Toyota’s Land Cruiser 200 VX combines modern electronic systems with traditional “hard-roader” capabilities and then adds in a premium look and feel. But attach “seriously thirsty” to the title, too – especially in the case of the V8 petrol
Welcome to the serious side of life, in the shape of the Toyota Land Cruiser 200. It is seriously big (5m long and nearly 2m wide), seriously heavy (2620kg), seriously thirsty (expect no better than about 18 litres per 100km in mixed use) and seriously expensive at a shade shy of three-quarters of a million.
Some people also think it is seriously ugly, but it is a case of beauty being in the eye of the beholder. Certain members of the Leisure Wheels test team liked its stand-out design and the bulging, three-dimensional light clusters. Everything about it is large if not quite super-sized – from the mirrors to the grille to the way the tyres fill the wheel arches.
Features and equipment
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We opted for the petrol model because the diesel is R32 000 more expensive, and with the price differential between the two fuels in the region of R2 per litre, it is still going to take a long ti me before the extra cost is justified.
Another reason is that we were looking for a vehicle that had a premium feel in every possible way and Toyota’s silky 4,7-litre V8 (though the oilburner is also a bent eight) certainly lives up to that expectation.
Like so many modern cars, the “Cruiser” has a specification sheet peppered with a bewildering array of acronyms. Suffice to say that it has everything that an owner of a flagship SUV could conceivably want, including permanent four-wheel drive with a lockable centre differential, heaps of driving aids (including an off -road program with three speed settings) seven seats, one of the most comprehensive climate control systems this side of an airliner and every luxury feature on the block.
It also has 10 airbags (only Porsche’s Cayenne can equal that); stability control and substantially proportioned discs linked to a trolley-load of electro-hydraulic assistance systems.
There’s also a butt on marked RSCA, which stands for “roll sensing of curtain shield airbag”. This allows the curtain air bags and seat belt pretensioner to be deactivated – presumably so that they don’t deploy in a slow, off -road accident – though the curtain airbags will still activate in a severe side impact.
Most importantly, it has low range gearing and is built on a very beefy ladder-frame chassis with the rear wheels attached to a live axle. In a word? Hardcore.
★ ★ ★
The Cruiser VX isn’t the biggest in its class. Nissan’s Patrol has more overall length and extra centimetres in the wheelbase. But the only ti me you’ll notice this is when using the third row of seats, which are “occasional” in the case of the Toyota, especially with the middle seats in the rearmost position.
As a super-luxurious five-seater it doesn’t disappoint, though, and accommodation in the rear is fit for a King. As well as sumptuous leather, there’s four-zone temperature control and heated seats, front and rear. With its substantial cabin width there’s room for the Jack and the Queen on the rear bench too, and legroom rivals most limos, allowing a threesome to really stretch out.
The commander-in-chief sits high and proud and quite far forward, which contributes to good all-round visibility. The most remarkable aspect of the driving environment is the plethora of controls. It is confusing at first, and while anyone can become accustomed to just about anything, there is simply too much switchgear. And it is not always grouped especially logically. But the over-sized satellite navigation screen is a nice “touch”, if you get our pun, and so are the multiple grab handles and excellent storage solutions, which extend to a powerful cooler box between the front seats. Sundowners will definitely be chilled to perfection.
The other negatives with regard to the Cruiser’s third row of seats are that they stow against the side windows and don’t collapse into the floor. This means there isn’t provision for a retractable luggage cover and the width of the load area is limited to one metre – a significant factor when stowing large or irregularly shaped items.
With the middle row of seats folded and stowed there is still not much more that 1,5m of horizontal length.
The relatively short overhang also means there is minimal luggage volume when both the sixth and seventh seats are in use, with room for only a couple of soft bags. But we liked the horizontal split to the fifth door, which means it can act as a tailgate to prevent items falling out, or be lowered to allow easier access, or for it to be used as a work surface.
★ ★ ★
The Cruiser isn’t a rocket but it certainly isn’t found wanting in terms of how it accelerates from rest or overtakes queues of traffic. In fact, it steps off the mark smartly, progress helped by a five-speed box that seamlessly swaps ratios without feeling lethargic.
Pace improves slightly when you use the manual shifter and it will allow the engine to hit the limiter at 5700 r/min, unless you give the lever a prod in ti me. This is very definitely a nice feature when the tarmac ends, enabling the driver full control of the gear-change points and also allowing engine braking to be utilised to maximum effect.
Leave it in Drive and down-changes are equally swift and decisive.
While overtaking performance can’t match the likes of an X5 V8, which has quite a lot more power and weighs significantly less, it’ll still cover the 60- 100 km/h kick-down dash in six seconds.
Toyota claims a 200 km/h top speed, but when we got to 195 km/h a soft , electronic limiter intervened. The difference hardly matters. The lower number is more than sufficient and there were no stability concerns at that speed. The cabin was wonderfully hushed with the engine ticking over at about 3800 r/ min and there was little in the way of wind or road noise.
Toyota lists an impressive 0,35 drag coefficient for the latest Cruiser, but there is little doubt that a 2,6- tonner with such a large frontal area and an auto box will make “Mr Carbon” Al Gore’s hair stand on end.
Toyota claims the Cruiser will use about 14,5 litres per 100km as an average, but we think that is two litres on the optimistic side. And if you regularly treat yourself to the creamy exhaust note of the multivalve, multicam, variable valve timing powerplant, bank on the number climbing towards 17 or 18 per 100.
The Cruiser goes, but does it stop? The answer is an emphatic yes, and even though absolute retardation would rate a very good rather than an excellent, it ticked off 12 emergency stops from 80 km/h without a hint of stress, with pedal feel and stopping consistency remaining, well – consistent.
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The revelation with the Cruiser is how good it is on tar. Not only does it feel much more agile than it looks, but it responds obediently to the steering and exhibits less body roll than expected.
As it turns out, this is thanks to a hydraulic link between the front and rear anti-roll bars, causing them to work in unison. But off road they don’t restrict the 230mm of suspension travel (240mm at the back) and as a result the wheels stay on the ground nearly all the time, while nothing on the underside ever touches. We measured ground clearance to the rear differential at 225 mm – exactly what Toyota claims.
The turning circle is a respectable 11,8m and parking at a crowded mall is seldom stressful – despite the slightly paranoid park distance control. Rather switch it off and rely on the reversing camera!
There are ride quality compromises inherent in using a live rear axle but the Cruiser soaks up irregularities with exceptional aplomb and the suspension settings are almost faultless.
When it comes to off-road ability there are other 4x4s that will go where the Cruiser can go, but what makes it special is the way it turns ditches and earth mounds into mere potholes and speed-humps. It simply flattens them out, and conditions that would normally be negotiated at a slow walking pace can now be taken at a jog.
When the going gets really tough, drivers can call on the centre differential lock, and the “crawler” function. A rotary dial on the centre console has a trio of speed limits (1,3 and 5 km/h) and Toyota says this interesting piece of technology replicates the techniques and habits of a highly skilled off-road driver, with electronic maps replicating these ideal throttle inputs.
★ ★ ★ ★
The Cruiser 200 is a significant step forward for Toyota, and to a lesser extent for the genre as a whole. It combines modern electronic systems with traditional “hard-roader” capabilities and then adds in a premium look and feel. It gets close to combining the best of both worlds for those after a low-range 4×4 that can be driven every day.