I almost knew a bloke who ate a car. Details are sketchy but I expect it took him a while, and it was probably a small car like a Fiat 600, or maybe even a Volkswagen. Why? Well, that was never explained.
Maybe he just woke up one day and said, “It’s about time someone around here ate a car.” Like he felt a sense of obligation.
It is also possible that he might just have been amazingly hungry and was sick of goat.
He was Greek you see, a village ‘strongman’, and it was in the paper so it must be true. And I almost knew him because ‘Tony the Greek’, who used to cut my hair, said he was his brother.
Good enough for me.
This, of course, takes me effortlessly to Toyota’s 2009 Landcruiser 200 Sahara V8 diesel. I say that because it is reasonably safe to aver that the Landcruiser V8 is entirely inedible.
Not because it’s inedible per se; I mean it probably doesn’t taste any different to any other car (taste one, taste them all…). No, the Landcrusier V8 would be inedible because there is just so much of it.
It’s freakin’ huge. Better to try eating a combine harvester. Or a cement truck.
And that’s the thing about the big ‘Cruiser – it has never stopped growing. Numerous iterations have seen it creep, millimetre by millimetre, upwards and outwards, to become the absolute barge-arse of big 4WDs (at least in this country).
Bigness like this – outside and in – you simply can’t ignore.
Look at the front: huge lights, a wide heavy grille, and cavernous guards over 17-inch wheels and 285/65 tyres. And while it might be a face only a deranged mother could love – especially when it’s filling the rear-view mirror - there is no denying its presence.
Stand at the driver’s door, and you sense its weight and the metal in its heavy flanks and high hip line. These terminate in ‘bum-bag’ raised hips and large, lumpily-styled rear lights.
To these eyes, the whole thing is a bit on the clumsy side; not offensive but no picture-plate.
Inside, after you’ve clambered aboard, it’s impossible not to notice it’s big there too. The seats are wide and generous; there’s room for a picnic on the arm-rest between driver and passenger and, in the back, even Andrew Bogut could find room for his knees.
At the wheel, it is also immediately apparent that you’re sitting higher – and very comfortably I might add - than nearly everything this side of a Kenworth.
Now, in case you’re wondering, Toyota has not designed the Landcruiser 200 Series ‘big’ by accident. No, it’s big because customers want it that way.
You need something big and inedible if you’re towing a boat the size of the Marie Celeste to the gulf to get among the Barra. Or if you’re dragging three tonne of survey clobber, plus four blokes with a serious liking for a daily cubit of pies and a slab, in and out of an open-cut in the Kimberley.
Or if you need to shuttle what seems like half the field of the Melbourne Cup to the Pony Club and back every other weekend.
You need a big rig for this sort of work. You need something like the Sahara.
And it’s very good at it.
And here’s the thing. While it’s big, once you get behind the wheel (and mission control has detached the mounting platform) it shrinks. You will actually find it very easy to drive. Except down narrow lanes that is...
Here, at the wheel, it simply feels like a luxurious and well-appointed saloon. It is as comfortable as all get-out and as quiet as a grave on the highway (and about as exciting).
That’s not a criticism. At $110,990 (plus on-roads), the Sahara V8 diesel is a premium-level big-rig. Sahara buyers won’t be at all interested in the pop and fizz of a turbo, the bellow of a performance V8 or the nimble precision of a sporting coupe.
No, they want a big car that does things effortlessly. And they don’t get much more effortless than the Sahara V8 diesel.
So let’s pick through the pluses and minuses.
Interior, function and form
Inside, you slide into huge, luxuriously trimmed leather seats. They’re a little flat, but brilliantly comfortable. Ahead, the expansive control deck of the big Sahara is free of unnecessary frippery, with an almost-innocuous but functional dash layout and ‘touch screen’ controls.
It comes with reversing camera (de rigueur now on premium cars), six-stacker CD player (also DVD and MP3 compatible) and nine-speaker sound system to keep things hopping.
Meanwhile, sat nav will get you to where you want to go; and tinted windows, four-zone air conditioning and cool box will get you there with the creature comforts taken care of.
The steering column is both power-tilt and telescopic, with steering wheel audio controls (and leather-bound of course).
There are air-bags everywhere including driver and front passenger knee airbags, and side airbags for mid-row passengers (it’s an eight-seater with all seats fully deployed).
For interior style, it is neither overdone nor too plain - it’s just right.
It feels as a premium car should. It is easy to settle into - everything is in its place, well thought-out, and robust. The whole car feels like it has been screwed together to outlast civilisation. Even the grab-handles on the front doors – tactile to the palm and precisely where the hand falls – feel vault-door solid.
And that’s another thing with the Sahara. Hardly anything jars, everything falls nicely to hand and it is effortless to be in, as driver or passenger. It is as if the car, like the perfect tool-of-trade, simply disappears.
At the wheel, because it is such an easy place to be, there is no reason for it to occupy your thinking.
On the road
On the black top, it pulls like a train and, for such a large car, is surprising capable and well-mannered.
With an all-new (for the 200 Series) double-wishbone coil-sprung front suspension and improved rear suspension, the Sahara swallows freeway kilometers with the ease of a comfortable saloon.
Its ‘built-for-work’ origins are all-but invisible on the highway: it soaks up the bump and grind from below imperiously and wind-noise is all-but absent, leaving just the mellow hum of the diesel at work and the suppressed shearing of the dual-purpose Dunlops. (A degree of road noise is a given with any wider-lugged tyre.)
