Tested: Special edition Cruiser 79
off-road Test LAND CRUISER 79 DIESEL 60th EDITION
With the 60th Anniversary Edition of the Land Cruiser 79, Toyota has added a dose of refinement to its Cruiser bakkie, but can a few flourishes justify a R25 000 price bump? For that matter, is it worth paying more than R400 000 for any diesel Cruiser 79? We recently took the 60th Anniversary model off road to find out
Text and photography: GG van Rooyen
How tough is the Land Cruiser 79? So tough that the Chad government outlawed the vehicle in 2010. No official reason was given when the ubiquitous bakkie was banned in July of that year, but the reason was pretty obvious: the Chad government was tired of rebel forces turning it into an attack vehicle (commonly referred to as a technical vehicle). So it prohibited the use of Cruiser bakkies by anyone other than official military forces.
The Cruiser 79, you see, has gained a reputation as an excellent makeshift military vehicle. Because it is tough, you can strap a 50-calibre rifle to its load area and charge into battle. And because it is basic, you can usually fix it after a skirmish with the help of a few tools. Recently, it proved very popular among Libyan rebels in their battles to oust the Gaddafi regime. There were even pictures of Cruisers with anti-aircraft guns in their load bins.
Yes, the Cruiser 79 is rough and robust, but while this makes it ideal for overthrowing dictators, it doesn’t necessarily make it an ideal leisure vehicle. Sure, its 4,2-litre diesel engine is reliable and can run on just about any diesel, but with no blower to add a bit of oomph, this naturally aspirated oilburner also feels frustratingly asthmatic. And with a cabin that is ergonomically unrefined and outdated, travelling thousands of kilometres on bad roads can be a daunting proposition.
So does that mean it isn’t worth looking at when you are shopping around for an overland vehicle? Not necessarily. Driving a Cruiser bakkie certainly has advantages. Moreover, Toyota recently upped the vehicle’s appeal by launching the 60th Anniversary Edition – a model that adds a number of design flourishes and creature comforts to the standard 79.
** Features and equipment
The oilburner that powers the anniversary model needs no introduction – it is the trusty 4,2-litre, six-cylinder engine that has been doing duty in 70-series Cruisers for ages. It generates 96 kW of power at 3800 r/min and 285 Nm of torque at 2200 r/min, which, for a vehicle that weighs north of 2000kg, is not a lot.
Needless to say, it takes a while to get the bakkie up to speed and doesn’t provide it with blistering pace. Although the 79’s speedometer indicates a theoretical top speed of 180 km/h, you’ll be very lucky if you get it close to 140 km/h.
This is not a vehicle that often makes it into the fast lane on a highway. You also need to accept that you’ll be changing gears often. That said, driving the Cruiser 79 on the highway is not a particularly horrible experience. If you’re willing to adopt a relaxed driving style, it can even be pleasant. Where piloting the 79 does become tiring, though, is when travelling on single-lane roads. Due to its slow acceleration, overtaking requires loads of patience and a fair bit of courage.
Like the engine, the rest of the 79’s drivetrain is thoroughly old-school. It sports a low-range transfer case, solid axles at the front and rear, and differential lockers on both axles.
What other features and equipment does this special edition 79 offer? Firstly, there’s a choice of two special colours – graphite-grey metallic or ruby metallic.
It also has a chrome-plated bumper and grille – the sort you’ll find on the Cruiser 76. The combination looks good, but will show damage easier than the standard 79’s black bumper and grille. On the plus side, though, the bumper houses a handy set of foglamps.
Lastly, the bakkie boasts aluminium rear and side steps, and small “60th Anniversary Edition” decals.
Climb into the 79’s cabin and you will instantly be transported to simpler era of motoring. Yes, the Cruiser bakkie’s interior is retro, but not in a good way. Where the FJ Cruiser manages to offer modern accoutrements with an old-school twist, the 79’s cabin is simply antiquated and unrefined.
