In this tale of automotive chalk and cheese, David Thomson puts the Lexus RC 200T Sports Coupe and Toyota Landcruiser 70-Series through their paces. LEXUS RC 200T
Back in early 2015, Drivesouth put the then newly arrived Lexus RC coupe to the test. Sampled in 233kW/378Nm 350 V6 Limited guise, it impressed on several fronts, but wasn't quite the overall package.
To be frank, I was as disappointed to award it 3.5 stars out of five as the folks at Lexus were to receive that rating.
Fast-forward two years, and the RC has been back in my hands, this time with a smaller, less potent 180kW/350Nm 2.0-litre turbo engine under the bonnet.
Almost all that was good about the $125,500 RC350 two years ago is equally appealing in the $102,900 RC200T.
Though its bold grille still jars, this rakish coupe looks stunning in profile. The cabin, which was trimmed with ruby red leather in the test car, is a sumptuous place exuding quality in both the choice of materials and the standard of fit and finish. Up front, the seating position is low but comfortable and the car's key controls - the fiddly nature of the touchpad controller aside - have a nice feel and are easy to use. A novel feature is an entire centre dial (the tachometer, with digital speedo inside) that physically moves within the main instrument cluster when different display functions are selected.
The rear seats in a sporty coupe like this aren't likely to get much use, but when necessary they can accommodate adults of average size in acceptable comfort.
Noise levels are commendably low and ride quality is first rate for what is in essence a sports-oriented coupe.
Measured against the stopwatch the 200T is an objectively slower car than the 350, as its 0-100kmh time of 7.5 seconds, a full 1.2 seconds slower than the 350, shows. It sounds flattish too, due in part to an artificial sound-augmentation system (kicking in when sport or sport plus modes are activated), that seems to take its aural cues from the computer console car racing games of years gone by.
Yet this 2.0-litre turbo is at heart a zesty motor, lacking some top-end thrust, but strong and willing through the mid-range. Throttle response is good in sport and sport plus modes, and the eight-speed automatic transmission is smooth and accomplished, whether making its own decisions or guided by the paddleshift controls. So, while the RC 200T isn't an Olympic-class sprinter, it delivers a thoroughly pleasant straight-line motoring experience.
More importantly, and especially when sport or sport plus mode are activated to add heft to the steering and firm up the damping, the RC200T F-Sport is better balanced than its more powerful cousin through the twists and turns of winding tarmac back roads. Initial turn in is crisp, and the car grips strongly, both at the front end, and at the rear wheels through which power is delivered to the road.
I'll bank a more than 20% saving on fuel costs compared to the RC 350 too and thus happily award the RC200T that extra half-star its faster, more costly sibling missed.
If the RC 200T is the well-heeled whipper-snapper winger from leafy suburbs, the 70-series Landcruiser is the gnarly old front-rower taking to the field for the rural team in a classic town versus country clash.
Surgery has been required to deliver this venerable old-timer to the ground in a fit state to play in 2017; the most remarkable achievement being making all the changes required to secure the maximum possible five-star NCAP safety rating.
Along with sheer size, you can take a lack of sophistication for granted. Those doors need a mighty slam to shut tight, and the cabin, while now including Bluetooth, a reversing camera and a decent sound system, still has windows that wind manually and no central locking. The engine growls like an angry old dog and neither ride quality nor handling on tarmac are flash.
None of this matters though because the 70 series Landcruiser is in the team to carry out the unglamorous and often dirty work.
That's why, after wrestling the 70 series around city streets for a short time, Drivesouth's main test of the machine took place in the country. Into the forests south of Taieri Mouth initially and, after a pause at Waihola, inland over the shoulder of Maungatua to Lake Mahinerangi and beyond.
Unsurprisingly, a vehicle that was large and unwieldy around town was at home in the back of beyond. Complete with its Toyota-fitted alloy tray, it looked right and felt right; indeed, one of the few vehicles passed on test was an older version of the same machine, chugging along a farm track beside the road.
Unchanged with this latest update, the 4.5-litre turbo-diesel may be gruff, but it delivers decent power and, more importantly, a solid 430Nm swathe of torque from just 1200rpm. Performance is way short of brisk off the mark, but once into its stride, the 70 series motors ahead in unrelenting fashion.
The long-throw five-speed manual gearbox and adjoining transfer box is old school too, but a proven ox-strong transmission is what the serious 70 series user needs. Auto-locking hubs are welcome, but were not new for this model.
The key driver assistance added this time around comes as part of the package that helped the latest 70 series to its five-star safety score, comprising active traction control, hill-start assist control, downhill assist, electronic brake-force distribution, and brake assist.
As well as being well set up for rough trails and mud-plugging, the test vehicle was snorkel-equipped for wading. It managed both, the water crossing axle-deep only, without the slightest cause for concern.
The farming, forestry and mining industry folk who will buy a 70 series because mainstream modern utes, the Hilux included, are too soft for their needs, will put their machines through far sterner tests than I did on this trip. And they can have confidence that the new 70 series remains a genuine workhorse in the tradition exemplified by that old adage: when the going gets tough, the tough get going.
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