First

Impressions

Before the build

The LandCruiser 200 is the latest incarnation of Toyota's large 4WD wagon (or SUV for our American friends), following on from the 55, 60, 80 and 100/105 models.

Released in late 2007 with a choice of 4.7 litre quad cam V8 petrol or 4.5 litre twin-turbo V8 diesel engines, the seven/eight-seat 200-series featured a live coil-sprung rear axle and independent coil-sprung front suspension. For the first time, there was no live front axle version and no manual transmission available, leading to claims that the vehicle had "gone soft" and was more aimed at the "soccer mum" market, than being a proper heavy-duty 4WD.

Driveline

LandCruiser 200 4500V8 sticker
Various 4500V8 stickers available from Australian Images here

The 1VD-FTV V8 engine in the LandCruiser 200 is one of the best motors in any 4WD wagon available in Australia today. Twin variable geometry turbochargers, common rail fuel injection and a massive intercooler work together to produce 195kW and a whopping 650Nm of torque. The 200-series is far quicker than a vehicle weighing almost 3 tonnes has a right to be. The engine is smooth, quiet and quite economical, returning about 12l/100km in the real world, versus an official figure of 10.3l/100km.

Some early versions of the engine reportedly suffered from excessive oil consumption, but Toyota have made three significant design modifications, and oil consumption appears to be a thing of the past. Five years and tens-of-thousands of vehicles after the engine first appeared, there have been no other common reliability issues reported.

Unfortunately, the transmission is not so impressive. There's only one choice in the 200, the AB60F six speed automatic supplied to Toyota by AISIN. This is my first automatic 4WD, and I have found the performance of the gearbox to be quite disappointing compared to other modern automatic vehicles I've driven, such as the Ford Falcon/Territory and assorted European vehicles fitted with ZF auto gearboxes. Most of the issues seem to come down to programming rather than hardware. Gear changes are smooth enough, but the gearbox refuses to change until about 2,000 RPM even under very light throttle, meaning you use far more fuel than necessary and miss out on the brilliant low-rev torque provided by the engine. Adding to the timing issue, the torque converter doesn't lockup except in 5th and 6th gears and then not until you reach about 110km/h. This further adds to fuel consumption and totally eliminates engine braking. Once you finally get it into 6th gear and locked up at a very pleasant 1600rpm @ 110km/h, the mere whiff of a hill sees the box unlock, rocketing the tacho up to 2500rpm, again failing to take advantage of the engine's flat torque curve. And if you think the manual/sequential (tiptronic) shift mode will save you, think again. It simply doesn't work as it should. You cannot use it to upchange at lower revs or to manually hold higher gears. The gearbox stubbornly refuses to change gear until it would ordinarily do so if left to its own devices and will not hold a gear even if the engine remains in an acceptable rev range. I don't doubt that there could be a 20-30% improvement in fuel economy if the gearbox were better programmed.

I'm certainly not the only person to be disappointed by the auto and there are several modifications already available, including the ECON-lock system from Europe. There are also replacement valve bodies and manual lockup switches available from Wholesale Automatics. They are also apparently working on a replacement TCM for the vehicle. Transmission improvements are certainly something I'll be investigating in the future. Update 24/9/14: Torque Converter lockup kit installed.

The 4x4 transfer case has full electronic shift control, with a button to lock the centre diff and a knob to change between high and low range. The system works well and I've not had or heard about any reliability issues, although it would be nice to have a manual over-ride available in case of a failure in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps one of the best features of the 200 is that it's possible to engage low range without locking the centre diff. Fantastic for driving/reversing trailers or caravans up steep paved inclines.

The GXL does without the advanced Multi Terrain Select off-road traction control systems of the VX and Sahara, but does include a basic traction control system. Nevertheless, a set of diff locks will certainly be on my shopping list.

Suspension

The one big concern I had before getting the LandCruiser 200 was the independent front suspension (IFS), but it proved to be unfounded. While not quite able to match the travel of a live axle with coils springs, it works surprisingly well off road and combined with the excellent travel from the rear axle, does provide adequate articulation overall. The major drawback of the IFS is the restriction on lift, but as this will primarily be a touring vehicle, the typical 40mm aftermarket suspension kits available should do the job nicely.

I decided to go for the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), which consists of a series of hydraulic rams attached to the sway bars. The system reduces body roll on-road, and also improves articulation off-road compared to standard sway bars. The system is a $3,000 option on the GXL diesel, but is standard on the rest of the range, except the base GX.

Driving the LandCruiser 200

Bitumen, dirt and corrugations are where the 200 really shines, effortlessly gobbling up the kilometres better than any other 'real' 4WD I've driven. So as a touring vehicle, it really does excel where required.

The power steering is well weighted, but could do with a little bit more feel to improve driver feedback, and the turning circle isn't quite as good as I'd expect from a vehicle with IFS. While it's no race-car, the brakes are excellent for such a large, heavy vehicle and rarely suffer any fade, although there is a lot of initial pedal travel which is disconcerting until you get used to it.

The 200 is well insulated from sound and vibration to the extent that you can barely hear or feel the engine at idle. Wind noise is quite low, even at freeway speeds with those huge mirrors. Speaking of which, both side mirrors are the annoying convex type, making judging distance when reversing a bit of a challenge.

Off road, the main limitation is clearance and approach/departure angles. It doesn't take much of a step before the front bumper and tow hook are digging in and the tail is dragging. Aftermarket suspension combined with a well-designed bullbar and rear bar will drastically help the situation, plus make any impacts less destructive.

