For the first time since 2007, Toyota has a new-generation Land Cruiser ready to rock – the all-new 300 Series – boasting up-to-date technology, comfort, refinement and driving dynamics without messing with this iconic 4WD’s proven formula
It’s been a long time coming, this Land Cruiser – not only because its 200 Series predecessor had reached its teenage years but because Toyota spent seven years developing this all-new 300 Series model.
Spurred on by a five-continent, 20,000km development drive of the outgoing shape across 72 days in 2014, the take-away for Toyota’s engineers was admitting that the big-daddy Land Cruiser was perhaps not everything it could’ve been.
For all its toughness and suitability to challenging terrain, they found the 200 Series “tiring to drive” for long hours over big distances – galvanising their belief that its successor should be an all-new, clean-sheet design focused on refining the Land Cruiser’s long-proven concept.
If you’re wondering why anyone should care so much about a large, separate-chassis 4WD in modern times then consider these stats for a minute: at the 200 Series’ launch in late-2007, the Land Cruiser wagon accounted for less than five percent of Toyota Australia’s total sales and barely one percent of the total market.
Fourteen years later in July 2021, with the 200 Series put out to pasture, the Land Cruiser wagon had almost doubled its market penetration – accounting for nine percent of Toyota’s Australian sales and 1.9 percent of a market that had grown significantly since 2007, with much of that jump occurring over the past five years.
So that’s why the Land Cruiser 300 Series is a big deal. And if you need further proof, ponder the Land Cruiser’s stratospheric resale value, which are among the highest of any vehicle on sale in this wild, adventure-loving land of ours.
But has Toyota’s seven-year deep-dive into making the iconic Land Cruiser more things to more people paid off?
If Land Cruiser chief engineer Keita Moritsu is to be believed, Toyota “started from zero” with the 300 Series, which means it should drive like a very different Land Cruiser. And for the most part, it does.
Riding on an all-new TNGA-F platform that’s 20 percent more structurally rigid than before, the 300 Series has undergone a wealth of small improvements that help contribute to the greater whole.
Featuring an aluminium bonnet, doors, roof and tailgate, it’s lighter than before (by at least 135kg), better-balanced (thanks to improved 53.5/46.5 front-to-rear weight distribution, aided by shifting the cabin 112mm rearward), rides on broader tracks (27mm front, 33mm rear) and offers slightly more ground clearance (up 10mm to 235mm).
Toyota says the double-wishbone front suspension boasts stronger coil springs, increased aluminium componentry and a 15mm increase in rebound stroke, while the four-link, coil-sprung live rear axle arrangement has more aluminium in its control arms for greater rigidity and lighter weight, and the rear dampers have been angled more vertically for a 20 percent increase in rebound stroke.
If you’re in a range-topping GR Sport or Sahara ZX, you also get adaptive dampers with additional drive-mode settings, as well as auto-engaging or disengaging anti-roll bars in the GR Sport with its fancy e-KDSS (Electronic Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System) set-up that does the decision making itself, in conjunction with lockable front and rear differentials – not just a centre one like on the rest of the 300 Series clan.
Then there’s the drivetrain – a new 3346cc F33A-FTV twin-turbo-diesel V6 punching out 227kW at 4000rpm (up 27kW on the old 4.5-litre twin-turbo diesel V8) and a stump-pulling 700Nm from 1600-2600rpm (up 50Nm), tied to an excellent 10-speed automatic that leaves the old six-speed unit languishing in its wake.
Toyota says this new powertrain is enough to give the bluff-fronted 300 Series a rather astonishing top speed of 210km/h, and given I know how strong it pulls to 150km/h, there’s no reason not to believe that figure. But it’s the incredible effortlessness of the 300 Series’ performance, rather than its foot-flat acceleration, that really stands out.
To give you an idea of just how broad the drivetrain’s repertoire is, as the 10-speed moves up its ratio set, the Land Cruiser’s tacho rarely drops any more than about 500 revs during full-throttle upshifts. Yet there’s so much torque to tap into that in 10th gear at an indicated 120km/h, the tacho is showing just 1600rpm, which is bang on the point where maximum torque is produced.
It’s as if there’s no gap the Land Cruiser’s engine and transmission can’t plug. Right at the point when torque begins to fade (2600rpm), the second turbocharger takes over to send the 300 Series thrusting towards a rev ceiling in the mid fours, and yet even when being belted like this, the Land Cruiser’s demeanour is simply ‘unruffled urgency’.
It grabs the lowest gear possible, instantly hits boost and charges ahead with its nose slightly lifted, like a refined rhinoceros on an attack mission.
As for the new Land Cruiser’s on-road ride and handling, it’s something of a delight. It only takes a couple of hundred metres and one corner to realise this is a very different beast, what with its prompt steering response (3.0 turns lock-to-lock spanning a nifty 11.8-metre turning circle), surprising handling balance and an air of refinement befitting a price tag that can approach $140,000.