Key to the Sahara’s suspension is the Australian-invented Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) providing maximum wheel articulation off-road but a comfortable 'flat' ride on-road.
Our time with the car, both on-road and off, would indicate it works, especially coming into its own in off-road extremes.
That said, tighter secondary bitumen roads can find the Sahara out when pushing through the turns. Here, there is a degree of body-roll and the Dunlop tyres can be found wanting. But, with over two-and-a-half tonne of body mass to catch and fling sideways, a tendency to lean and push wide is more than a little understandable when pressing on.
Four-up for the TMR excursion into the Victorian high-country, each of us came away surprised and impressed with the big Sahara’s on-road aplomb.
The V8 twin-turbo diesel, matched to Toyota’s six-speed AB60F transmission, is a marvel. Producing a staggering 650Nm of torque and 195kW of power from its 4.5 litres of twin-turbocharged V8 diesel power, it can easily run at the head of traffic.
More to the point, for overtaking, between 80km/h and 120km/h, the bulk of the big Sahara simply disappears and it surges effortlessly ‘out and around’.
Press it relentlessly hard of course, and the simpler laws of physics dictate that you will pay a price at the diesel pump. But even when asked to work hard it won’t send you to the poorhouse. For the weight it moves and the power it puts under the toe, that wonderful twin-turbo diesel V8 is surprisingly frugal.
We were showing a return of well under 10 l/100km after a day or so in the ‘burbs and for the highway stretch east of Melbourne and into the hills. It was only in the heavy going that the averages started to fall.
Toyota claims an average of 10.3 l/100km for the combined cycle. Under normal driving (not towing) with a mix of country and city kilometers, that would appear to be achievable.
In the bush
Our excursion, which came on the end of some hot days after a long dry Summer-Autumn spell, and just before the rain started to damp down the bush tracks, gave the big Sahara the perfect chance to strut its stuff off the beaten track.
We chose the fire trails north-east of the Thomson dam. There are great tracks here with long stepped declines falling hundreds of feet into steep-walled valleys. And, on the other side, some equally steep and challenging ascents for the climb out.
After a dry season of off-road traffic, most are broken by rocky outcrops and deep wheel ruts.
With humungous clearance (for a standard car), and the effortless power of the diesel V8, little stood in the way of the Sahara.
The secret to challenging off-road trails is being able to approach them without too much momentum. (Charging in and bouncing up and over can look spectacular but will lose traction and control, especially on a longer climb.)
Better - if you’ve got lashings of torque underfoot, good wheel articulation (and, in the case of the Sahara, ‘lockable’ Torsen limited-slip centre differential) – is to approach quietly, pick the line and ‘wind’ your way up. In the Sahara V8 diesel, it’s like having the ‘Hand of God’ at your back. For clambering up a heavily-broken and rutted pinch, there are few more effortless off-roaders.
Descending too is easily controlled, allowing you to pick a line without hammering the underbody. In the steepest of pinches, the ABS hill-descent control can be left to take over (if the rattling ‘on and off’ of the ABS doesn’t bother you).
The only problem in these tracks is the size of the Sahara, the expanse of its bonnet when climbing (“Yo, where’d the track go dudes?”) and its width.
A narrow track can present a real problem if you’re fussy about what happens to the duco. Because we were in a ‘loaner’, we were eyeing the bracken and dogwood on each side of the trails we were on very circumspectly.
Out here, the Sahara simply feels too big. You feel you’re squeezing your way along, like you’re trying to get a size-thirty bum into size-ten jeans. But it won’t be something you’ll feel if you choose to tackle the Simpson.
At the end of the day, perhaps few – outside the SES - will subject the Sahara to a life of narrow fire trails. Most will buy it for its effortless power, its towing capacity, its legendary build-quality and robustness, and, in the case of the Sahara, its comfort.
Of course, you pay a premium price for a premium product, but few cars offer such a package.
You get a sense that Toyota has got the mix ‘just right’ with the Sahara. It is such a competent and effortlessly accommodating machine.
You can criticise its size, question its need, be critical of its style, and get cranky when you’re sharing a city street with it. But it’s hard to find fault with the Sahara’s capability, and even harder to question its quality.
Would we recommend it? With absolute confidence, provided you need something big for a big job.
There is another bloke I’ve heard about who can drag a car with a rope attached to hooks through his eyelids (hours of endless fun). That’s another thing you couldn’t try with a Sahara.
Tim’s Big Statement
“The Sahara itself is its own big statement. While huge, the Sahara is a true surprise for its comfort and ease of operation, as much as for its amazing grunt and off-road capability. The V8 diesel in that huge nose is a tremendous unit. You feel you could tow a Collins Class submarine with the Sahara, and not worry you were pulling the guts out of it.
Toyota’s big-bertha has always been on any list of the best heavy-duty 4WDs; if you’re in the market, the effortless Sahara V8 diesel is worth a very close look.”
- Remarkable V8 diesel power with frugal thirst
- On-road comfort and expansive cabin
- Brilliant off-road capability
- Relative ease of operation and ergonomics
- Built to outlast civilisation
- Styling is a bit awkward (an acquired taste)
- It is probably now too damn big (in a world of down-sizing)
- Some body roll and understeer (duh) when pressing on
- There is not much to dislike…