Body and Interior

The interior of the 200 has almost everything you'd expect in such a vehicle, with perhaps one or two exceptions. The gauge cluster is reasonably comprehensive and easy to read, although the addition of a digital speedo and some trip computer functionality would be welcome. From 2012, a GPS system was made standard across the 200-series range, incorporated into the central stereo system. The unit is quite impressive with a large touch screen, voice control, excellent sound quality and radio reception, hands-free phone connection, bluetooth music streaming, iPod/iPhone connection and video playback capability. It also doubles as the screen for the reversing camera.

As with all Land Cruisers, the air conditioning is amongst the best in the business. It doesn't seem to matter how hot it is outside, the system very rapidly brings the car down to temperature. It features dual zone temperature control in the front, plus a separate set of vents and controls for rear seat passengers.

The layout of the interior is generally good, although there are some odd switch locations. The centre diff lock, for example, is a push button on the right of the steering column while the high-low range control is a dial on the left of the column. You would think those two related controls would be better placed together.

The seats in the 200 are comfortable and provide plenty of adjustment, including base height and tilt. Second row seats include substantial fore and aft adjustment, allowing even very tall adults to sit comfortably, or move them forward to further increase the size of the 200's ample load area.

One serious drawback of the 200 is the difficulty in removing the third-row seating. Unlike the 80 and 100-series, the seats are a permanent fixture and must be unbolted if you want to remove them. Aside from legal implications in some states (relating to seating capacity), this can be quite a practical issue. Even folded up to the sides, they consume a large amount of cargo space and represent 30kg of unnecessary weight to lug around. I cannot imagine why Toyota chose to replace the simple removal system that served them so well in previous models.

Safety

Clocking up plenty of kilometres with a young family on board means that safety is a priority for me, and the 200 doesn't disappoint. On top of the constant 4WD system, standard features on the GXL include electronic stability control, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, seatbelt pre-tensioners and a reversing camera. There are also front, seat and side-curtain airbags. In a smart move, the side curtain bags can be disabled for severe offroad work, lest they accidentally deploy when negotiating nasty sideslopes. All that is good enough for a 4-star ANCAP score or the full 5-stars once you include the knee airbags on the VX, Sahara and 2013-onwards GXL.

Towing

The 200 offers an impressive 3,500kg braked towing capacity, which easily copes with pretty much any touring requirement. Combine that with the fantastic engine and you have a near-perfect tow vehicle. The only proviso is the relatively low payload of the 200 (only about 500kg depending on the model), meaning high towball loads should be avoided.

The 200 has a standard square hitch receiver built in to the chassis, which should make adding a towbar a cheap proposition. But it doesn't, because Toyota's fancy electrical system requires a special kit which will set you back in excess of $300, with a choice of goosenecks (they have an "off road" version for high trailers, and an "on road" version for standard height trailers), or buy one from Hayman-Reese or another towbar manufacturer.

Summary

The LandCruiser 200 should prove to be an excellent base from which to build a durable, reliable and competent long distance touring vehicle. Most of the deficiencies I've mentioned are minor, and should be addressable with some quality modifications and accessories.

This series of build articles will be updated periodically as the truck grows, and I'll also be creating a series of videos for the AustImages youtube channel, covering some of the more important modifications.




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Other vehicles to consider

When it came time to replace the 100-series, the Land Cruiser 200 wasn't the only vehicle I considered. Here are the others, with some brief reasoning as to why they didn't find a home in my garage. No American or British vehicles came close to making the short list, primarily for reliability and parts availability reasons.

LandCruiser-76

Toyota LandCruiser 76

The 76 shares the 200's fantastic 1VD-FTV V8 engine, albeit short a turbo and 45kW. But it was pretty quickly eliminated from my list because it didn't really improve on what I already had. It was less comfortable than my old 105, had less space, fewer safety features and had the same engine and gearbox. That's not to say the 76 wouldn't make a great tourer, but it wasn't the right vehicle for me.

Prado

Toyota Prado

I discounted the Prado for a few reasons. For my needs it's really too small. The 3.0 turbo-diesel propels the vehicle itself well enough, but it's underpowered compared to the 200 especially when towing. Finally, the LWB Prado has a towing capacity of only 2500kg. That's fine for a camper-trailer, but for anyone planning on towing a large off-road van, it just wouldn't cut it.

PatrolGU-Y61

Nissan Patrol GU (Y61)

The GU is a great, almost bulletproof platform. But it's getting pretty long in the tooth and so suffers from vastly inferior dynamics and safety compared to the 200-series. The GU is much smaller inside as well, meaning either a roofrack or more gear in the trailer if I wanted to carry the same equipment as I would fit into a 200. By far the GU's biggest flaw however, is the lack of a decent turbo-diesel engine since the TD42 was retired.

Patrol-Y62

Nissan Patrol Y62

Prior to release, the new Patrol held quite a lot of promise if you ignored the rumours that it wouldn't have a diesel engine option. Inexplicably though, Nissan did indeed release the vehicle without a diesel, despite having the excellent Nissan-Renault V9X TDV6 engine from the Navara/Pathfinder available to them. Even worse, they priced the premium-unleaded slurping Patrol several thousand dollars above the price of a turbo-diesel 200-series 'Cruiser. What were they thinking?  is the term that comes to mind! The new Patrol seems to have been built with the huge American SUV market in mind.

Update July 2016: In mid-2015, Nissan dropped the price of the Y62 by an incredible $25,000 across the range. This now makes the TI-spec Patrol around $20,000 cheaper than the GXL turbodiesel Land Cruiser.  This marks a huge change in the value proposition of the two vehicles.  If I were buying today, I would still likely opt for the 200 because I prefer the live rear axle and diesel engine. However, even with the relatively thirsty petrol V8, the Y62 is now well worth considering for many people, and as such I would recommend you take a test drive.

 




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