Our first taste is behind the wheel of a Land Cruiser VX ($113,990 before on-road costs) – the model that Toyota expects will be its best-seller in Australia. Blending the up-spec interior presentation of higher-grade models with fixed-rate dampers and 18-inch wheels wearing Bridgestone Dueler tyres, it’s representative of what to expect when driving a GXL ($101,790 before on-roads) or a Sahara ($131,190 before on-roads).
The VX demonstrates a newfound level of all-round refinement and dynamic competence. In town it rides surprisingly well, even over really scarred backgrounds, while out on the highway, aside from some wind rustle around its big mirrors, it’s a quiet and calming steed. Only strong crosswinds tend to ruffle its composure, and even then not to any serious degree.
On twisty country back roads it’s also impressively adept. Weighing 2630kg (the same as the GR Sport and Sahara), there’s plenty of weight to throw around, yet as long as you drive the VX with deference to its physical size and separate-chassis limitations, it’s surprisingly well-balanced and confident in corners … unless you try and tests the limits of physics in tight 35km/h bends. For all its newfound level of agility, this is still a big 4WD that prefers ‘slow in, fast out’.
As for country-road ride quality, the VX mostly does a fine job in isolating road shock, though irregular surfaces betray the fact that this isn’t a monocoque SUV. There’s still some wheel patter there, though a lot less than there used to be.
In comparison, the GR Sport feels, well, sportier. The VX will up its steering game if you flick its drive mode to Sport, adding a useful level of extra weighing firmness, but the adaptively damped GR Sport (wearing more serious all-terrain tyres) seems to handle surface disturbances better and corner with a degree more poise.
Like the Sahara ZX, the GR Sport offers additional Sport, Sport+ and Custom modes in its drive-mode offerings, and the sportier settings due reduce body lean while enhancing point-ability. This also applies to the Sahara ZX, though there’s a noticeable difference in its ride quality on 20-inch alloys with 265/55R20 tyres. The all-terrain GR Sport may introduce some graininess at tyre level, but the Sahara ZX feels comparatively heavy-footed, just like so many other SUVs and 4WDs with oversized wheels.
As for the Land Cruiser’s safety systems, even the base GX includes AEB with pedestrian and cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control, auto high-beam, lane-departure warning, speed-sign recognition, a reversing camera and 10 airbags, but VX models and above add ‘lane-trace assist’ with steering-wheel vibration.
While the relative subtlety of the new Land Cruiser’s stability control is a welcome surprise, the overzealousness of lane-trace assist seems comparatively immature. If you nudge a lane-marker on the freeway, lane-trace assist not only steers away from the line but brakes slightly as well – like a drunk trying not to trip over. At least it can easily be switched off by holding down a button on the steering wheel.
The adaptive cruise control is similarly annoying. Even with the distance level reduced to a minimum, the Land Cruiser starts to slow down hundreds of metres away from the vehicle in front, forcing you into the right-hand lane earlier than usual.
The only model we drove off-road was the GR Sport and, not surprisingly, it effortlessly coped with the superb playground that is the New South Wales Land Cruiser owner’s club facility.
Having tested all types of SUVs, 4WDs and dual-cabs over the same tracks, the Land Cruiser GR Sport probably didn’t need to have its front and rear diffs locked to tackle the toughest terrain. But there wasn’t a single moment where it spun its wheels, scrabbled for grip, ground its belly or felt like it was doing it tough.
All variants bar the GX feature multi-terrain select (MTS) – a system that was calibrated in Australia – with six different modes to choose from (via a neat dial next to the driver’s left leg), depending on the gearing range.
In high range, MTS offers dirt, sand, mud and deep snow settings, while in low range (our chosen setting for off-roading) there’s sand, mud and rock modes, as well as a new auto setting for both high and low range. We simply left the GR Sport in auto.
As for towing capacity, the Land Cruiser faithful felt that 3500kg of braked towing capacity was ample so that’s what the 300 Series continues with. Toyota said that tuning the rear suspension to cope with greater loads would interfere with its suppleness for hardcore off-roading, as well as on-road comfort.
Riding on the same 2850mm wheelbase as a 200 Series (because that’s what customers wanted) means the new 300 Series contains few packaging surprises. It’s still a respectable four- to five-seater with the ability to squeeze in another two (in GXL, VX and Sahara) if necessary.
If you’d like a detailed breakdown of the features of each Australian-market Land Cruiser 300 Series variant (GX, GXL, VX, Sahara, GR Sport and Sahara ZX), Chasing Cars covered that in a separate article earlier in October 2021.
In the models we drove (VX, GR Sport and Sahara ZX), front seat comfort on generously supportive buckets is excellent and so is the driving position. Land Cruisers from VX and above feature heated and fan-cooled front seats (unlike the cloth-seat GX and GXL), though the VX’s upholstery is synthetic leather … meaning on hot days it needs fan-cooling up front!
The GR Sport and Sahara ZX feature genuine leather upholstery with perforated centres and even have heated and fan-cooled outer rear seats, which is a welcome novelty, as well as dual-zone climate control for the second row.
