One thing the new Series 200 Toyota Land Cruiser has is its sheer road presence. It commands awe and respect--probably fear as well. That it's the choice of many affluent businessmen, politicians and government officials also adds to its street credibility (or perhaps even infamy?). And Toyota's legendary reputation for absolute reliability will win most logical-thinking people.
But it isn't all daisies and roses for the Series 200 Land Cruiser, here in GXR 4.5-liter D4-D V8 guise. Old-school off-road fans prefer older Land Cruisers due to their simplicity and live axle suspensions, which are far tougher off-road. But I doubt anyone spending well north of P4 million will risk taking the GXR through Tanay's most demanding trails.
It's the engine that initially amazes the most, something someone should have done a very long time ago. Build a proper big-block V8 diesel, outfit it with twin turbochargers, place a frankly enormous top-mount intercooler that's about twice the size of a comparable Impreza STI item, and give it the best Denso-engineered D4-D CRDi system.
The result? An impressive 282hp and, more important, 650Nm of torque. Now that is something, not to mention gut-wrenching when you're sawing madly behind the wheel on a two-lane back road and the torquey engine throws you forward at an alarming rate. Coupled with the six-speed automatic transmission that's keen to downshift, especially when the ECT is in power mode, the closest sensation is that of a fully-loaded 747-400 taking off.
Problem is, the sheer weight of the car pushing close to three tons blunts all that performance from the get-go. It needs some time to pick up its skirt, take its glass slippers and hurl itself menacingly at the road like a surface-to-surface missile. It has that sense of duality that is quite amusing.
There's a plethora of safety devices installed. ABS-EBD with brake assist, a system that detects an impending accident, will trigger full braking force even if you don't stomp on the pedal. The brake system also adapts to surface changes, particularly when off-roading, and recalibrates itself to compensate for slicker, slipperier surfaces.
It's also got 12 airbags, which is 10 more than most cars. Toyota's integrated VDC, or vehicle dynamics control, ties up the brakes and fly-by-wire engine throttle to reduce power and stabilize the car using individual brake corners when you're about to have a very expensive accident. It also has hill-start assist and hill climb/crawl, which takes the guesswork out of off-roading. But again, someone who will off-road a luxury 4x4 that costs well over four million large ones will probably have a complete recovery team at his disposal once he gets stuck in a mud pit in his hacienda.
All of these electronic driving programs are aimed squarely at the Range Rover.
The six-speed automatic full-time four-wheel drive has a slippy differential at the rear end to better aid traction out of slippery corner exits. If you need to transfer all 650Nm of torque to the ground, you can lock the center differential and get those four wheels spinning furiously in the mud.
It might be all rock-and-roll outside as the LC200 annihilates anthills and mounds into oblivion, but inside it's all luxury. Admittedly, it's not as roomy as it looks from the outside, and the steering column on our GXR only adjusts for tilt but no reach. Plus, the fixed-height (but leather-covered) seats seem almost too high for me as I can feel the headliner graze my short hair from time to time. But it is still luxurious, everything covered in matte-wood finish (finally!) and leather. The CD/MP3 two-deck audio system is faintly familiar to the unit fitted to the IMV trio, albeit classier and better-sounding.
It rides on big 18-inch wheels wrapped in 285/60 Dunlop Grandtrek A/T rubber, although foreign markets offer truly handsome and factory-spec'd 20- inch wheels shod with road-biased highway tires.
Since we're on the subject of foreign market-spec'd Land Cruisers, it will be interesting to note that this SUV has what is called a kinetic-thingamajig suspension. It's basically an active dynamic suspension that increases roll resistance to aid in cornering. It's also able to adapt to road surfaces, like when you take it off - road or, specifically, a high-speed dirt road like a typical farm-to market or provincial one. Think Jaguar's CATS, Porsche's PASM or Maserati's Skyhook suspension systems. Truly first-rate stuff, but somehow you think Toyota has engineered it more for on-road than off -road use and that it is just banking on older Land Cruisers' legendary off road prowess and reliability.
Okay, the big question is, after all the engineering done for on-road performance and refinement, how does the new Series 200 Land Cruiser drive? It's got very big shoes to fill. Expectations are high and then there is the question of it's heft and bulk.
I've driven BMW's X5 diesel and Audi's Q7 TDI, and both SUVs amazed me with their pace and bulk despite their smaller 3.0-liter diesel units. The Land Cruiser drives just as well as the two German utes. It's not as quick off the line, thanks to the six-speed automatic slurring the first two gears for a smoother take off. But the midrange grunt is unbelievable! There's so much torque that the transmission really makes every iota of 650 Newton-meters felt by the passengers.
The variable-geometry ratio steering rack, though a bit vague and a bit short on feel, is very accurate. And once it's past 45 degrees from dead-center, feel starts to build up evenly. At speed, the steering effort increases to further stabilize the Land Cruiser all the way to well past 200kph. Even the regular steel-sprung suspension with gas-charged dampers has a suppleness that is normally reserved for more premium brands.
While lens man Alfred Mendoza asks me to do some passes for the pictures, I slalom the Land Cruiser to see how well it shifts its weight. It does so very evenly and very predictably, but more telling is the fact that it masks its bulk with clever suspension geometry canceling out roll, pitch, squat and dive under extreme body movements.
Toyota proudly proclaims the Land Cruiser as the King of All Roads. Not very humble, not very Toyota-like, especially when you hear how Toyota CEO Katsuaki Watanabe talks about his company's being number one as the fruit of everyone's labor and not as the goal itself. I had some reservations, but in the end, I've never wanted a big, bruising SUV as much as I do this Land Cruiser. All hail the King!
Source: Top Gear Philippines, May 2008