Automotive spin doctors tend to regularly punctuate their sales patter with the dreaded word “iconic”. But every now and then, it genuinely applies to the vehicle being referred to, and one could argue the Toyota Land Cruiser is a case in point – especially in our region. Is there any other vehicle that looks as much a part of the local streetscape or sandscape? I think not.
The rugged all-terrainer has a UAE legacy dating back to 1955 (that’s when the first shipment of 20 Series models landed here), and its robustness and go-anywhere capability of the Land Cruiser earned it the sobriquet Ship of the Desert.
As proof of the Land Cruiser’s durability and dune-taming prowess, you only need to see how many desert-safari operators use them as their default vehicle. They can endure the rigours of daily dune-bashing without the need for regular repairs.
It’s very much a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” when it comes to the Land Cruiser’s evolution, too, and it has faithfully stuck with the rugged (but heavy) body-on-frame recipe, even as rivals such as the Nissan Patrol, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Range Rover, Land Rover Discovery and all the German SUVs (barring the Mercedes G-Wagen) have defected to lighter, more car-like monocoque-chassis formats.
The latest LC upgrade hasn’t altered the basic formula, but in the case of the range-topping VXR model I’m testing, it has added a new eight-speed auto, 20-inch rims and a “Safety Sense P” system that includes lane-departure warning and blind-spot alert, as well as radar cruise control, and pedestrian detection and avoidance tech. There’s also a multi-terrain monitor that uses a camera at each of the four wheels to help you accurately position the vehicle in tight off-road situations.
Visually, you will notice the thrusting grille is festooned in a sea of chrome, and it’s flanked by new headlight clusters that endow it with a distinctly American-esque look. I’m reminded of the Dodge Durango and various GMC offerings. The interior is far plusher than Land Cruisers of yore, and its cabin isn’t too far short of the Lexus LX 570 in the luxury/bells-and-whistles stakes – barring the hard plastic disguised as faux metal.
On the road, the Land Cruiser cruises serenely at 140kph and is impressively quiet and refined. The 5.7L V8 ekes out a beefy 362hp and 530Nm, but performance is dulled by the hulking Toyota’s almost-2.7-tonne girth, so acceleration is respectable, rather than sparkling. Its bulk and towering stance (it’s 1,905 millimetres tall) also mean it doesn’t like sharp inputs via the brakes or steering, because this causes it to pitch and roll alarmingly. It’s no match for the Range Rover or German luxury SUV brigade in terms of agility or dynamic tautness at speed.
But the tables are turned in off-road situations, because the Land Cruiser can waltz across obstacles that would bring many of the aforementioned rivals to a grinding halt (possibly with one or two bits of bodywork missing) in soft sand or across large rocks.
Its excellence across the rough stuff is largely down to ample ground clearance and the wheel articulation made possible by the solid rear axle and Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System. The Land Cruiser remains a formidable off-roader, yet it can still accommodate seven occupants in comfort.
The VXR is no bargain-basement special – its price tag puts it in the same ballpark as the premium Euro SUV contenders – but if you actually plan on going off-road on terrain more arduous than gravel tracks on a regular basis, the venerable Toyota still has few equals. It will take everything you can dish out and still not miss a beat.