Toyota's Land Cruiser 70 has been upgraded, with new safety equipment and a double cab option. David Thomson climbs into the latest version of this no-compromises workhorse to find out what has changed.
Ask anyone who works in genuinely rugged terrain what their Toyota of choice is, and the answer will be the Land Cruiser 70-series. First introduced back in 1984, it has maintained its rough-and-tough reputation over three decades, while its closest Toyota alternative, the Hilux, is seen by many as having gone a little soft of late.
A production history stretching back almost 30 years points to an ''if it ain't broke, don't fix it'' approach to the 70-series. Within that mantra, though, there is a requirement - set by international regulations if nothing else - for some evolution.
So, in 1999, changes to the front suspension were introduced. In 2007 a mild visual facelift was accompanied by chassis changes and the introduction of a new 4.5-litre V8 turbo-diesel engine. Airbags also found their way aboard. The latest update, introduced in late 2012 for the current model year, includes interior upgrades (including new front seats and a new front storage cubby, anti-lock brakes (requiring a move to all-round disc brakes), and the addition of a double-cab version to the local range.
Taking delivery of the LX version of the new double-cab, I was immediately struck by how old-school this machine is. Even in a city reconciled to four-wheel drives being used as urban transport, it looked woefully out of place parked on the street outside my home. Conversely, when the test drive included dropping in for a cuppa with friends who farm on the edge of Maungatua, the vehicle looked right at home in their driveway.
As is the case with that other great 4x4 survivor, the Land Rover Defender, modern expectations of panel fit go by the wayside too: both front doors on the test car required a hefty slam to shut properly. Similarly, if a modicum of aural refinement or carlike on-road manners is important, it is best to look elsewhere.
Land Cruiser 70 buyers accept all this because for their purposes, serious off-road ability, driver-controlled rather than electronically assisted, is of paramount importance. To this end, the Land Cruiser is equipped with such features as manually locking free-wheeling hubs, a sturdy five-speed manual transmission and old-fashioned transfer 'box to give access to low ratio four-wheel-drive (which also disables the ABS).
There's a decent 235mm of ground clearance, a 36-degree approach and 27-degree departure angle, and the ability to wade in water 700mm deep. Then, if the going gets really tough, to the point at which you are all but stuck, front and rear differential locks provide an avenue for escape.
This Drivesouth test did not take the Land Cruiser close to that point, but it did negotiate some very slippery sections of forestry track with aplomb, hunkering down to take the most demanding climbs in its stride. I was particularly impressed with a turning circle that is quite tight for a vehicle of its size, and by the generous low-down torque that allowed all the route to be completed in high rather than low ratio four-wheel drive.
Assessing its on-road manners according to normal Drivesouth criteria seemed rather pointless, though if a lengthy highway journey is required, the Land Cruiser will cover the miles quite effortlessly and with reasonable economy thanks to its high-torque turbo-diesel motor.
My alternative was to spend a fair amount of time on gravel and, as part of the main highway test, to pop a tandem trailer full of firewood on the towbar and make a delivery run from my friends' farm to Mosgiel. That task was completed with very little sense (except for a small push when braking) that the Land Cruiser, which is rated to tow 3500kg braked, was hauling anything at all.
One great attribute of the Land Cruiser, wherever driven, are the great views from the high-set cabin. The interior of the LX variant isn't entirely industrial either, with the test car sporting carpet of a kind under the sturdy rubber floor mats, and a modern-looking dash and console arrangement.
Concessions to modernity on the equipment list include Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, auxiliary and USB plug-in points, all-round power windows, air-conditioning, remote central locking, dual front airbags and, now, anti-lock brakes. On the other hand, there is no auto-off function or warning beeper to indicate the headlights have been left on nor is there cruise control, which some rural users might find quite handy.
Up front, the redesigned seats are comfortable and supportive. The rear seat is fairly upright, and would not be ideal for adults on a lengthy trip. When there's cargo to be carried rather than extra people, the back seat tumbles forward to provide a makeshift boot space.
There is, of course, a whole lot more space behind the cab, in a handsome alloy load tray. This carried a few logs and items of sports gear at various points on test, and when there was a bit of weight in the back, ride quality settled down markedly.
Reaching a final verdict on a vehicle like this is no easy task, but I will hold to a solid three-star rating, with the caveat that in certain extreme circumstances the only vehicles that will outdo the Land Cruiser for go-anywhere ability will be equipped with tracks rather than wheels.
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