Road test: Toyota Land Cruiser LC200 VX-R

Late last year, Toyota celebrated its 10-millionth Land Cruiser sale. The fables of its indestructible engineering and lovable character were retold, cementing its place in the motoring hall of fame. You’ve seen the pictures and the read of the adventures to and through the most treacherous and beautiful places on earth. Can you see the mountains, the river crossings, the desert tomfoolery and dust spray? That’s what makes it legend.

It’s a name synonymous with “tough” — but don’t mention that to the Hilux marketing team.

What’s new?

I am writing about this car in 2020 because Toyota South Africa has chosen to add some technology and aesthetic enhancements to the aging Land Cruiser.

The LC200 is sold in a more utilitarian GX-R specification as well as the more luxurious VX-R grade, the subject of which I am writing about. In VX-R spec, Toyota has added a more powerful 14-speaker JBL sound system plus a pair of 29cm, rear-seat entertainment screens. Toyota has also done away with some exterior colours such as Attitude Black — that has been replaced with Sparkling Black Pearl which is still black of course, but is said to offer enhanced depth with a pearlescent finish. Midnight Blue and Sunset Dune colours have also been discontinued leaving Ruby and Golden Beige as the only colours besides those in the grey scale.

Those 29cm screens are indeed a welcome touch, if not added a little later than expected. The Land Cruiser 200 VX-R represents the ultimate expression of comfort and luxury, whether you’re sitting at the rear as a diplomat or business professional or a child within a family context. The screens feel as robust as the rest of the car with easy to use inputs and adjustments. Coupled to the 14-speaker JBL system, watching Disney’s Frozen was quite the family experience,  even if it was the 38th time I had to do this.

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Acres of Interior Space

The LC 200 is indeed suited to families. With seven of the most cushioned and comfortable seats available and with both the middle and last rows offering 40:20:40 and 60:40 splits respectively, this is family-practical to the hilt. It’s been designed to cater to all your needs as a passenger or driver.

Electric front seats that are heated and ventilated ensure comfort over prolonged journeys. Connectivity is last season in terms of tech, as is the entire infotainment system, quite frankly. Its dated graphics aren’t in line with what you could buy at this price, but this is the Toyota way. I can’t deny their functionality — everything works, quickly and easily. This 2020 LC even has a wireless charging pad, showing me up in this department as my dated iPhone wasn’t quite at this level. There’s no shortage of 12V sockets and you’ll not find a more powerful air conditioner — but I did find the lack of USB charging ports a sore point in 2020.

All the technology and creature comforts within the cabin (and there are a lot), are wrapped up in a sumptuous mix of materials, one of which is a generous application of leather. Across the steering wheel, the gear lever, the seats of course as well as the door panels, cooler box cover/armrest and the dashboard. The cabin will leave you with an impression of quality, durability and comfort — read those words again — only Toyota can do that.

Durable cabins aren’t meant to feel so comfortable and luxurious. It may be dated in terms of graphic and lighting technologies, but it feels like you could lounge in the LC in impressive comfort while traversing the hottest, most rugged terrain on this earth. And in fact, you can. With your family and luggage and trailer in tow too.

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Performance – the Mighty V8

Under the hood of the 2,7-ton Land Cruiser, is a tried and trusted 4,5-litre, 32-valve, DOHC turbocharged diesel V8. It’s mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. 195kW of power are available at 3,400rpm with a handy 650Nm of torque between 1,600 – 2600rpm. On the open road, I was surprised by how swift the big, burly V8 could accelerate. It will do 0 – 100km/h in under 9-seconds, a touch slower than a sub-ton Suzuki Swift Sport. It will go on to a top-end of 201km/h.

The Land Cruiser’s size counts against it on the open road and in urban environments. As a driver, you feel as indestructible as the car, sitting high yet comfortable. But everything is large and chunky and weighted, from the gear selector to the pedal feel and steering action. It’s certainly not hard to drive, but you’ll never be in any doubt about the size of car you’re in, no matter how comfortable and luxurious it is. Thankfully, Toyota has thrown in the surround view camera and active cruise control to help.

Body sway is real whether its lateral around corners or linear as you floor the throttle or stomp onto the brakes. Toyota has adopted a hydraulic system called KDSS (Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System) to counter body roll and ensure suspension rigidity in on-road conditions. It also adds to overall comfort on uneven surfaces. I can attest to an open-road driving experience that is absolutely comfortable, quiet and stately — but you just can’t hide that bulk or that weight, even with all the technical innovations in place.

The Off-Road King

The Cruiser is almost unmatched in the off-road department. The KDSS system comes into play here as well, in these conditions effectively allowing more suspension travel for flexibility over rough and tough terrain. The list of 4×4 gadgets and tech is impressively lengthy. Starting with Toyota’s Multi-Terrain-Select system, most of the off-road functions are available and selectable at the push of a couple of rotary switches and some buttons on the centre console.

The Multi-Terrain-Select system allows you to engage the best mode for the terrain in which you’re driving as well as engage the Crawl function for maintaining a consistent speed up / over an obstacle. It’s like magic really — once engaged, all you do is steer while the car does the rest, optimising acceleration, braking, traction control and gearing for a consistent and stress-free off-road challenge.  What was most noticeable for me, especially compared to other similar systems was the speed with which the system responds especially when a loss of traction is detected and there is a need to send power to the wheels with the most traction. In addition to the automatic diff lock features, the central diff can be manually locked too, for even more difficult terrain.  

Unlike a number of SUV’s, the Land Cruiser is built using a body-on-frame engineering method. This ensures a high body rigidity and therefore adds to the car’s off-road prowess. It is in effect, a ground up approach that sets it apart in this overland ability.

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(Photo by Cornel van Heerden)

If you’re looking for a comfortable, large, practical and quality SUV with seven seats and all the bells and whistles, this is a great contender. If you’d like one with an ability to go almost anywhere, with the same qualities to go with it, well then there’s not much else. If you want it with a historically-proven track record for durability and reliability in the toughest conditions known to man and machine — then there’s only one.  

I didn’t even begin to dent this car’s overall capabilities, but it left me in awe of its breadth of talent and respect. It’s not called the Master of Africa for nothing… it really is quite masterful. At R1 540 300, it’s not what you might call “cheap”. It’s abilities and reputation aren’t cheap either.

This content has been created as part of our freelancer relief programme. We are supporting journalists and freelance writers impacted by the economic slowdown caused by #lockdownlife.

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