Here's why the 200 Series Toyota Land Cruiser will go down as one of the greats
Built to withstand the harshest of Australian conditions, the 200 Series has certainly earned its place in the history books by this point.
It feels like every day I read a new rumour, report, or opinion piece about the fate of the V8-powered Toyota LandCruiser as the 200 Series model we know and love nears the end of its course.
The 200, I believe, is a vehicle that will truly go down as one of the greatest off-roaders of all time. A perfect blend of refinement and ruggedness, comfort and capability, and sheer V8 grunt, not only is it simply a timeless gem in general, but a car so perfectly suited to Aussie roads – and making a car like that is a hard task to complete.
But if the rumours are, indeed, to be believed, the supposed successor to this dying legend, presumably to be called the 300 Series, it’ll swap V8 grunt for more efficient V6 turbo-diesel and petrol-electric hybrid engines instead. Whether you think that’s a good or bad thing, though, it seemed like now was the opportune time to get behind the wheel of a V8 LandCruiser for what could be one of the very last times to prove why the 200 is so great, and that task was to be entrusted to this – the ultra-basic, stripped-out, no-frills, mine-spec GX model.
Now when I say that the LandCruiser GX is basic, it’s hard to overstate just how basic it is. Although the 200 Series was first launched for the 2008 model year, it’s benefitted from two facelifts since then which have not only given it some incredibly handsome new looks in the most recent incarnation, but plenty of additional kit as well in the higher-spec’d models that perform well in other places such as the USA and UAE.
By comparison to those upscale models, such as the Sahara, the GX couldn’t be more different if it tried – not least because the sheet metal itself is different. Not only are the third-row seat mounts deleted – it’s only available as a two-row five-seater, while other LC200 variants feature seven and eight-seat three-row configurations – but it features rear barn doors for its cavernous in place of the Range Rover-style split-folding tailgate most have become accustomed to now.
But when looked at side-to-side with even the GXL variant – one step up from the GX, and the 200 Series most Aussies opt for – this thing really does feel like it’s stuck in 2008 in some regards, while the rest of the range has moved on with the rest of the world.
There’s no carpet but instead a vinyl floor covering, there are no mirrors on either of the sun-visors, there’s no map lights up front, no trip computer, no audio controls on the cheap polyurethane steering wheel, the front seats are only manually adjustable aside from the powered lumbar support for the driver, you’ll have to put in and turn a key to start it up, there’s not a scrap of active safety technology, and it doesn’t even have a reverse camera or parking sensors which makes things challenging in a car this big.
The centre stack is completely different to that in other 200 Series variants as well, with a digital clock at the top that appears to be from the 1980s, a generic 6.1-inch touchscreen infotainment system – the same as what you’d find in even the Toyota 86 – with Bluetooth and sat nav that only replaced a basic CD player a couple of years ago, and a basic air conditioning unit that doesn’t even give you the temperature it’s set to as a number.
Outside, as well, the black plastic grille and door handles, steel wheels, deleted side skirts, and lopsided tailgate do detract slightly from the otherwise ruggedly handsome design of the LandCruiser, although at least the snorkel which is normally an option on other variants is fitted as standard on the GX.
And it’s the standardisation of the snorkel that tells you everything you need to know about the GX. This thing isn’t for parking with presence when going to sip lattes like a Sahara is – this thing is a rugged, bare-bones off-roader. Well, at least that’s the way its positioned for private buyers.
Don’t look at it as being under-equipped – look at it as being a blank canvas. Put a bull-bar on the front, some smaller wheels with chunkier tyres, and some rock sliders on the sides and you’ve got yourself a tough-looking off-road beast. That unfurnished and indented tailgate is the perfect place to mount a couple of extra spare tyres as well, for instance, while on the inside, that dated infotainment system can easily be swapped for a newer aftermarket unit with Apple CarPlay. Those rubber floors are ideal for hosing out after getting your muddy boots all over them, too, although I must admit it makes me surprised by the dust-gathering velour seat upholstery when vinyl would be much easier to clean.
And while that’s the position it takes for private buyers, the other key target of the GX is businesses and specialist fields. I’ve seen plenty of GXs driving around bearing decals for construction companies on the side, for instance, while my local constabulary uses them for its CSI division. Many will end up in mines, too, while other government divisions utilise them for tasks such as forestry.
With businesses wanting to spend as little as possible, the GX’s lack of luxuries is reflected in the price tag, which was bumped up for 2020 by a couple thousand to $80,190 before on-road costs. Yes, that’s overpriced for something this spartan, but stepping up to the GXL will set you back another $11,700. If you’re looking for the cheapest way into a new 200 Series, then, the GX is easily the way to do it.
And a lot of people I don’t doubt will be looking to get one as cheaply as possible, given those rumours of the V8 LandCruiser’s demise. According to many 200 Series owners have reportedly expressed interest in buying another bent-eight model before they likely disappear for good, so this thing could well take over from toilet paper as the new hot commodity that’s flying off the shelves.
Worth noting, though, is that there are other ways to get a V8 Cruiser without buying the 200 Series, as the V8 diesel-powered 70 Series models that trace all the way back to 1984 are still Euro 5 compliant and on sale in Australia, while at the other end of the scale, those after something more luxurious (and ugly) can opt for the Lexus LX. Factor the four-pot diesel LandCruiser Prado into the mix, and the LandCruiser family certainly is a big one.
On the topic of engines, the biggest change for the 200 Series in Australia for 2020 is the ditching of the 4.6-litre naturally aspirated petrol V8 that was available on the GXL, VX, and Sahara models, leaving the 5.7-litre Lexus LX 570 as the only petrol-powered 200 available Down Under now.
