70 Series: Built for the toughest terrain
During my past 12 years at CAR, a few vehicles have eluded me.
Two of them have been the cause of significant frustration because of their iconic statuses.
The one (Ferrari) is obvious, the other (the Toyota Land Cruiser 70 Series, which could easily be dubbed the Boere-Ferrari) less so.
Well, 2013 is off to a good start as I’ve just completed the first day at the launch of the latest-specification Land Cruisers… and what a day it has been, as you can see for yourself in the image gallery.
The biggest news is the addition of a double-cab model, which will please a lot of people in South Africa endlessly.
Interestingly, it is said that the development of this model came about as a result of the Land Cruiser Chief Engineer visiting South Africa and noticing the popularity of this type of vehicle first-hand.
For the moment, it is only offered with the proven 170kW/360N.m 4-litre V6 petrol and 96kW/285Nm 4.2-litre diesel engines. The eagerly anticipated turbodiesel V8 model comes later this year, possibly around April/May.
According to Toyota the new double-cab model combines the workhorse abilities of the single-cab with the flexibility of a double-cab. As such, the new model can carry five adults without sacrificing the load carrying ability of the single-cab (the double-cab diesel has a payload of 920kg and the petrol’s is 1 005kg).
All 2013-specification Land Cruiser models are equipped as standard with five-speed manual transmissions with a low-range transfer box and a new ABS system that automatically switches off when low-range is selected.
Rear disc brakes have also been added to the safety package, which furthermore includes dual front airbags across the range. All models have power steering, tilt and telescopic adjustment for the steering, air conditioning, electric windows, electric mirrors and a 12V accessory connector. New to the comfort/security package is remote central locking.
The most luxurious variant of the line-up is the 76 Station Wagon. It features a more comfort-oriented interior with carpeted flooring and an info-tainment system with satellite navigation/USB/CD. As part of its model-year upgrade, which also brings some cosmetic changes, the 76 station wagon now features a 130-litre fuel tank.
The so-called “troop carrier”, the 78 wagon is equipped with two 90-litre fuel tanks and now features twin front fog lamps.
The 79 single-cab also gets a number of cosmetic enhancements, including colour-coded and chromed exterior trim, front fog lamps and colour-matched over-fenders. These models also get the double fuel tanks.
The new 79 double-cabs don’t get the single-cab’s over-fenders and 16-inch alloys are available only as options. These models do, however, follow the 76 station wagon’s extensive interior specification level (including the satellite navigation) and also get the 130-litre tank.
Let’s just say the Land Cruiser’s off-road ability is the stuff of legend. As always, the danger is that reality may not live up to such high expectations.
Toyota, however, was very confident when we set out for our off-road evaluation which took place near Oudtshoorn on the Minwater off-road route (South Africa).
It is a brutal course, with axle-twisters and very, very rocky terrain. Walking the route is difficult enough and, when faced with the first serious obstacle, I have to admit that I doubted the 235mm ground clearance (for 78 wagon and 79 pick-up variants) would be enough.
But it was.
You sit high in the Land Cruiser, and outward visibility is excellent. Ironically, what also helps is that this is a very “mechanical” vehicle.
There are no electronic gadgets, instead just a raft of hardcore mechanical systems that puts the power where needed, and allows the driver to still “feel” what is going on underneath the vehicle.
Low-range engaged, and playing with the front and rear diff-locks as we went along, the Land Cruiser felt unstoppable…
Then we saw a big plume of smoke.
The driver and “navigator” of the 78 wagon in front of us had a momentary communications breakdown, and the result was the sorry sight of a Land Cruiser on its side.
Thankfully nobody was hurt, but there were nevertheless some worried faces (among the journalists, mostly), that the vehicle was blocking the route in such a way that we’d end up being stuck there.
However, kudos to the Toyota team for trusting their product.
A Prado support vehicle drove up the very steep rock-face on the left of the 78 with a tow rope, while “our” 79 Single Cab was used on the right to pump up an air-jack.
With some manpower added to the equation, the 78 was soon back on its wheels and, after a fluid check, completed the course with no further hiccups – an impressive showing to say the least!
Its off-road ability proven (again) we then set off on a long stretch of gravel-road driving. Another Land Cruiser 70 characteristic that I’ve always heard of is one of a harsh ride quality.
So I had expected the Land Cruiser to be somewhat uncomfortable out of its slow speed, off-road element.
However, I found no serious issues to report on – except perhaps that the “vinyl” upsholstery on the Single Cab can become a bit sweaty.
Yes, of course, it’s not as smooth on-road as a soft-roader, but the spring rates on the station wagon and double-cab models are different (for a softer ride) to those on the heavy-duty single-cab models.
Subjectively the steering also felt less prone to “kick-back”. I also enjoyed the slick and precise transmission, which really plays a big part in making this vehicle feel so indestructible.
What would I criticise? Well, given the vehicle’s purpose, there’s honestly not much to fault, but I do think the V8 turbodiesel will be a welcome addition (obviously at a price), because the current 4.2-litre diesel is not exactly overendowed with grunt.
And while we didn’t drive on sand in this test, the narrower rear track will remain an issue for those that often do.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of the current position of the spare wheel (behind the cab, in the load bay) as it impinges on space.
Then there’s the turning circle and sheer length of the vehicle that conspire to make it quite tricky to position in tight off-road conditions. Finally, the LC70 is hardly cheap, but then again owners swear by its longevity. Overall, however, this is one of those heroes that actually lived up to the hype. And that’s rare. – CAR Magazine SA