why there are no aluminium panels, no Xenon lights, and no automatic handbrake. And why the door handles and the buttons on the steering wheel are so gigantic (so you can operate them wearing gloves). Oil pressure and volt meter dials sit proudly in the dial pack, while the rearmost two seats hang from straps off the vehicle's sides when folded, rather than tucking neatly into the boot floor, because there’s no space; a 20-inch full-size spare wheel lives there instead. Well, who wants a space-saver when traversing Mali?
I see it’s called Land Cruiser V8, rather than Amazon.
Indeed – because a diesel V8 joins the thirsty petrol that, sensibly, we’re not getting. With 282bhp and 479lb ft of torque between 1600-2800rpm, the all-new 4.5-litre diesel is free-revving, smooth and powerful enough to necessitate an all-new six-speed auto. Stop it rushing for sixth via the tiptronic override (or effective sport button) and it’s quite a rapid, throbby thing once the turbos have filled. But if, like we were, you’re thinking it's a candidate for the Lexus LS, hold on. The IS may share an engine with a RAV4, but the V8, despite electro-hydraulic engine mounts and solenoid common-rail injectors, is not quiet enough in this installation. Low revs also produce both a droney clatter and pronounced vibration through the controls. Not premium, nor is the driveline thud as you come on and off the power.
The Land Cruiser was the first SUV to come with air con, back in 1955; today’s system, via 28 vents, can control four separate climate zones, no matter what the exterior weather conditions. It’s powerful, alright. Perhaps that’s why the revs irritating rise and fall constantly at tickover as the compressor cuts in and out. Oh, and here’s hoping it’s not a smoker, either. Toyota still hasn’t decided whether to retro-fit a particulate filter. Do it, we say - 27.7mpg combined is already admirable for the breed, and 270g/km of CO2 won’t mean much if it’s a 270g/km black cloud under acceleration.
What’s it up against in the UK?
Some pretty stiff competition, to be frank. At £55,995, the Mercedes GL420 CDI, the Audi Q7 4.2 TDi, the VW Touareg V10 TDi and, of course, the Range Rover TDV8. Toyota knows it won’t out-premium those cars, at such a heady price tag, which is why it will sell only 500 a year – to people who tow, apparently (speedboats up to 3.5 tonnes with this one), who are almost as loyal as Range Rover buyers. And the massive price tag isn’t as massive as rival V8s, once specs have been adjusted. Toyota reckons it’s nearly 25 percent cheaper than a comparable GL 420 CDI.
Don’t think of it as a premium SUV, despite Toyota’s claims and pricing strategy. Those looking for a luxury car alternative will be disappointed – by the ride, the engine noise, the not-quite-there cabin and the nondescript looks. Its small but loyal band of buyers won’t care, though. The Land Cruiser goes anywhere a sane - or not so sane - person would wish while, crucially, never breaking down in the process. For those buyers, this defines luxury.
With its better body control and imposing V8 engine, it’s an improved helping of more of the same. Massively able and fearsomely well-developed, agreed, but in the UK a Range Rover has as much off-road ability as we’d want, and is far more desirable to drive on road. That’s where our money would go.