Motorcars don't come a lot tougher than Toyota's Land Cruiser but how does the off road hero cope with family duties? June Neary seeks out its softer side.
Will It Suit Me?
The great outdoors is all well and good but when you've got a large family that likes to get out into it at every opportunity, often with a vast collection of equipment in tow, you're faced with a problem. The problem being that there are very few cars on the market that can do the job. Four-wheel drive is a must if you're heading out in to the wilds and plenty of space is vital if you're taking the whole family with you. Of the big 4x4s on the market, some can't deliver the goods off-road so would need to be accompanied by a tractor and a stout tow rope at all times. Others are prohibitively expensive and come with the kind of bling styling accessories and luxurious interiors that don't respond well to being dashed against rocks or caked in mud. That only leaves models like the Toyota Land Cruiser, a 4x4 which actually fits the off road family car role like a glove.
There's a choice of either three or five-door models - and almost all UK buyers choose the five-door which is a seven-seater. Both models have subtly updated styling, 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. 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. You gotta love thisToyota's no-nonsense approach to interior design. If intricate design and soft-touch plastics are your thing, the Cruiser's cabin may not be for you but there's a bundle of space in there and the build quality is such that you'll have no qualms about dishing out some rough treatment or getting in without fixing a pair of carrier bags over your muddy boots.
Behind the Wheel
You have to admire the Land Cruiser's focus. At a time when manufacturers are intend on offering us 4x4s that handle like coupes or have interiors with MPV-style flexibility, the big Toyota sticks to its guns in offering real off-road ability in a ruggedly practical package. This is a proper old-school 4x4. It means that a Land Cruiser is not as at home in the multi-storey car park or on the school run as some of its road-biased competitors but it is comfy and, once you've got to grips with its size, perfectly manageable. Fast cornering or sharp braking causes it to lean and wallow around a bit but drive in a smooth manner and this is greatly reduced. Venture off-road and the Land Cruiser comes into its own. The diesel engine is a cracker and feels utterly bulletproof with huge reserves of pulling power. The 188bhp power output isn't huge but the benefit of its huge pulling power is really felt, especially in sticky situations. This powerplant has also had its act cleaned up in recent times with noxious emissions reduced (to 214g/km of CO2 for the five-door) and 30mpg economy isn't bad for a vehicle of the Land Cruiser's size. The manual gearbox isn't the sweetest shifting 'box in the world and the additional ratio seems to nullify the advantage of the extra torque to a certain extent. Best to opt for the automatic. Acceleration is strong, the manual diesel car hitting 60mph in around 11 seconds and running on to a top speed of 108mph. If you're at all serious about off roading, the Land Cruiser will be your idea of heaven. With class-leading ground clearance and a whole raft of high tech electronic aids, you'll need to be pretty determined or breathtakingly hamfisted to get one of these stuck. The Downhill Assist Control (DAC) is Toyota's take on Land Rover's Hill Descent Control, a system which ensures that when negotiating a tricky downhill slope, the vehicle never exceeds brisk walking pace. Instead of leaving it at this, Toyota also offer Hill-start Assist Control (HAC). This detects when the vehicle is slipping backwards or wheelspinning when starting on a gradient and automatically feathers the brakes and throttle to maintain an easy getaway.
Value For Money
Whether the Land Cruiser is value for money or not depends on your perspective. If you're going to drive it about town almost exclusively, there are other models that will do the job better. If you're going to make the most of the Toyota's formidable capabilities as an off-road family vehicle, it looks an absolute bargain at prices from around £33,000. 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.
Could I Live With One?
I'd certainly get on well with a Land Cruiser. Too many modern 4x4s have evolved into exercises in style over substance but here's one that has substance oozing from every panel gap. There aren't many true off-roaders left and that's a shame for those that really need them but as long as the Toyota Land Cruiser soldiers on, there'll be at least one model for active outdoorsy families to fall back on.