First Drive: 2015 Toyota Land Cruiser 200

First Drive: 2015 Toyota Land Cruiser 200

All too often, in life as well as in the motor industry, people venture off the beaten track into someone else’s back yard and get bitten. I’m not suggesting that we can’t learn new things and venture into uncharted territory; I’m saying that there is power in understanding your strengths and sticking to your guns. Toyota knows this and, over the years, it’s produced models and variants which are deliberately focused. All too often, people with my job bemoan Toyota’s predictability and lack of flair, but the fact is that the average consumer wants a car to do “what it says on the tin”. We know this, because Toyota continues to outsell every other car maker.

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The Land Cruiser is the perfect example of this. Over time, the “king of the off-roaders” — Toyota ’s words, not mine — has become a pricey and feature-packed status symbol. But it has never lost its serious off-road cred and its rock-solid reliability. First introduced in 1981 with the function-over form 60 Series, the Land Cruiser has evolved and is today as relevant in Parktown as it is in Paternoster. The new LC200 continues onward and upward. Toyota has done away with the petrol option, leaving the two variants — GX and VX — available with the workman-like 4.5 l turbo-diesel V8. This is a good decision, because it’s an impressive, reliable and well-suited engine. Power delivery is smooth and sufficient. It neither snaps your neck back nor bores you to tears.

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The Land Cruiser is well insulated inside, with very little diesel clatter coming through. I found the quiet, confident V8 rumble an attractive feature. And it fits this car perfectly: 175kW might not sound like a lot in terms of today’s top SUVs, but the 615Nm allows the driver to cruise comfortably. A top speed of 210km/h is way more than you’d ever want or need. The motor also pulls this 2 740kg behemoth through most 4X4-only trails with enjoyable ease. Claimed fuel consumption is 10.3l/100kms, which I suspect will be nigh on impossible to achieve. I’m not suggesting it’s going to be bank breaking, but it won’t be frugal. This is a big SUV with a thirsty motor. Overall, off-road capabilities will benefit from improved ground clearance and enhanced approach and departure angles. The 3 500kg towing capacity is right up there with the best in its class.

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How do we rate the LC 200 against its competitors? Well, in truth, it almost doesn’t have any. It’s not trying to be the soft-roading, ultra luxurious Camps Bay kerb climber, nor is it a bare-bones hard-core off-roader. So the feel and finish of the interior materials will not stack up against the likes of the Volvo XC90 or the Mercedes ML. But the Toyota will do things off-road that those cars simply cannot. Despite its girth and mass, this SUV tackles challenging obstacles with so little effort they’re almost a non-event. Superb axle-articulation and power delivery — enhanced by the modern drive-train control systems — help make even the most inexperienced drivers seem competent. Our afternoon with the LX took us through the Golden Gate National Park in the northeastern Free State. These trails are off-limits to private vehicles unless accompanied and guided by a licensed, qualified team. We were lucky enough to have these experts bookending our convoy and talking us — on walkie-talkies — over or round the hurdles. It was a blessing and a privilege to be able to experience the breathtaking beauty of this part of our country in such a masterly vehicle.

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New driver-aid and comfort features — on the VX only — include a wireless “QI”-enabled device charging station; adaptive cruise control; lane departure warning; a blind-spot monitor; tyre pressure monitors; 18-inch alloy wheels; Bi-LED auto head-lights; a brake synchronised precollision warning system and rear cross-traffic alert for safer reversing. A 360° camera, when used in conjunction with the multi-terrain mode, offers the driver a valuable array of angles — displayed on the centre-mounted, multi-function screen. Those cameras also provide parking assistance. Other features on both the VX and GX include hill assist control, crawl control, satellite navigation and active traction control. The GX is a more focused off-road tool. Although it lacks in some of the “nice-to-haves ”, it is purposeful and capable. It provides the passengers with a spacious and comfortable cabin, but is also a vehicle you’d be far more comfortable taking into the bush. The decision to reintroduce this “entry-level ” option was, in fact, taken by Toyota South Africa after consultation with the Land Cruiser Club.

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The enthusiasts spoke and Toyota listened. The GX is offered with 17-inch steel wheels, “barn door” style rear doors — for ease of loading — and a snorkel. Pricing for the range is R1 141 700 for the VX and R850 000 for the GX. Both options are offered with a five-year/100 000km service plan with 10 000km service intervals. The factory warranty is three years or 100 000km.

Kieran Rennie