Back in the late 1970s, like boys the world over, I used to smuggle war comics into school to read. A local favourite was Grensvegter (Rocco de Wet) and his Toyota Land Cruiser with which he single-handedly (and with some help from some very sexy women) ventured into Angola to beat up the Angolan army and the Cubans.
Admittedly a bit far-fetched, but when watching news channels such as CNN we sometimes still spot Land Cruisers with all sorts of weaponry mounted on them being used in military roles in far-flung conflicts around the globe, a testament to their ruggedness.
Locally the Land Cruiser 70 series has developed a well-deserved reputation for its go-anywhere abilities and is often the vehicle of choice for farmers seeking a workhorse, or adventurers heading up north through some of the worst roads Africa has to offer.
Yet somehow I had never actually managed to get my bum on the seat of one until we recently tested the Land Cruiser 79 LX double cab powered by a mighty V8 4.5-litre turbodiesel. Three Land Cruiser 70 Series models – the 76 Station Wagon, the 79 Single Cab and the 79 Double Cab – recently became the recipients of this V8 engine.
With outputs of 151kW and 430Nm, it’s the new flagship power unit of the Land Cruiser 70 series and sells alongside the existing 4.0 V6 petrol with 170kW/360Nm, and the 4.2 straight-six diesel with 96kW/285Nm.
While it’s not as powerful as some other bakkies out there, it still equals the pulling capacity of SA’s top tower (Isuzu’s KB) at 3 500kg.
But let’s first get the issue of price out of the way – it’s an eye-watering R567 600 which makes it one of the priciest double-cab bakkies in the country.
So what do you get for more than half-a-million rand I hear you ask? Not much in creature comforts, but plenty of hardcore offroading ability. The strange thing is that despite the lack of pamper features and a bumpy ride (it has rigid axles instead of independent suspension), we still enjoyed driving the Land Cruiser with its high driving position and the seemingly acres of bonnet stretching out before you.
Perhaps it’s knowing that you can take off into the wilds at a whim (as long as you run it strictly on 50ppm diesel, that is, a factor which limits this Toyota’s Africa-crossing aspirations).
But should you decide to take the road less travelled, the high ground clearance, good entry and departure angles, as well as the option of switching to low range and four-wheel drive (although this requires getting out the vehicle and manually locking the hubs) makes short work of obstacles. And if all that fails, you can engage the diff lock.
A snorkel is mounted on the A-pillar, giving this tough Toyota a deep wading depth.
The first gear is really short, just the thing for puttering up rockfaces, but in normal driving conditions it means changing up to second gear while still almost at walking pace. The turbocharged diesel V8 rumbles along contentedly enough, although it feels as though the engine is working hard at the legal speed limit on the highway. With lots of engine and road noise and a mediocre sound system you don’t get that insulated, hushed-cathedral effect of an SUV. Instead you are fully aware of the noise and the bumpy ride.
NO URBAN WARRIOR
One thing the Land Cruiser is not, is an urban warrior. Slotting this big boy into parking bays at the local mall was a mission as it has the widest turning circle of any vehicle I’ve driven, and requires many a three- or four-point turn. Reversing was also difficult as the spare wheel is mounted so that it partially obscures rearward vision and you can’t see the tailgate. Fuel consumption was on the heavy side at 12.4l/100km, but a huge 130 litre fuel tank gives you plenty of travelling time between filling stations.
Up front this workhorse is business-like with cloth seats, hard plastics, sliding ventilation controls that wouldn’t look out of a place on a 1980s vehicle, and no satellite controls on the steering wheel. A small centre console is handy for items such as wallets and house keys, but a driver’s armrest would have been nice to have for those trans-Africa trips. Passenger space in the rear is a bit limited with not much legroom.
All turbodiesel models get power steering, tilt and telescopic steering adjustment, air conditioning, electric windows, electric mirrors, a 12V accessory connector as well as remote central locking. .
An unexpected feature in this old-school Toyota is a nifty multi-media interface with satellite navigation, bluetooth, radio/CD and USB functions.
Safety is taken care of by ABS brakes and dual front airbags.
Service intervals are every 10 000km and the vehicle’s sold with a three-year/100 000 km warranty and roadside assistance, but no service or maintenance plan.
Personally I would rather take that money and buy an almost-new Prado and see the world in more comfort and style.
However, the Land Cruiser 79 double cab, despite the stiff price, will appeal to traditionalists seeking a more utalitarian vehicle with rugged offroad performance. -Star Motoring