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CRUISER CHOOSER

Toyota channels a little Lexus into the latest and altogether slicker Land Cruiser. Andy Enright reports.

Ten Second Review

Many serious off-road vehicles are about as comfortable as going over Niagara in a barrel when used on the road but Toyota's Land Cruiser is one champion mud-plugger that can hold its own on the tarmac. The latest model brings revised styling, improved suspension and a better quality interior.

Background

When it comes to reputation, there's little that can touch the Toyota Land Cruiser. It's the most indestructible of all big 4x4s and has spawned its own legend. Australian backwoodsmen tell you that if you need to get to where you're going, buy a Land Rover. If you need to get back again, choose a Land Cruiser. Here in the UK, however, there's often little requirement for a vehicle that can ford swollen rivers and wade up to its axles in mud. It's not that we're lightweights. We just require a little more versatility.

The latest Land Cruiser responds to that call. Yes, it can still take you wherever you choose to go once the tarmac runs out, but now it's a much more pleasant place to be for the majority of the time it's being used as a car rather than a cross-country assault weapon. It's hard to mess with a legend that has over 60 years of heritage behind it. Has Toyota been successful?

Driving Experience

The engine has carried over from the old model. It remains a 188bhp 3.0-litre turbodiesel engine, matched to a five-speed automatic transmission. The four-cylinder, 16-valve unit has been revised to meet Euro 5+ emissions standards, but with no decrease in performance: 420 of torque is available from 1,600 to 3,00rpm and it'll accelerate to 62mph in 10.2 seconds in three door guise while the weightier five-door model will detain you for 11.0 seconds. A performance SUV this is not.

That doesn't mean to say the Land Cruiser need be hard work to drive. The latest suspension modifications offer an improved balance of stability and ride quality. This applies both to the standard set-up and the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System featured on higher grade models. On the standard system damper performance has been optimised, while the Kinetic setup benefits from an increase in thickness/diameter for several components, including the front anti-roll bar to create smoother vehicle behaviour with better front-to-rear weight transfer when cornering. This improved on-road refinement hasn't come at the expense of off-road ability though. That's sacrosanct and Toyota only green lights developments that can benefit both roles.

Design and Build

The Land Cruiser's styling has been subtly updated, with the most obvious change being the revised grille with five parallel vertical bars that now sink into the upper edge of the front bumper. The headlamp clusters and daytime running lights now form a single unit with the grille and the entire structure is set higher, making it less vulnerable to damage when driving off-road. The over-size bumper has a two-step design that further protects the headlights above. In spite of adding 20mm to the front overhang, its sharply cut-away bottom edge means there is no change to the vehicle's turning circle (5.2m for the three-door, 5.8m for the five-door) or its approach angle when driving off-road. The wheelbase and rear overhang are unchanged, with overall vehicle lengths increased to 4,335mm (three-door) and 4,780mm (five-door). Wheel designs, rear lights and exterior colours have also been brought up to date.

The Land Cruiser's cabin has been given a brush up too, with trims and detailing that raise the overall tactile and perceived quality. The dashboard has been redesigned with a focus on making the vehicle's drive systems easier to access and monitor. The centre console gains a switch panel that brings together the controls for the on and off-road driving technologies. The dash features a 4.2-inch TFT colour screen set between the main meters in the driver's instrument binnacle, while the Optitron dial pack gets a slicker look. There's a brushed metal finish to the centre console above the central seven-inch colour display. Piano black and wood grain finishes have been introduced around the cabin. In the five-door Land Cruiser, access to the third row seats has made been made easier by increasing the folding angle of the second row seats from 33.8 to 46 degrees.

Market and Model

If you want the best, you tend to have to pay for it and the Land Cruiser has never been conspicuously cheap. Prices are in the £33,000 to £54,000 bracket, which is around £5,000 pounds less model for model when compared to the latest Land Rover Discovery. Advantage Toyota.

Equipment levels have never been a Land Cruiser Achilles heel and the latest range doesn't want for standard kit. The comprehensive safety provisions on Land Cruiser will be extended with the availability of Toyota's Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross Traffic Alert systems. The Rear Cross Traffic Alert uses the same radar as the Blind Spot Monitor to alert the driver to any vehicles approaching from either side that may not be visible through the rear screen or door mirrors. If any vehicle is detected, the system flashes the warning lights in the door mirrors and sounds a warning buzzer.

Cost of Ownership

The Toyota Land Cruiser's famed durability means that it commands big resale values, helping drive the overall cost of ownership down. Consider the last of the outgoing models. The VED was cheaper, fuel economy was better, insurance was lower and emissions were lower than an equivalent Land Rover Discovery. Yes, that's largely because the engine was a good deal less powerful, but running a 188bhp engine rather than a 255bhp unit will help keep a cap on bills. CO2 emissions have been reduced slightly to 209 and 214g/km for the three and five-door models respectively.

Summary

The Land Cruiser has proven itself a winning formula and it's understandable that Toyota is reticent to mess with that too radically. Instead, it has chosen an incremental approach to change here, tweaking the suspension design and the exterior styling. It's inside that you'll notice the biggest differences, with the adoption of an interior that seems more appropriate to the asking price.

Overall, the Land Cruiser still seems happily out of step with its rivals in the large family 4x4 segment. As they get ever more sporting and powerful, this Toyota seems a breed apart, resolutely rugged despite the improved quality of the latest car. It's as if the brand has dialled in a little Lexus into the Land Cruiser mix without diluting the core proposition. Perhaps that's no bad thing.

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