Australians love their Land Cruiser utes like some ancient island cultures used to worship giant stone idols. There’s more to our love affair with these big, brutal indestructible trucks than mere affection for a useful product—for some Aussies their Land Cruiser ute is part of their very identity, an integral part of their outback lifestyle. They help farmers move their livestock. When the river rises the ‘Cruiser gets you back onto dry ground. They’ve taken kids to outback schools day after day, safely carried adventurers across deserts and helped Australia’s most courageous firefighters save lives and homes time and time again.
The Land Cruiser was originally conceived by the Toyota company in 1951 as a compact, Jeep-like utility vehicle. When they were imported to Australia, the ‘Cruiser’s reliability and hardiness made them an immediate hit in the outback.
Today, the Land Cruiser range in its many variants is Australia’s best-selling 4WD. The SUV versions of the vehicle are far and away the most popular but for those who value toughness and utility over comfort, the uncompromising design of the flatbed ute has earned it a special place in the hearts of Australian off-road drivers.
One famous feature of ‘Cruiser utes is their longevity. I’ve got a mate who is still driving a 40 series that’s been around since the early 1970’s—making it older than he is! That truck has taken him and his dog around Australia a couple of times, been drowned in mud, tipped on its side on rocky trails and served as his home for weeks at a time in the bush. It guzzles diesel like an alcoholic, roars and grunts like a buffalo and has a top speed of ninety k’s but I can’t ever imagine him selling it and getting a quieter more efficient vehicle. It’s a love affair.
For city dwellers, it’s often hard to understand the ‘Cruiser ute’s appeal. Its chunky, squared-off profile, the spartan interior and less than spectacular road handling characteristics put it in a completely different class to its city cousins the Prado and FJ Cruiser.
2017 has brought the launch of the latest iteration of the Land Cruiser ute, dubbed the ‘70 Series’. The new generation of ‘Cruiser utes retain the tough, unadorned appearance of their forebears, but behind the retro machismo lies a brilliantly designed contemporary 4WD that represents half a century of research, refinement and testing.
The Classic ‘Cruiser Ute Made New
Outwardly the 2017 ‘Cruiser ute looks remarkably similar to its ancestors. That will probably be welcome news to hardcore bush-bashers—you don’t buy a truck like this for flashy, city-slicker styling. The engine bulge on the bonnet is a bit bigger than on previous models but nobody is going to complain about that—it just makes the ute look tougher than ever. There’s a bit more chrome, a bit more streamlining, but this ute is immediately recognisable and looks right at home in a shed.
Toyota seems to understand that when you’re renovating a classic design like the ‘Cruiser ute, you don’t want to try and re-invent the wheel. Part of this truck’s appeal is its reputation, so Toyota have kept the basic formula unchanged and focussed their attention on tweaking the technology.
The heart of the 70 series ute is its 4.5 litre v8 turbo diesel. This torque-rich engine puts out 151 kW and thanks to advancements in diesel injector technology it’s 10% more efficient than before—doing just under 100km on 10 litres of fuel. Also contributing to better economy than previous models is a taller ratio in top gear, making highway driving in the 70 series a smoother and cheaper experience.
The other notable changes from earlier versions of this truck are slightly wider single piece wheel rims (at 16”), auto locking front hubs for easier transition to 4WD, extra airbags and cruise control (luxury!).
The 70 series ute has been awarded a 5-star Ancap safety rating and with increasing pressure from insurance companies for premium safety ratings on all fleet vehicles, that’s great news for commercial and industrial customers.
Behind the Wheel
Compared to driving an older version, the new 70 series ute is pleasantly polite on the road. It is still a formidable off-roader—in fact it’s off-road characteristics are better than ever—but it’s on the highway where the difference between this truck and earlier versions becomes really apparent.
Even with an empty tray, the 70 series handles itself extremely well at speed. The advances in suspension tech since Toyota last redesigned their utes makes this truck feel solid and steady on the road, whether it’s loaded or not.
The powerful 4.5 litre diesel makes light work of hills and gives a satisfying amount of acceleration from a standstill.
The notable downside of this vehicle is its poor close-quarters manoeuvrability. The 70 series has a very wide turning circle and the steering wheel feels heavy despite the hydraulic assistance.
This is not the ideal vehicle to take to the supermarket or pick up the kids from school (unless you live somewhere like Cooktown). To appreciate this truck’s capabilities, to really see it shine, you need to get off the blacktop and into the bush.
Like its forebears, the 70 series ute is almost unstoppable on the rough stuff. The chorus of approval from off-road drivers is unequivocal—if you want to do some serious bush bashing nothing can touch this truck. Stock standard off the showroom floor the 70 series will take on mud bogs, river crossings, sand dunes and boulders with ease.
The 70 series still has its Tonka truck DNA from the 1970s but it has been injected with a healthy dose of cutting edge technology—technology Toyota engineers of the twentieth century could only dream about.
Under the bulging hood of this ute, alongside its massive V8 is an electronic brain as powerful as its brawn. The ute’s onboard computer nervous system is kitted out with Toyota’s vehicle stability control system (VSC), active traction control (A-TRC) and hill-start assist control (HAC); all contributing to that admirable 5 star Ancap rating.
In this truck, you can be confident you will get to your destination in one piece, no matter how rutted, slippery or steep the track gets.
As an off-road 4WD, the Land Cruiser 70 series has few peers. It is quite simply in a class of its own. Despite the greater refinement of this latest version of the truck as a highway vehicle, it has lost none of its legendary dirt road mastery. Unlike many other vehicles on the 4WD market, this is one truck that has not compromised its toughness in the interests of fashionability.
Historically there has been a solid market for Land Cruiser trucks ever since the 1960s. Sales have softened slightly in recent years because of tightening emission and safety regulations, but the more efficient and safety conscious design of the new 70 series may inject new life into this Aussie favourite.
Toyota has considered discontinuing their heavy 4WD range in recent years because of the increasing demand for smaller, more efficient hybrid off-roaders. It will be a sad day for the ‘Cruiser die-hards if this behemoth truck gets shelved, but the great thing about Land Cruisers is: even if they stop making new ones, these utes are so tough the old ones will still be chugging around a hundred years from now.
Toyota Land Cruiser 70 Series Ute Specs
|Versions:||2 door / 4 door crew cab|
|Engine:||4.5 litre turbo diesel V8
151kW @ 3400rpm / peak torque 430Nm @ 1200-3200rpm
|Transmission:||5 speed manual|
|4WD system:||Part-time 4WD / auto locking front hubs|
|Fuel consumption:||10.7l / 100km|
|Towing capacity:||3500kg (braked)|