Toyota’s new LandCruiser 70 Series has a fine spirit animal in the crocodile.
Neither are pretty, they’re not particularly clever and their evolution has progressed slower than Queensland social values. But no creature can match them on home turf, in unforgiving environments that will see rivals wither and die. They also have strong followings despite obvious flaws.
Vehicle Style: Four-wheel-drive ute
Price: From $62,490 plus on-road costs (single-cab)
Engine/trans: 151kW/430Nm 4.5-litre V8 turbo diesel | 5spd manual
Fuel Economy Claimed: 10.7L/100km
This, after all, is an old car. The current-shape LandCruiser 70 Series has been an Australian fixture since 1985, before plenty of its drivers graced the earth. As the vehicle of choice for many mining and construction firms, the rugged machine is often piloted by crash-prone young drivers left vulnerable by its lack of safety features. So Toyota dragged the model into the 21st century this year with a series of updates that addressed its key shortcomings – stability and traction control are now standard across the range, while mine-friendly single-cab pick-ups now feature driver’s knee and curtain airbags as well as a beefed-up chassis to offer increased protection.
The range starts at $60,900 in basic wagon form, while the single-cab ute tested here starts at $62,490 plus on-road costs for an entry-level WorkMate model with single-piece steel wheels and grey vinyl interior trim. A top-end GXL with alloy wheels and cloth trim costs an extra $4000 – both priced $5500 higher than before.
Other changes include new Piezo-electric fuel injectors and a diesel particulate filter that make the truck a more efficient proposition, as well as a new pedestrian-friendly bonnet that features a pronounced power dome with extra clearance between sheet metal and the top of the engine.
That power dome is the main exterior change here – Toyota deliberately left the car’s looks near-identical to its predecessor, as styling isn’t a priority for customers looking for a rugged reputation and country-cred as opposed to the latest in butch fashion.
- Standard equipment: Steel wheels, cruise control, manual windows, low-range four-wheel-drive, hill hold assistance, manual locking differential.
- Infotainment: AM/FM radio, CD and Bluetooth.
- Cargo: Up to 1235kg payload, 3500kg towing (braked).
The same goes for the interior space, a time-warp of sorts with few gadgets to suggest the car was designed in the last decade. Its side mirrors sit on bulky A-frames with exposed bolts and manual grab-hold-of-the-glass adjustment. The oversized, four-spoke steering wheel is devoid of any kind of buttons for audio and cruise controls, there’s preciously little storage for items of any size, and the double-DIN radio setup feels incongruous and dated with its mono-colour display.
The air conditioning employs fiddly concentric adjustment for fan speed controls, and the vehicle’s bus-like driving position doesn’t accommodate all shapes and sizes.
It’s a Spartan, workmanlike place of business that provides the core elements you need to get by, without much in the way of tinsel. In other words, it’s just like the previous model, save for the addition of cruise control.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 151kW/430Nm 4.5-litre V8 turbo diesel
- Transmission: 5sp manual, four-wheel-drive
- Brakes: Ventilated front and rear discs
- Steering: Power steering, 14.4m turning circle
That’s appropriate, as the 70-Series also drives just like its predecessor. It has disinterested steering with a wide turning circle and what feels like eleventy turns lock-to-lock, wooden brakes with a little less bite than you might like in a heavy car, and the same throbbing 4.5-litre turbo-diesel V8. That motor remains a key asset for the 70-Series, producing respectable 151kW and 430Nm outputs.
Those numbers aren’t particularly stirring at a glance, especially so when you consider that the 2.8-litre four-cylinder motor in the smaller HiLux ute makes 130kW and 450Nm. Closer examination reveals that the HiLux maintains its torque peak for just 800rpm, while the big ‘Cruiser offers a wall of torque that arrives at 1200rpm and holds station until 3200rpm.
There’s a strong potential for modification, too, with third-party engine tuners promising 203kW and 650Nm grunt without touching exhaust or intake hardware. Toyota acknowledges that plenty of people like to customise their 70-Series, something it accounted for in this model with a new fuse box for accessories that should make it safer and easier to hook up additional lights, coolers, winches and other gadgets to increase the car’s capabilities.
Coupled with the car’s standard five-speed manual transmission and low-range four-wheel-drive system, the workhorse engine is capable of feats you might not try in rival off-roaders. If you park it on a steep incline, kill the motor and leave it in first gear in low range mode, the LandCruiser will climb hills at the turn of its key by using its starter motor and strong torque at idle to tug up the hill.
Impressive in the hands of a pro, the LandCruiser is capable of greatness even with an ordinary driver, ploughing through mud, fording creeks and descending steep drops without the use of electronic driver aids preferred by the likes of Range Rover.
This is old-school mechanics and mathematics, with impressive approach and departure angles along with dependable traction and super-low gearing to get the job done. We tested the model at the Melbourne 4x4 Training and Proving Ground in Werribee, where the big unit proved immensely capable in trying conditions.
It’s far from perfect, though. The manual gear lever that switches from high-range two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive modes to low-range four-wheel-drive requires a blend of strength and finesse that takes time to master, and that aloof steering makes the machine somewhat imprecise on tarmac and dirt.
There’s no automatic transmission option, and the gearbox could use another cog. Toyota did what it could to make it a better highway proposition, installing a taller fifth gear so that it cruises along at about 1900rpm when travelling at 100km/h. That makes it quieter than the pre-facelift model, but there’s still a fair amount of wind noise owing to the upright windscreen, bluff frontal area and Dumbo-like mirrors mounted on the doors.
It doesn’t get much better on the road, where the 70-Series engine feels hampered by its gearing, and the slow steering requires plenty of effort to negotiate bends. Passable in the country, the 70-Series is a hassle in urban environments that don’t suit its skill set.
ANCAP Rating: 5-Stars – the single-cab variant scored 35.75 out of 37 points n 2016, while other body styles have not been tested.
Safety features: Five airbags, ABS brakes, electronic stability control, active traction control
At least the car is significantly safer than before, lifting its game with a five-star safety rating owing to those additional airbags and its beefed-p chassis. But buyers considering the model should do their homework carefully, as those new airbags and tougher underpinnings are only available in single-cab ute form, and not in four-door or troop-carrier variants.
It’s also important to note that Toyota saw fit to remove the previous model’s limited-slip differential, believing instead that its traction control system does a better job of helping drivers stay in charge. An electronic rear differential lock is available as a $1500 option on all but the GXL (where it is standard kit), as is air-conditioning ($2761) and metallic paint ($550).
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km
Servicing: Capped at $340 per service every six months or 10,000 kilometres (whichever occurs first) for the first three years of ownership.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Toyota assures us that the 70-Series will be here for many years to come, which is likely to be until the Federal Government mandates stricter Euro6 emissions requirements that may prove challenging for the ‘Cruiser’s diesel donk.
Now that Land Rover’s Defender has ceased production, there’s nothing else in new car showrooms quite like Toyota’s classic four-wheel-drive. While Jeep’s Wrangler offers a touch of retro rugged appeal, buyers are more likely to cross-shop the iconic pick-up with four-wheel-drive utes such as Toyota’s best-selling HiLux.
TMR VERDICT / OVERALL
This is a divisive vehicle – you either get it, or you don’t. It’s a default choice in some regions because of its simple hardware, familiarity and reputation as a go-anywhere machine.
Toyota’s investment to keep the LandCruiser 70-Series on sale is to be commended, as are its efforts to make it a safer proposition (even if that only applies to single-cab models).
The running changes help keep the LandCruiser relevant to outback Australia, where it will continue to lurk in the bush with the immense respect of outback drivers.