First Drive: 2012 Land Cruiser V6

Toyota’s Biggest Seller Gets Facelifted, New Engines

By Imthishan Giado

Faster. Safer. More frugal. The new Land Cruiser and it promises all this and more – but is it actually any better? Find out, after the jump.

(By the way – we called it).

If you’re talking about SUVs in the Middle East, there are many pretenders, but the Land Cruiser is indisputably the king, the 800lb gorilla that everyone’s trying to unseat. With 63% market share, it has maintained an unassailable lead virtually since its introduction – and it’s not hard to see why. Able to slip between the worlds of luxury and hardcore luxury, only the imperial Range Rover comes close. Some might say the Range Rover is even better in some respects – but then again, it’s not the car that people depend on in some of the most inhospitable terrain on the planet.

So what’s new this year? Quite a bit, actually. Local distributor Al Futtaim is calling it a ‘whole new car’ but we really all know that it’s just a really extensive facelift.

  • The front and rear bumpers have been reshaped
  • The grille’s been with a five bar design, with a chrome surround that makes the Land Cruiser look like it’s got a silver moustache
  • Headlamps are now bi-xenon units with integrated LED daytime running lamps
  • 18″ wheels are now available
  • The wing mirrors have little aerodynamic fins, just like on the Camry, which Toyota claims reduces air disturbances in its wake. All well and good, but what about the Burj Khalifa-sized hole the Land Cruiser punches through the air in the first place?

The interior is largely as before, but everything’s now received a healthy dash of chrome trim, including around the speedometer and tachometer, while the backlighting’s been changed to white from the previous blue. The airbag count is up – top range VXR models get 10 airbags – dual front, four side bags, two curtain airbags and two knee airbags. All sound systems also get USB and iPod compatibility as standard – the old car only sported a USB port, and not necessarily across the range.

Under the hood, the 4-litre V6 continues as before, updated with Dual VVT-i which boosts power from 240bhp to 271bhp. Torque also rises slightly from 375Nm to 385Nm. If those numbers sound familiar to you, you’re right – this is basically the same engine that you find in the current Prado and the FJ Cruiser, and its arrival in the Land Cruiser is long overdue.

The headlining 5.7-litre V8 continues unchanged, but in between, there’s a new option – a 4.6-litre V8 that develops 304bhp and 439Nm, replacing the old 4.7 -liter V8 that’s been around for more than a decade. Again, Toyota-spotters will recognise this motor – a different version is in use in the Lexus GX460 SUV and LS460 sedan. More powerful versions exist abroad with direct-injection, but we won’t get them over here, thanks to abysmal fuel quality in some parts of the GCC.

The suspension’s been redesigned with a new front double wishbone set up, new coil springs out back and better wheel articulation promised all round. On the geeky software side – there’s a couple of new modes added to the Multi-Terrain Select option, and a new Turn Assist option – no, it doesn’t put the indicators on for you if you forget! What it does do is allow the big Land Cruiser to make extremely sharp turns by braking the inside wheels, essentially dragging one side of the car. Very impressive in theory, but unlikely to see much use out here, where going super slow on sand is a recipe for bogging down.

On to the drive part. we were offered the option to sample the new 4.6-litre V8, but as that would be all on-road, we thought it best to save for another day. Instead, we chose to try out it briefly offroad in a sandy circuit set up just a few kilometres away from the Dubai Polo Club. On test was base V6 models – and I mean base, cloth interiors and all. No Multi-Terrain Select, no rear diff locks – just us and the sand.

The old V6 struggled a bit with the bulk of the LC but this version’s a lot better, accelerating smoothly – if not particularly quickly – up to 100kph. After you break the ton is when you begin to see the weakness of having only six cylinders under the hood – the V8 cars will pull away with ease, while this car is happiest at 120kph and no more.

Still for what it is, the V6 is a good unit, versatile enough to suit the mallhopping needs of most and refined in operation. In fact, it was so refined and torquey that my newspaper scribe copilot was convinced that it was the V8!

If there were significant changes to the suspension, I couldn’t detect them. This is still a big heavy car with almost deceptive levels of stability. Hit a corner too hard and you’ll be punished with understeer and prodigious body roll – respect all that mass.

The offroad course was relatively simple – some soft stretches, a few very gentle climbs and some steep, steep drops to show off the approach and departure angles. After a while, we decided to exit the main course and wander around the low dunes to see how this ‘new’ Land Cruiser performs. The answer? Quite well, really.

Off road, the light steering is a boon while the brakes are perfectly modulated to control the car on loose surfaces. One of the little talked-about reasons why the Land Cruiser is such a good off road car is that you can see so well out of it, with great visibility in every direction – something it shares with the Range Rover, but oddly enough, not with its FJ Cruiser little brother. Side slopes, steep drops – you can do it all in airconditioned comfort.

And what of the V6? Many mourn the passing of the old 4.5-litre inline engine, but they haven’t driven this second generation V6, which is exceptionally well suited to the soft stuff. First and second gear will get you almost anyway, and on the one climb it didn’t, low range was a knob twirl away. My regular desert car is a V8 model and the biggest compliment I can pay this car is that I didn’t miss the extra power for one minute.

The new Land Cruiser retails for between Dh195,000 to Dh305,000. That’s a lot of cash – and as my copilot pointed out when we first started off, the base cars don’t seem to come with anything at all! What you’re paying for, however, is stuff you can’t see – engineering and the feeling that the car you buy now will still be around to ferry your grand kids about in. Yes, for the price of a V6, you could get a well optioned Touareg or even a top spec Prado – but those cars aren’t as capable in the sand as this one, nor as easy to fix for shade tree mechanics.

If you don’t go to the desert often, or just need something to pop down to the shops and park easily, this isn’t the car for you. But for those in the know, there’s still no substitute.

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