This change doesn’t matter for the GX, however, as it was only ever offered with the engine the vast majority went for across the range anyway – a 4.5-litre twin-turbocharged V8 diesel that puts out 200kW and an impressive 650Nm, which is channeled to all four wheels through a six-speed torque converter auto and a full-time four-wheel drive system.
While the 200 Series itself will go down as one of the all-time great off-roaders, this engine – the 1VD-FTV – will go down in the history books as well. Punchy, powerful, and muscular, it gets the 2.6-tonne beast moving along effortlessly, if not that quickly, while remaining relatively frugal at highway speeds for an engine of its size due to its low sixth gear that keeps it hovering at around 1400rpm at open-road speeds.
While 9.5L/100km is the claim, I calculated a return of 12.5L/100km after 950km and the better part of its 138 litre tank – not quite as close as I’d hoped, but impressive for an engine this size and enough to ensure you could indeed go over 1000km on a single tank even at that rate of consumption. Note that this is a verified number, too, as with no trip computer, doing it the old-fashioned but more accurate way of brimming the tank was required.
But more than just being powerful, it’s incredibly reliable, too – the 200 Series was recently revealed to be the new car most likely to reach 300,000km by iSeeCars in the US, and it should be noted that the LandCruiser is built with a 25 year lifespan in mind, as opposed to the average eight year lifespan of most modern cars. Furthermore, with this V8 oiler being deliberately under-stressed in stock form, simply tuning it and fitting an aftermarket exhaust can reveal insane power and torque gains, often of over 30 percent.
In its stock form, however, it’s brilliant. The power delivery is smooth and progressive, and while you can hustle it a bit – there’s a Power mode to sharpen the throttle response and make it feel a bit more aggressive, and you can lock out higher gears to ensure it doesn’t go into one of its overdrive ratios – it’s better to simply ride out the big wave of torque that it delivers as it’s an engine that better compliments a more relaxed driving style.
As such, it’s not going to give something like a Range Rover Sport a run for its money through the corners as the LandCruiser feels heavy and ponderous through the bends, while the steering is on the slower side and requires a fair amount of input, but that’s because it’s been designed to be smooth and comfortable – the perfect open-road tourer. And that, it certainly is.
My only real complaint about its on-road performance – as its corner-carving abilities, or rather slight lack thereof, are a non-issue for a vehicle like this – is the braking, as the pedal feel is spongey and the brakes quickly start to lose their bite. This, I suspect, is likely down to GX and GXL models having smaller 340mm front discs, while the VX and Sahara have larger 354mm units, although all other variants do weigh another 100kg more than the GX.
But the LandCruiser’s on-road performance is obviously only half of the story. Toyota markets this thing as the ‘king off the road’, and it’s abilities to deal with things getting rougher and tougher are even more impressive.
While the GX does lack a lot, it still features all of the off-roading kit the more expensive variants serve up – dual-range transfer case, a locking centre-diff, five-speed crawl control, and off-road turn assist, just to name the highlights.
The gadgetry all works brilliantly – the crawl control system is absolute genius, handling the throttle and braking for you during low-speed off-roading leaving only the steering to you as it figures out exactly how to get you over or through whatever lies in your wake, while the off-road turn assist, which locks up the inside wheel during tight manoeuvres to reduce this behemoth’s turning circle, does exactly what it says on the tin.
With that said, while they work excellently, the constant juddering sound of the systems working away quickly becomes irritating, so it’s a good thing that if you aren’t a fan of them and would rather take the reigns yourself, it’s wondrously easy to command over even the most challenging of terrain thanks to its 225mm of ground clearance and a great amount of articulation to its four-link coil-sprung rear axle.
But where it shines most in my eyes away from the pavement is when it comes to its performance on unsealed gravel roads – something which abound here in Australia.
Centre diff locked or not, it feels remarkably tractable at higher speeds on roads like these, meaning you’re still able to explore the full potential of the big V8. The ride is excellent on roads like this, too, and I’d go so far as to say that it actually feels even smoother here than it does on sealed roads, meaning that as far as you’re aware from behind the wheel, the road simply changes colour every now and then.
On sand and through water, too, it performs similarly well, forever feeling solid, planted, and grounded, although on particularly loose sand chewed up by other beach-going off-roaders it did feel surprisingly tail-happy, it must be said, even with the centre diff locked.
Of course, some more dedicated off-road tyres would help here and only benefit its all-around capabilities even more, and changing parts and adding to it is the whole point of this mod-ready model, but even as it sits fresh out of the box, it’s a remarkably capable thing.
It’s a truly remarkable machine, the 200 Series. There’s little it doesn’t do well, and what it does do well, it truly does really very well indeed. Deftly capable both on-road and off, it still manages to impress 12 years on – even if the GX feels comparably equipped to a 2008 model.
What is undeniable, though, is that the burbling V8 under the bonnet is a huge part of its character. It gives it a certain effortlessness and charm, and while if you’re asking me, a smaller but more powerful twin-turbo V6 oiler like you’d find in the Land Rover Discovery would be perfectly fine, something would still be missing. Some things, to be more precise – namely, two cylinders, and an immeasurable amount of charisma.
It’ll be sad to see the 200 Series sent off to pasture when it does go, but I’m excited for the new LandCruiser to arrive as it’s certainly not every day that one comes along. Whether you’re worried the V8 will disappear for good, or you are simply a fan of the simplicity this LandCruiser brings to the table, now is definitely the time to buy.
This article originally appeared on drivesection.com on May 20, 2020. The vehicle tested here was provided by Toyota Australia. All noted prices are in Australian dollars (AUD).