The Toyota Land Cruiser J200 is now 10 years old, yet with its refresh last year and its feature pack, the LC stays ahead of the competition and first choice for any hardcore off-road activity
This was going to be one of the test drives we remember. Not only were we getting a top of the line 2017 Toyota Land Cruiser for an extended period, we were actually being encouraged to take it out and experience the vehicle on any terrain we chose.
That is the appeal of the Land Cruiser. The big Toyota SUV calls to you to take it out on the road. In some ways it is the prized Arabian steed of the environment, capable of chewing up the highway miles in utter comfort, yet completely ready to switch path at any moment, allowing you to pull on its reins, aim at a faint track and set off on an adventure.
The Land Cruiser has built this reputation over the years and the J200 platform that resulted from almost five years of development carries on the story of the big, beefy SUV. The upgrade to this platform rolled out during 2016, with the principal changes around the grille, headlights and some minor work on the panels.
The 2017 Land Cruiser is thus very much a creature of familiarity. It has the profile of the large desert beater, with a substantial ground clearance. Other than the American Full size SUV, there is almost no larger format. The Land Cruiser is 5,095mm long, almost 2 metres wide and has a height of 1,890mm. It sits on a wheelbase of 2,850mm. This results in a floorpan where the front two rows have a generous layout, while the third row is still provided by fold down seats.
Of course the charm of the Land Cruiser is how it is configured to appeal as a fleet stalwart and desert runner as well as to push into the lifestyle luxury segment. You can get a model in almost any configuration, but the one we received is definitely the one you want.
The Land Cruiser now has a nice, large and prominent grille. This upgrade has focussed visually on the fascia. The grille got a wider framing and bold cross bars and the headlights have now been integrated as wings of the grille. In the case of the top specced VX the headlights have twin projector headlamps and LED DRLs.
As for the rest of the body, the LC continues to have one of the most recognisable profiles. In the switchover to the J200, the body evolved to a slightly bulkier paradigm. Now it is more butch, more business like. But it isn’t the sort of vehicle that you would call out for its prettiness or sleekness. Far from that – it is more a question of integrating function, like the split tailgate and tow hitch.
The insides of the car have also made the transition in 2016 to a very modern presentation. The 9” display of the navigation system sits atop the centre console that is thick and beefy. In fact much of the tunnel width has had to be compensated for with a nice level of leather upholstery that also serves as padding for the legs on off-road courses. The touchscreen does away with quite a few buttons, yet allows the car to display not just views from the cameras around the car, but also graphics related to off-road drive and modulation of the wheels and torque transfer info. At the base of the centre console you get the most logical set of switches ever. The LC has not gone down the path of integrating terrain response of mode selectors. What it does is to serve as the last significant purveyor of the fine control of driver choice. You can switch through the normal H4 to L4 with a push and a twist even while moving though we would recommend coming to a halt for that. Then you get the crawl mode knob that practically takes over the functions of any other car’s terrain response.
We have even used the crawl mode to climb gravelly slopes with significant amount of slippage between the wheels and the soil. The LC takes it all into its stride. The other buttons allow you to switch off traction control, lock differentials and raise and lower body height.
It is quite difficult to beat the LC’s architecture when it comes to off-road deliverables. The KDSS system on the chassis uses hydraulics and electronic controllers to affect how the suspension responds depending on movement. Slow, creeping movement across stones and rocks results in large play and significant travel available on the wheels that not on the rock. Individual wheel points thus flex and release at different levels. In a more hard riding mode where both wheels on the same side get loaded up, the entire side tightens, allowing the opposite side more play to cross obstacles.
The LC also gets some really sensible electronic controllers on board. This is one vehicle where you can lock the differentials, yet have full control over the steering and it also migrates the ABS system to off-road use, actually allowing for safer stops on slippery gravel and sand.
The cabin offers you a seating position that sits high off the road. You can actually seat 8 in the cabin although the rear seats still retain the feel of a set of add-ons. This approach has been followed because the underfloor area at the rear is rather busy, with the huge fuel tanks, suspension elements and space for the tyre. Accept it as the best compromise on offer. As for the rest of the seats, well you could be fooled into thinking that you were in a luxury car. The texture and feel of the leather has steadily improved over the years to a level where it wouldn’t seem out of place in a Lexus or Range Rover. Our test car’s light interiors only served to highlight the premium feel and we caught ourselves dusting our feet and trouser legs as we climbed in – such was the desire to keep the cabin unsullied.
The top of the line Land Cruiser gets the benefit of the time-tested 3UR-FE 5.7-litre V8 engine with dual VVTi. This engine displays the signs of its long innings by the lack of direct injection. However, it has a great performance envelope. It uses under-square cylinders maximum its torque delivery. Power peaks at 362HP, with the torque at 530Nm. Good solid grunt, which covers the entire midrange so that you really aren’t revving the engine despite its ability to deliver. 90% of peak torque is available at only 2200rpm. The engine is now connected with an 8-speed automatic gearbox.
As we mentioned, we took the car on varied terrain, across highways, graded roads, on the beach, up into the hills and like we alluded to at the beginning, it was just a matter of where to point the wheels. You are driving along the highway and see an interesting path leading off from it and you just drive on. When you hit some really soft sand, all you need to do is flick into L4 and the car accommodates. What this does is to allow you a greater margin of error free driving. Highway driving manners have anyway been improved even during the lifetime of the J200. Now the Land Cruiser has the modern driver aids of lane alert and adaptive cruise control. We were actually a bit surprised at the positive steering effort that came through on the lane markers. The cruise control allows you to tail traffic although the closest setting is also quite generous. Despite the available gaps, very few drivers actually try to steer into it – that must have something to do with being a Land Cruiser.
We were also quite pleased with the suspension firmness on normal highway mode. It loads up nicely on switchbacks with a muted swing back to the other side on release. Steering feel is very direct, yet the column manages to isolate harsh feedback from the wheels. This is one of the crib points we had with the LC’s competition. You want to be able to feel your way through bad roads and surfaces and moving to a very electric assisted steering is not the way to do that.
Off-road is where the Land Cruiser really reveals its mettle. It allows you to take so much compensating out of the equation. Point and gun the throttle and you are over the obstacle. Or if you are really just trying to test out the systems, switch over to crawl and let the Land Cruiser do it for you.
Frankly there are only a few vehicles out there with the off-road pedigree of the Toyota Land Cruiser. The Nissan Patrol has been playing catch up with the Y62 and in some features it is just as appealing. But the question is also about the whole package and that’s where the Land Cruiser has an edge. With the 2016 upgrade you get a vehicle that seems ready to compete for at least another decade. As fewer manufacturers stay loyal to body on frame layouts, the appeal only increases. In one of our discussions with platform engineers, we were told without hesitation that the main reason the Land Cruiser would always have body on frame structure is to ensure that irrespective of what happened to it in the dunes, outback or jungle, the car should be able to drive back to base. That’s the spirit that has kept the Land Cruiser going through the years. It of course helps that it also has one of the most comfortable and well-equipped cabins to go anywhere.