The interior of the vehicle is as basic as can be. If a feature isn’t absolutely crucial, you won’t find it inside a 79. The 60th Anniversary Edition, however, does offer a few nice-to-haves that you won’t get in the standard model. It boasts electric windows, a simple but decent infotainment system, leather seats, a USB jack and Bluetooth capability.
Despite these additions, though, the cabin remains utilitarian. The seats are not very comfortable, and if you want to stow something, such as a bag or backpack, in the small area behind your seat, you’re forced to move your seat closer to the dash to accommodate it, which means that you won’t be left with much legroom.
To be fair, the 79’s cabin isn’t completely awful. Yes, the ergonomics aren’t great, but we can certainly imagine travelling overland in it. Yet given the price, it is tough to accept the modesty of the cabin. When you hand over R450 000 for a vehicle you expect to get more.
*** Gravel performance and handling
As mentioned earlier, the Cruiser 79 has solid axles both at the front and rear. Predictably, coil springs are used in the front while heavy-duty leaf springs are employed at the rear to cope with bulky loads.
This setup results in a pretty harsh ride on gravel with high NVH levels. Despite this, handling is excellent, even in two-wheel drive. Where other bakkies would lose their footing and feel unstable, the Cruiser 79 refuses to feel unsettled. The cabin might be noisy and your kidneys might take a punch, but the 79 can travel on an ugly gravel road at impressive speed.
It must be added that the vehicle’s back was empty when we did our tests, but the auxiliary tank was full. Since it is located right next to the rear axle, it undoubtedly added to the 79’s surefootedness, but the bakkie’s performance remains impressive. This is definitely a vehicle that does its best work on dirt. When you see other vehicles slowly crawling along bad roads while Toyota’s bakkie gallops along without hassle, you can’t help but appreciate the 79’s charms. It really does feel indestructible.
**** Trail capability
The Land Cruiser 79 has just about everything you could ask for in a proper off-road vehicle, and for this reason, it performs exceptionally well on 4×4 trails.
Of course, it has differential locks on both axles, but it also has an engine that truly excels at rock crawling. With first gear in low range engaged, it is possible to crawl up a steep incline without pressing down on the accelerator. This means that it is easy to crawl slowly over rocks without having to constantly work the clutch and brake pedals.
If, however, you find yourself in a sticky situation and need to be rescued (which isn’t likely), the bakkie has solid and easily accessible recovery points.
Ground clearance is also good (235mm), and articulation is impressive.
If the 79 does have a shortcoming when it comes to 4×4-trail driving, it is its turning circle. The bakkie has the turning circle of an aircraft carrier, and this makes negotiating tight bends quite tricky. It isn’t a massive issue, but it is worth taking into account when venturing off road.
Most buyers will probably elect to replace the standard 7.50R16-8(E) 5.50F tyres with chunkier ones. We performed our tests with the standard tyres and didn’t experience any trouble, but if we had to equip a Cruiser 79 for serious off road use, we would fit all-terrain or mud-terrain tyres.
**** Overlanding suitability
The diesel 79 is not ideal for expeditions that require a vehicle with loads of power – a dune driving expedition, for example – since it doesn’t have the necessary horses. For that sort of thing, a petrol version (which offers 170 kW of power) would be a better option.
Apart from that, however, a diesel Cruiser is arguably one of the best overland vehicles available. Yes, it demands a relaxed driving style, but it is also one of the toughest 4x4s money can buy. And in the unlikely event of a breakdown, you stand a good chance of finding a shop with the necessary spares and a person with the expertise to fix it, even in small rural towns.
Moreover, you’ll be able to purchase diesel from an entrepreneur with an oil barrel outside Timbuktu, safe in the knowledge that there are no fancy catalytic converters or other gadgets that’ll self-destruct the moment they get a whiff of 1000ppm diesel.
You won’t need to fill up very often, either, since the Cruiser has two fuel tanks that hold a combined total of 180 litres of diesel. If that’s not enough, there is plenty of space in the back for a couple of Jerry cans.
