x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Toyota reveals its 2013 Land Cruiser SUV to an eager market

The chassis is the same, but Toyota's offroading staple's front end, suspension and rear lights have been revised, and its high-end model boasts a feature not found on any other SUV.

Though the latest Toyota Land Cruiser boasts a raft of improvements, it still looks almost identical to the outgoing model. Silvia Razgova / The National
Though the latest Toyota Land Cruiser boasts a raft of improvements, it still looks almost identical to the outgoing model. Silvia Razgova / The National

The Toyota Land Cruiser enjoys an almost mythical status here in the UAE; you see them everywhere and, indeed, they are the best-selling SUV on the road, holding a 63 per cent share of the market, according to Toyota officials. Part of that popularity is its lengthy history in the country; 57 years ago, the first Land Cruiser 20 Series came off a boat in Dubai, and the cars proved themselves a capable and reliable performer in the days before paved roads in the country.

And then there were paved roads, major motorways built between towns and city streets spiderwebbing out all across the country. And yet, the Land Cruiser has remained popular, right through its different iterations until today, getting larger and more luxurious to reflect the change from wilderness to urban life. Those lights flashing in your rearview mirror on Sheikh Zayed Road? There's a good chance it's a Land Cruiser.

So, obviously, the big SUV is very important to Toyota in the UAE and, this year, they've got a new one. Well, kind of new. Simon Frith, the head of Al Futtaim Motors, bills this 2013 model as "all new", but that might be a stretch. The chassis is the same as last year, with minor improvements such as new rear lights, a revised front end, a different front suspension for more articulation, a new audio system, revised wheels and interior and a new, optional 4.6L V8 with a six-speed automatic transmission.

But it's still a big car - huge, in fact, especially from behind the wheel. But that means the interior is spacious and comfortable, with big seats up front and plenty of passenger space in the second row. The design inside is new, with swathes of wood separating different colours of plastic. It's nice enough but, for a vehicle labelled as a "luxury" car, it's typical Toyota quality, the same that you'd find in a Camry. However, the GXR+ also comes with leather seats, an upgraded stereo with USB port, a reverse camera and sat/nav. While they work well, the screen on the dashboard looks out of place, almost added as an afterthought, but I liked the huge cool box between the front seats.

It's also billed as an eight-passenger vehicle; there are two fold-down seats right at the back for extra passengers. But I hope these passengers are under the age of 10, because taller people will be chewing on their knees and wanting out after anything more than a short ride to the shops. When folded up, the seats hang obtrusively from the sides of the interior and infringe on the cargo space (other SUVs at least have them hidden away under the floor).

This GXR+ model has a five-speed automatic gearbox with the base 4.0L V6, upgraded this year with 13 per cent more power and seven per cent more torque than the last version. The power is decent, but with a car that weighs more than 2,500kg, you'll not be blown away by the performance. It offers adequate acceleration but for towing you'd be better off going up to the new 4.6L V8, with 304hp, or, better yet, the venerable 5.7L V8 with 362hp for those really big payloads.

Off-road, the Land Cruiser is still faithful to its rough-and-ready predecessors. With its part-time four-wheel drive and low-gear transfer case, this SUV can still take the dunes and the rocks and almost whatever else you want to throw its way, up to the most extreme terrain handled only by modified rock crawlers. If you do go off the beaten path, you'd be hard-pressed to find anything else on a showroom floor that can do better.

But what about on the road? After all, that's where this car will spend most of its time; you don't buy a fancy, comfortable and spacious SUV and use it on the weekends alone. And here it shows a bit of its compromise from its off-roading suspension. The ride is cushy and coddling in a straight line, but throw it into a few gentle bends and it starts to sway and dip, more than some other SUVs in its class.

It's too bad this GXR+ doesn't come with some of the new off-road systems the high-end, V8-powered VXR comes with, systems such as the five-mode, multi-terrain selector, which changes the engine mapping, suspension settings and other electronic aids depending on the terrain. Or the four cameras that surround the car, which display inside on the infotainment screen and can help a driver find a path on rough ground, perhaps while using the new crawl feature that drives the car itself at walking speed. There's also the hill-assist feature that's becoming popular on many SUVs. Or, most notably and an industry first, the new turn assist system, which, at crawling speed, brakes the inside rear wheel when turning to get the car around a sharp corner, such as on a tight mountain pass. The Porsche 911 does something similar at higher speeds, but no other SUV has the feature.

However, all of these systems come at a steep price: Dh298,000 for that VXR version, almost Dh100,000 past the price of the base EXR. Ouch. You'd better be seriously into off-roading to pony up that extra cash.

The Land Cruiser is too big and thirsty to be popular in other parts of the world, but here, with low fuel prices and plenty of wilderness to be enjoyed, it seems to have a bright future. It's still not the perfect luxury SUV - I'd rather take the Land Rover LR4, with a significant bump in features and a V8 engine for just about Dh10,000 more than this test car - but with these latest updates and Toyota's reputation for reliability, the Land Cruiser should still be a UAE feature in the E11 passing lane for years to come.


The Specs

Price, base / as tested Dh203,000 / Dh223,000

Engine 4.0L V6

Gearbox Five-speed automatic

Power 271hp @ 5,600rpm

Torque 384Nm @ 4,400rpm

Fuel economy, L/100km 12.9 highway / 13.4 city