Thursday 25 February 1999
Australia's best-selling four-wheel-drive is about to cast a much bigger shadow. How big? Think solar
This substantial lump of Nippon Steel is longer, almost two metres wide, taller too, and a thumping 150 kg
heavier. These things are relative: the old one was already the biggest gun in town.
For all its considerable bulk, the new LandCruiser 100 Series performs its intended role with absolute
panache and A-plus quality. It is equally happy floating through the Flinders Ranges, cruising Kakadu or
merely muscling Hyundais out of parking spots at the shopping mall.
Many owners who don't venture far from the blacktop will notice some quite startling improvements to
Toyota's battle cruiser: a cabin so quiet it shames some luxury sedans, appreciably more space and a body
as tight and well-sealed as a bank vault. Less obvious is the improvement in crash safety that allows this
big 4WD wagon to pass Australian passenger car frontal impact tests. Toyota claims this is a first for a
Much of the LandCruiser's technology is borrowed from Toyota's Lexus luxury car division. The optional
4.7-litre V8 is almost a direct steal. The first V8 in a Japanese 4WD, it is an enlarged, iron-block version
of the original Lexus LS400 luxury sedan engine, a byword for smoothness and silent running.
The result is the quietest all-terrain wagon available anywhere, at any price, including the latest from
Range Rover and Mercedes-Benz.
That price, however, is ridiculous. Toyota wants an entirely artificial $89,900 for the top-gun Land-Cruiser
GXV, a not-so-subtle encouragement for potential V8 buyers to wait a month for the Lexus version of the
LandCruiser, the LX470.
Mercifully, the six-cylinder, Toyota-badged 100 Series models are much more realistically priced. The
best-selling GXL petrol automatic remains at $56,590 but now includes dual airbags, anti-skid brakes,
cruise control and an engine immobiliser.
For all its technical prowess and command of the road, even Toyota's chief engineer, Takeo Kondo, admits
his 100 Series is hardly an eco-car.
"I am regretting the LandCruiser became heavier, not lighter," he says in that formal Japanese way.
Australia is Toyota's biggest export market for Land-Cruisers. Much as the inner-city tribes scorn them,
the general population loves the big Toyotas. Nearly 400,000 have been sold here.
The current 80 Series has been our most popular off-roader since the day it was introduced in 1990,
routinely selling more than 1,000 each month. During the '80s, the ancestral 60 Series was likewise
impregnable as the vehicle of choice for mining companies, farmers, contractors, Telstra, bushfire brigades
and thousands of outdoorsy private buyers. The Land-Cruiser reputation is all about toughness, reliability,
longevity and the ability to tow small municipalities.
Now comes the biggest remake since Titanic and the timing couldn't be better. Fuel prices are dipping
below 70 cents a litre and suburban mums and dads seem intent on owning a piece of the great outdoors, or
at least being able to drive one of its most powerful symbols to the shopping mall.
The 11 LandCruiser models span prices from $47,670 to $89,900. The GXV with its Lexus V8 engine is the
only one to use a newly developed independent front suspension, which gives wonderfully supple ride
comfort. It is also the only 'Cruiser with car-like rack and pinion steering.
Less expensive, bigger-selling six-cylinder petrol and diesel models use an updated version of Toyota's
existing rigid front axle, a well-proved system in heavy-duty applications but one which lacks passenger
car smoothness or bump-soaking subtlety.
Australia is the only place where the 100 Series is sold with this old, tough-as-goat's-knees front
suspension. It is also the only market in the world where the V8 engine commands such a thumping price
The 100 Series, says its chief engineer, is heavier because it has to be. More sound-proofing, a bigger
body with 50 per cent more torsional stiffness than the current 80 series and big gains in crash protection
(which include a new, partly deformable ladder chassis) ... all these have packed on the weight.
The addition of that mightily powerful 170 kW V8, he says, will mean customers are going to drive the
Cruiser faster over rough terrain and still expect it not to break. The result: heavier duty components from
stem to stern ... and still more kilograms.
Engines for the majority of Australian vehicles are updated versions of the existing six-cylinder petrol and
diesel powerplants. In a major disappointment to the legions of diesel buyers, the turbo diesel will not be
back in the catalogue for at least a year.
The 4.5-litre petrol six fitted to the majority of 80 Series LandCruisers continues in the 100 Series with
refinements to running smoothness, noise suppression and efficiency. It has gained slightly more power
and torque for a one-second acceleration gain from rest to 100 km/h - but, Toyota claims, there is no fuel
Official government fuel consumption tests reveal the new V8 uses between 2 and 6 per cent less fuel than
the in-line six, an entirely plausible outcome given the advanced nature of the eight. This engine qualifies
as a Low Emission Vehicle in California. Even the petrol-powered six produces nearly 30 per cent fewer
With fuel consumption in the 16-18 litres/100 km band, the LandCruiser won't win votes from Friends of
the Earth, not with a 2.4-tonne kerb weight, or roughly double that of your average medium-sized car.
All LandCruisers benefit from a much wider footprint or track, both front and rear. The distance between
front and rear axles remains unchanged, and the body is a hand-span longer (most of it devoted to rear leg
room). Cabin width is increased by an appreciable 110 mm, which means the LandCruiser is nearly 2,000
mm wide! This translates to significantly more shoulder room.
The interior is new with an obvious emphasis on the requirement of the US market; cup-holders abound.
The eight-seater models no longer have a third row that rattles and flaps when stowed, and there is a
lap-sash centre rear seat belt and in-built child restraint anchor points.
Small details abound: the window glass in the rear doors slides all the way down, there are several handy
cubby bins in the rear compartment, sturdy luggage tie-down points and a long list of options to make
Negatives: the rear windows no longer slide open but pop out on limited-travel hinges; the wheels are
fastened by five studs instead of six; and fitting roof racks is more difficult due to the absence of rain
With the latest research by the Australian Auto-mobile Association suggesting fuel consumption isn't an
issue with many Australians, the LandCruiser will find a ready market.
By any objective measure the V8 GXV model outperforms the Range Rover. It is smoother, tighter,
uncannily quiet, more spacious and - if the factory figures hold true in the real world - it should have a more
modest appetite for fuel.
Of course, it is a Toyota and styling isn't a strong suit. The 100 Series doesn't look as distinctive, or
command the same snoot factor, as a Range Rover - qualities that keep pukka owners happy to defend the
foibles of British engineering.
Next month comes the Lexus LX470 with, as well as the V8, a height-adjustable "skyhook" suspension
system, which is sold in Japan and the UK on more humble LandCruisers. The automatic height control
maintains the body at a more or less constant "mid-air" position regardless of speed or terrain. It lowers
the car at high speed and raises it when low range is engaged. A manual switch allows the driver to adjust
ride height by 40 mm at the front, 50 mm at the rear.
New electronic shock absorbers automatically tune the suspension's stiffness through a range of 16
soft-to-hard damper settings, depending on road surface, speed and the attitude of the body.
Throw in some leather trim and dual air-conditioning and that pretty much is the Lexus difference.
Yours for $100,000? Maybe, $110,000 ...