In our opinion, a 70-series Land Cruiser is one of the 4x4s most suited to overland travelling. Even so, it is not a vehicle that will suit everyone’s needs. If you’re looking for a 4×4 that can handle hardcore overland travelling to destinations that not even Kingsley Holgate and Johan Badenhorst have visited, the tough and basic Cruiser is for you. If, on the other hand, you’ll be sticking to the well-known tourist routes, you’re probably better off going for a vehicle that’s more modern and comfortable. Vehicles such as the Hilux, Fortuner and Prado would be good alternatives.
You also need to consider who and what will be accompanying you on the expedition. For most people, the 76 station wagon will be a better option than the 79, since it has seating for more than two people and an enclosed luggage area. The Land Cruiser 78 is also worth looking at, but like the 76, it is even more expensive than the 79.
So who would choose the 79 as an overland vehicle? For two travellers, the Cruiser bakkie might make sense, especially if you consider the amount of storage space the rear offers. If you need only two seats, and want to save a fair bit of cash, opt for the 79 instead of the 76 or 78.
Considering how basic it is, the Land Cruiser 79 is ridiculously expensive. The same goes for the 60th Anniversary Edition. Yes, it does boast a few extras, but nowhere near enough to justify the R451 800 price tag. And to add insult to financial injury, the Cruiser 79 doesn’t come with a service plan.
Nevertheless, it remains one of the most robust workhorses and overland vehicles available, and that almost – almost – justifies the price. You could buy a more powerful, attractive and comfortable 4×4 for the same price. Toyota’s own FJ Cruiser is a good example. But if you plan on crisscrossing Africa, you’d probably still opt for 70-series.
The Land Cruiser has garnered a much-deserved reputation as an invincible 4×4, and for that reason, Toyota will keep selling it very successfully. It is the master of Africa, and can survive just about anything the continent throws at it, even the odd civil war.
LAND CRUISER 79 DIESEL 60TH EDITION
Type: 1HZ six-cylinder in-line
Valvetrain: 12-valve, SOHC
Bore x stroke: 94x100mm
Max power: 96 kW @ 3800 r/min
Max torque: 285 Nm @ 2200 r/min
Fuel supply: Distributor-type indirect fuel injection
CHASSIS AND BODY
Layout: Front-engined, selectable 4WD
Frame: Ladder frame construction
Brakes front: Ventilated discs
Rear: Leading trailing drums
Wheels: 16-inch steel
Tyres: 7.50R16-8(E) 5.50F
Spare tyre: Full size
Steering: Power assisted
Turning circle: 15m
Suspension front: Standard, rigid live axle, coil spring
Rear: Standard, rigid axle, leaf spring
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Traction/Stability control: No/No
Limited slip diff: No
Differential lock: Yes (front and rear)
Full-time 4WD: No
Front track: 1515mm
Rear track: 1420mm
Top speed: 140 km/h
Overall fuel consumption: 14,56 l/100km
Fuel tank size: 90 + 90 litres
Estimated tank range: 1236 km
Approach angle: 35
Departure angle: 29
Ground clearance: 235mm
Wading depth: 700mm
Front overhang: 710mm
Rear overhang: 1205mm
NEED TO KNOW
Tough and reliable, solid axles with diff locks at the front and rear, loads of loading space
BUT WE DON’T LIKE
Not a lot of power, very basic interior, expensive
Great for serious overlanding, but considering what you get for your money, very expensive
PRICE AS TESTED
MP3 CD player
Massive turning circle
No service plan
Toyota Hilux 3.0 D-4D 4×4 Raider single cab
Land Rover Defender High-capacity Pick-up
Nissan Patrol Pick-up 4.2TDi 4×4
Height/ reach adj steering: Yes/Yes
Tuner/CD player: Yes
CD Shuttle: No
USB terminal: Yes
Aux input: Yes
Air-con/climate control: Yes/No
Satellite navigation: Yes
Electric windows: Yes
Adj exterior mirrors: Yes (manual)
Remote central locking: Yes
Leather upholstery: Yes
Driver/passenger airbags: Yes
Sidebags/curtain bags: No/No
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