First Drive | Toyota's new King of 'Cruisers: The V8 is dead. Long live the V6s

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2021 Toyota Land Cruiser
2021 Toyota Land Cruiser

 • Land Cruiser 300 presents more powertrain and trim choices than the 200 did.
 • At its core, this remains a rugged ladder-frame 4x4. But the engine and transmission improvements are significant.

 • The GR Sport edition is much more than a different grille and some branding.

 • For motoring news, go to News24/wheels.

The Toyota Land Cruiser is unquestionably South Africa's most successful all-terrain luxury vehicle.

The luxury Land Cruiser is unrivalled for wealthy adventurers who require the confidence to venture out and return from isolated locations in comfort.

You won't see many Range Rovers roaming around the SADC countries during vacation time, but Land Cruisers go everywhere – in numbers unmatched by any European rival. And the newest one is keen to continue that legacy – with more power.

Forget about any German limousine or crossover. The most important luxury vehicle launch this year is Land Cruiser 300.

land cruiser 300
2021 Toyota Land Cruiser

A luxury SUV, without air-suspension 

Land Cruiser 300 retains some of the 200's core values, such as a separate steel frame and ignoring the need for air suspension.

Toyota's engineering philosophy has always been deeply conservative. Air suspension is terrific, but a failure is catastrophic when you have navigated into isolated terrain.

With the 300, you get Toyota's latest KDSS cross-link hydraulic suspension assistance, but no ride-height adjusting air-suspension, which has kept the new vehicle at its predecessor's 235mm ground clearance rating.

Perhaps the 300's most significant selling point is its ladder frame structure, which promises superior vehicle integrity over time. It is telling to drive in older Land Cruiser 200s, which have been diligently maintained, and experience the complete absence in rattles or squeaks.

Land Cruiser 300, land cruiser
2021 Toyota Land Cruiser 300

The V8 is dead. Long live the V6s

When Toyota announced that six-cylinder engines would power the 300, there was a murmur of disappointment from Land Cruiser followers.

The 200's 4.5-litre turbodiesel V8 was revered for its ability to produce abundant torque in extreme conditions, even when running poor quality fuel.

I don't believe in the fallacy of capacity. Engine construction materials and fuel injection techniques improve over time. And the downsized Land Cruiser 300 3.3-litre turbodiesel is better in every way.

The power and torque graphs show that Land Cruiser 300's V6 turbodiesel is more potent than the V8, but real-world driving proved it to be much quieter and emitting less vibration too. Smaller engine internals has less inertia, translating to more rapid throttle response.

Add those four additional ratios of the new ten-speed automatic transmission, and you have a Land Cruiser that feels much quicker than the 200-series V8 – because it is.

Land Cruiser 300, land cruiser
2021 Toyota Land Cruiser 300

What is the purpose of that V6 petrol? 

But what about the 3.5-litre turbopetrol? There hasn't been a South African market luxury Land Cruiser powered by a petrol engine for a generation, so why introduce one?

Range and refuelling inconvenience are real issues for Land Cruiser owners, and the 3.5-litre V6 is notably heavier on fuel than the diesel. Across three days of test driving, we experienced an average 30% consumption difference between the petrol and diesel V6s.

Despite the burden of truncated range and more frequent refuelling, the 305kW V6 turbopetrol is a superb high-speed cruiser. It has terrific roll-on acceleration, providing a safer margin of overtaking than any previous Land Cruiser.

What do you think of the new Land Cruiser 300? Please email us your thoughts here, or use the comments section below.

Although both the new Land Cruiser 300 V6 engines are turbocharged, the petrol version has a 30% wider usable range of power, which means much better sand driving performance. For owners keen on some Namibian or Kalahari dune driving, the 300 V6 turbopetrol will be a revelation.

Beyond the greater refinement and notably more potent performance, the Land Cruiser 300 platform feels a lot more agile and responsive than a 200 – despite retaining a traditional body-on-frame platform. There's less need to correct it at highway speed when rolling over diagonally uneven road surfaces – often an annoyance when driving ladder-frame SUVs.

And off-road, there's minimal lateral cabin shake when navigating obstacles, especially in the GR Sport version. With the benefit of its E-KDSS hydraulically adaptable suspension front and rear, the GR Sport delivering 30mm more wheel articulation and smooths through those potentially jarring cross-axle obstacles.

Even the most attentive driver can easily miss that farm or venue turnoff, bounding along a rural gravel road. To make the 300 nimbler when executing any low-speed turn on gravel surfaces, there is a mild inside-wheel brake intervention function, which trims the 300's turning circle.

land cruiser 300
2021 Toyota Land Cruiser

Not too sophisticated inside – and that's a good thing

Cabin architects and ergonomists at Toyota have transformed the Land Cruiser interior space, evolving from 200 to 300.

Small-item storage space is much enhanced, and although the digitization is comprehensive, there remain a treasure of traditional analogue tab switches. These buttons and switches function much better when you wish to make a ventilation or driving mode adjustment without averting your attention from the road.

Touchscreen over-function has become a weakness of some European luxury SUVs, with second- and third-level menu navigation nearly impossible to execute on a gravel road without stopping. Land Cruiser 300 has struck a credible balance between buttons, dials, switches and touchscreen functions.

You might swiftly roam beyond the coverage of your Smartphone network with a Land Cruiser 300, but Toyota has added Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for intuitive device interfacing when you want to connect to a downloaded podcast or other entertainment.  

land cruiser 300
2021 Toyota Land Cruiser

Which is the one to have?

With the introduction of 300, Toyota now offers its broadest range of luxury Land Cruisers. The GX-R offers an Overlanding specification at R1 283 200. You sacrifice some cabin amenities but gain a lockable rear differential.

If you want the imposing road presence of that ornate grille and 20-inch wheels, the ZX V6 diesel prices at R1 765 500, with the petrol being a touch dearer, at R 1 797 100.

Something to note about the ZX is that it does not have mechanically locking rear or front differentials and uses a Torsen limited-slip centre differential to secure traction on loose terrain.

Unquestionably the one to have is the Land Cruiser 300 GR Sport. It has all the luxury cabin trim, three lockable differentials and rolls on 265/65R18 tyres, which are the ideal size for off-road touring.

The GR Sport also has a much greater approach angle than ZX, thanks to its 80-Series homage grille design and smaller bumper. Where a 300 ZX rolls into challenging terrain with a 24-degree maximum approach angle, the GR Sport (and GX) have 32-degree angles of attack.

Indisputably the ideal specification for a South African luxury adventure vehicle, the new 300 range is truly without rival.

Land Cruiser 200 owners considering an upgrade, or new buyers, will be confronted by a testing waiting list, as global demand has overwhelmed the current 300 production capacity. Land Cruiser residuals have always been excellent, and with 300, they will continue to be.

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