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Driven: 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser

Andrew Muzamhindo

It feels like the world’s toughest truck in a luxury body.It is one of the automotive world’s legendary models, with a reputation for surviving life in the harshest corners of civilisation.It is the colossal Land Cruiser.

I bumped into the CEO of a leading medical aid society in a dry cleaner’s in Harare recently. After we exchanged pleasantries, he went on to ask me if people actually read this column and whether they ask me for my input when buying cars. I told him a number of people have done so before. The most asked question I get from local CEOs who ask for my advice is, “should I buy a Land Cruiser, Range Rover or Mercedes Benz?”

He then asked me a pertinent question that I have been asked a number of times. Why the Land Cruiser VX is one of the most admired models despite it not having modernised so much over the years.

Like they say, “legends never die, they change shape,” that is what the Land Cruiser has done over the years.The Land Cruiser is Toyota’s longest running model. Over 10 million Land Cruisers have been sold as of August 31, 2019 with current annual global sales at 400 000 units. By comparison, the Land Rover Defender ceased production at only two million units. It is said to be designed and built for a 25-year lifespan.

It is gargantuan and old-school, but the Land Cruiser is incredibly likeable and lovable. It feels like it could outlast anyone on this planet. Therein lies part of the answer.

The Land Cruiser is the most surprising vehicle Toyota makes. While the Japanese automaker is best known for everyday commuter cars like the Camry, Corolla and others, the Land Cruiser is a massive luxury SUV.

Everything about the Land Cruiser is beefy and solid, from the thick-sidewall tyres to the protruding grille. The volume knob, the latch for the tailgate, the controls for the off-road equipment; everything you touch in the top-dog Toyota is made of thicker, heavier-duty material than in other luxury SUVs.

And it is not for show. Any SUV manufacturer will sell you something with rugged controls to make you feel like a tough guy, but there is a sense of unified purpose behind the Land Cruiser that makes such machismo less offensive and more impressive.

With the Land Cruiser, Toyota has the history to back it up. There is a part of the answer as well.While some consumers might not be familiar with it, the Land Cruiser nameplate is among the most respected in the automotive industry. Toyota sells different variations of this truck-based SUV around the world, from humble farm trucks with pickup beds all the way up to this leathered-out luxury SUV.

NGOs, militias, governments, armies and individuals swear by the Land Cruiser badge. They do not trust anything but a Land Cruiser to get them to their missions and back alive. They are called upon to operate in extreme heat and dust while covering long distances without refuelling. Their simplicity makes them easily repaired if necessary.

For decades, Toyota has built models to survive the world’s toughest environments. Anyone working for organisations in rural Zimbabwe will tell you the only production truck cut out for that place is the Land Cruiser. The UN even uses them in war zones.

In the SUV, the fortified-gate doors and thick windows keep things quiet inside, while a softly-sprung suspension keeps you from the harsh realities of the outdoors. Thick leather bucket seats provide support for hours on the trail, while the expected suite of heated or cooled seats, premium audio system and radar cruise control ensures your luxury SUV experience stays convenient. Oh, and there is a fridge in the centre console that will keep your drinks cool all day.

The downside of the longevity-first engineering mindset is that you inevitably end up with something that feels a bit old-school. The 381-horsepower, 5,7-litre V8 is not only reliable, but also a generation or two behind the best powertrains you can buy. It can be noisy under load and heavy on fuel. It gulps 19 litres per 100km. That is not for the faint hearted and shallow pockets.

The duty-focussed interior is not the pinnacle of luxury. The thick plastic pieces will likely outlast you, but they do not feel as premium as the leathers, metals and woods that adorn the BMWs, Audis, Volvos and Mercedes you can get for this price.

Those cars will also likely come with better tech, too, as the Land Cruiser makes do with Toyota’s unimpressive infotainment system. In general, while it has most of the features of a modern luxury car, the Land Cruiser fails to tie them together in a seamless way. It is the best stuff you can get on a non-luxury branded vehicle, but you probably will not forget that it is a Toyota.

Also attributable to the off-road mission, the Land Cruiser lacks fold-flat rear seats. There is too much to make a fold-flat row work, so the rear seats awkwardly flip to the sides and up but never really get out of the way. Plus, the soft suspension also often feels wobbly on the road.

The Land Cruiser has its flaws. It is too bouncy and plastic-laden compared to competition, with an engine and fuel economy rating better suited to 2005. But it is a serious marvel of automotive design that can reliably conquer the harshest terrains in the world. To some it may be another SUV but to those who know about SUVs there is no substitute for a Land Cruiser.

andrew@muzamhindo.com

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