Speaking of which, despite Toyota’s attempt at simplifying and grouping together the Land Cruiser’s switchgear (to impressive effect with the drive-mode controls and off-road stuff adjacent to the driver), models from VX and above feature a different climate-control layout to lower-spec variants.
In the GX and GXL, if there’s clouds of dust ahead, you simply hit the ‘recirculate’ button in the middle of the centre dash controls and you’re done. In VX and above, that button is part of the vast 12.3-inch multimedia system, which is fine if you have the climate screen displayed, but we had (wired) Apple CarPlay running next to the driver with another screen to the left, leaving a tiny ‘recirc’ icon over on the bottom left to try and find.
Models from VX and above with the ‘premium’ interior finish get stitched-material door and dashboard tops, as well as that aforementioned massive touchscreen, and it’s a classy look. Materials quality is better than it’s ever been, including a lovely suede-effect headlining in upper models, and everything from VX and above gets a decently sized sunroof as standard.
Multimedia-wise, everything from GXL and above gets wireless charging, as well as a 12-volt outlet, a USB port and a USB-C port up front, plus two USB-C ports in both second and third rows.
Interestingly, the VX features a unique 10-speaker Pioneer stereo which offers excellent sound quality, whereas Sahara, Sahara ZX and GR Sport get an even punchier and more lovely 14-speaker JBL set-up, as well as rear-seat entertainment and a head-up display.
In terms of storage, while the huge centre-front armrest deserves praise for its ability to flip the lid in either direction (and provide internal cooling in Sahara and above), the Land Cruiser’s ability to accommodate water bottles is negligible. The front and rear doors will only take 600ml, and while there’s at least two cupholders in each row, a vehicle as adventurous as a 300 Series deserves more.
As for the second and third rows, the middle bench is reasonably comfortable for the outer two passengers, though the high floor associated with the Land Cruiser’s separate-chassis design means that you sit splay-legged – especially if there’s an adult in the middle seat because they’ll need to straddle the broad transmission tunnel (or perch their feet on top of it).
Access to the third row is easy for flexible adults but the room back there is fairly limited. While the redesigned seats fold neatly into the floor (by sliding the cushion underneath the backrest, then folding the whole unit flat), anyone approaching 180cm will be brushing their hair against the roof and have their knees up around nipple height. It’s really only for kids.
What the Land Cruiser’s back section does offer is an enormous amount of luggage space. The five-seat models (GX, GR Sport and Sahara ZX) offer slightly more room (1131 litres to the roof compared to 1004 litres with the second row in place), though both are cavernous. Not so the luggage room with the third row in place, however, which measures only 175 litres (which is less than a Kluger).
Underneath the cargo area, all Land Cruiser 300s feature a full-sized spare, 20-inch-wheeled Sahara ZX included.
The official ADR81/02 government combined fuel consumption figure for the Land Cruiser 300 Series is 8.9L/100km, which Toyota says is a 6.3 percent improvement over the V8-engined 200 Series.
Driven enthusiastically on gusty freeways, twisting back roads and fast-paced dirt roads, we averaged 11.1L/100km.
Recommended servicing is every six months or 10,000km, which Toyota says is because the 300 Series will often be driven harder, in more challenging conditions, than other Toyota models with 12 month/15,000km intervals.
Each service capped at $375, giving the Land Cruiser 300 Series a servicing total of $3750 after five years and 100,000km.
Toyota’s warranty is five years/unlimited kilometres.
Not since the dramatically new 80 Series of 1990 has a new-gen Land Cruiser model attempted to truly move the 4WD game forward without losing sight of what makes big, tough, separate-chassis vehicles like this so appealing.
It was almost a given that the Land Cruiser 300 Series would be great off-road. What’s genuinely surprising is just how great it can be on the bitumen – especially the hero variant of the moment, the GR Sport.
With its extra visual pizzazz (black-out detailing, mixed with bespoke wheels and retro-mod ‘TOYOTA’ lettering in white across its unique grille), the GR Sport really is the star of the show. And it’s also the new Land Cruiser variant with the greatest depth. It’s as luxurious as a Sahara ZX (and costs virtually the same), yet is more comfortable and fun to drive on-road, as well as much more capable off-road. It’s easily our 300 Series pick.
The every-person’s VX is impressive too … if you consider $114K to be an every-person’s sticker price! It doesn’t ride or point as well as the GR Sport but the difference isn’t much, and it does offer a plush interior mixed with seven-seat flexibility should you require it.
As for the Sahara ZX, it’s the Land Cruiser variant with an element of High Street style, yet it isn’t as pleasant to drive as its siblings. It may have a rear Torsen limited-slip differential but that only aids its dynamic agility on smooth roads. On bumpy ones, you’re constantly left wondering if 18-inch wheels might be a delete option…
Yet that one oddity is incapable of detracting from the achievement that is the 300 Series as a whole. It’s a sophisticated, hugely capable and impressively refined 4WD that’s also surprisingly amusing to drive and has a tonne of character.
After 70 years, the Land Cruiser nameplate has finally become everything it deserves to be.
Variant tested LC300 GR-S (4x4)
Key specs (as tested)
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