I liken most V6s to featherweight boxers… who suffer from anaemia. Do they have the strength to land a knockout blow? The facelifted Land Cruiser, boasting an upgraded 4.0-litre six-pot, certainly jacked my jaw with the sort of uppercut you'd associate with a heavyweight champ.
It's regarded as the ‘Pride of the Land', and for good reason. You don't suddenly rule the off-road roost for 60 years. With a 63 per cent market share and growth of 37 per cent compared to last year, it's clearly the people's choice. Nothing quite matches its ability to trek miles of sand or tackle enormous dunes with aplomb. It's common knowledge that if you're venturing off the beaten track, you need one thing; this robust, durable and reliable of all SUVs. The bigwigs at Toyota are calling the 2012 model year ‘all-new' but really, it's just had a tweak or two here and there. You know what they say — if it ain't broke...
Playing spot the difference with the revised model is quite a challenge. The most noticeable change is at the front with a refreshed and now much thicker bumper. It houses new, square-shaped fog lights that replace the old rectangular ones. Designed with enlarged overhangs, it now gives the LC a more rugged, yet modern, appearance. The grille is rounder than before while the new bi-xenon headlights feature integrated LED daytime running lamps. It's grown a bigger set of aluminium wheels too — now 18in — which sit inside wider wheel arches. The wing mirrors and roof have been fitted with tiny aerodynamic fins to help the iconic SUV cut through the air. I'm not convinced they'll have much of an impact when the body is still as fat as a Sumo wrestler's. Every little helps, I guess.
The interior has been laden with chrome which goes a long way in brightening things up while the dials now get white backlighting instead of the old blue. The ergonomics and functionality of the controls and switchgear have been improved while the wood grain/leather steering is a neat touch. On the safety front, the top-of-the-line VX-R trim gets two extra airbags now, making 10 in total. These are strategically positioned all over the luxurious cabin.
My test car, the mid-level GX-R, had the ‘little' V6. The 4.0-litre's previous output was 240bhp. But now, updated with Dual VVT-i technology, it's been bumped up to 271. Torque is also up from 375Nm to 385. ‘Promising', I mused. It's basically the same engine sitting in the bay of thePrado and FJ Cruiser but how would it perform in the bay of the chunky LC? Time to find out.
An idyllic sandy track just a few clicks up the road from the Dubai Polo Club was where I was headed to see if this motor, and the redesigned suspension, was up to the challenge. It boasts double wishbones at the front and upgraded coil springs all round, not to mention improved wheel articulation by 105mm from all four corners. But I would have to make do without the brand new Turn Assist function. This clever system locks the inside rear wheel and allows the LC to turn much sharper in tight spots. No need for K-turns any more with this thing, but since I didn't have this luxury, or the Multi-Terrain Select which now has five modes (rock, mogul, rock and dirt, mud and sand and loose rock) I'd have to rely on my tried-and-tested off-roading skills. Five minutes later, I was stuck. Even though I'd deflated the tyres and was doing my best impersonation of a crazed desert safari driver, I was treading on a particularly treacherous surface, which caught me out. That you're reading this review is testament to the LC. They don't stay stuck for long. With the centre diff locked, selecting low range and using first gear, I slowly but surely got myself out of a pickle. The rest of the afternoon was spent merrily climbing steep dunes and kicking up tons of sand. There werea couple of moments when the V6 felt like it was struggling to keep the bulky Toyota on the move, but to say I missed the V8 would be a lie. That it lacked all the bells and whistles reserved for the top-of-the-line VX-R mattered little. All you really need out in the dunes is a strong first and second gear and a decent driver.
The 4.0-litre, which has 13 per cent more power than the previous engine, proved it was more than capable of handling the rough stuff. Once playtime was over, it was barely audible on the ride back home on the highway. A truly flexible motor, mated to a smooth shifting six-speed automatic.
For those not convinced by this, the baby of the group, there are a pair of V8s — an all-new 4.6-litre (which replaces the 4.7) and the big boy, the 5.7-litre — to choose between. Choices aplenty, but one thing is for sure; I've changed my mind about those featherweights. They're a lot tougher than they look.
Specs & ratings
- Model Land Cruiser GX-R
- Engine 4.0-litre V6
- Transmission Six-speed auto, AWD
- Max power 271bhp @ NA
- Max torque 385Nm @ NA
- Top speed 190kph
- 0-100kph NA
- Price Dh195,000 (base)