2015 Toyota LandCruiser Sahara Review

Rating: 7.0
$71,600 $85,140 Dealer
  • Fuel Economy
  • Engine Power
  • CO2 Emissions
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The 200 series Toyota LandCruiser keeps trucking on at the head of the upper-large SUV class. It's not as refined as some, but it's off-road prowess and all round usability is unquestioned.
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The 2015 Toyota LandCruiser 200 series benefits from more than fifty years of heritage in Australia. It’s a history burnt into the dust and dirt of the Outback in every state and territory. On the back of an extensive dealer network and go-anywhere ability, the LandCruiser has always been the number one choice for long-distance touring, caravanners and those wanting to explore our vast country off-road. Head anywhere off the beaten track and LandCruiser (in its various forms) remains the most common sight in remote area service stations and campgrounds.

The shifting sands of the 4WD segment have meant that the competition has upped its game over that period, as you’d expect. With the expectations of buyers changing significantly as well, Toyota has had to add to the LandCruiser’s arsenal, while retaining that sense of bulletproof reliability and off-road toughness.

Nearly 90 percent of all LandCruiser 200 sales are diesel and that’s what we have on test here. Pricing, however, has come back a little from the nearly 120 grand it cost a few years ago. The reality for LandCruiser buyers is that those wishing to access the top model need to part with well into six figures to get it - although the ‘entry-level’ diesel can be had for a tick under 80 grand plus on-road costs

Our 2015 turbo diesel LandCruiser Sahara starts from $113,990 plus dealer and on-road costs. On top of that, our test steed has only two additions - premium paint ($550.00) and the accessory tow pack ($566.60) inclusive of installation. That brings the total price to a not insignificant $115,106.60 plus dealer and on-road costs.

So, it’s fair to say that premium LandCruiser ownership is no longer ‘cheap’. Sales of expensive SUVs continue to rise though, although it is safe to say that the majority of them rarely get to stretch their off-road legs. Range Rover Sport and Land Rover Discovery spring to mind as two seriously capable off-road vehicles that you won’t see crossing the Simpson Desert or belting down the Gibb River Road. Toyotas, on the other hand, often have to cover that dual purpose of family runaround and off-road tourer, especially for owners living in country areas.

Step up to top-spec LandCruiser and you do get plenty of extra kit for the money compared with the more basic models further down the tree. There’s a secondary air conditioning control system for the rear passengers, an upgraded audio system, heated and ventilated seats for the first two rows, powered tailgate, and what Toyota calls a ‘multi terrain’ monitor featuring four cameras to provide an all-round view of the SUV.

There’s also a rear DVD player, three headsets for the second row, console cooler box, smart keyless entry, reverse camera, rain-sensing wipers, parking sensors front and rear, sunroof, cruise control, satellite-navigation, Bluetooth phone connectivity, ten airbags, safety and stability control and an array of airbags, including: dual front, driver and front passenger knee, front-side, centre-side and side curtain airbags for all three rows.

You also get fake wood - not the prettiest finish ever fitted to the interior of a LandCruiser - and expansive leather trims and the aforementioned audio system upgrade. Aside from the somewhat tacky fake wood trim then, there’s a lot to like about the Sahara’s standard kit list.

Talk to anyone from Toyota HQ in Japan about LandCruiser and one thing becomes patently obvious - the Japanese wear LandCruiser’s Australian reputation as a badge of honour that denotes real authenticity and proven toughness. Australia is also the biggest market for the LandCruiser globally so Toyota Australia gets to wield a big stick when it comes to what we get and which boxes LandCruiser must tick.

The infotainment system is a little more basic than the high-end Euro competition, but it works well and is easy to navigate. The satellite navigation system is accurate and quick to respond, the Bluetooth phone connection is crisp and audio streaming works well too. I even tested the CD player for a dose of '90s nostalgia. The screen transmits a clear image from the reverse-view camera even in low light.

Climb up into the LandCruiser’s leather-trimmed cabin and one thing is immediately obvious: if you’ve driven plenty of LandCruisers dating back through the models, it’s like pulling on your favourite old sweater. Everything is new but seems oddly familiar, from the driving position, to the visibility, to the layout and functionality of the main controls. We’ve got a late-'90s 100 series in the family and there’s an assuring sense of familiarity to everything in the vastly more up-to-date 200 series.

The high seating position affords drivers and passengers a commanding view of the road, and visibility in every direction from the driver’s seat is excellent. Setting the seat where you want it is easy too, and I loved the split sun visors, standard on this model. The fake wood trim never grows on me over the week, but the leather trim is well executed, comfortable and looks to be of the harder wearing variety.

One aspect of the LandCruiser’s interior you will love is the large, hefty feel to the major controls and buttons. They are easy to identify and seem designed with the physical size of the 200 series in mind. As you’d expect there’s plenty of storage, with whopping door pockets and places for phones, wallets and audio devices. While some owners will love the cool box in the centre console, though it does thieve what would otherwise be a large extra storage bin. You can of course leave the fridge turned off and use it for storage if need be.

The 200 series has room aplenty for passengers. The second row especially is broad and accommodates three adults easily. There’s no jostling for shoulder room or being squashed into the doors. There’s also plenty of headroom in the second row. The third row, when brought into action, will also accommodate adults, although it will eat into storage space for bags and suitcases. That said, the third row will usually only come into play around town and most 'Cruisers have it folded up out of the way (or removed entirely) most of the time.

The split-fold tailgate design - the top of which is powered - will be a favourite when you're loading and unloading, especially if it’s drizzling and it’s also practical around a campsite when you need stop for a cuppa or lunch break. In the very back of the LandCruiser there’s a proper 240V power point, which makes powering a kettle or coffee maker, laptop or camera a cinch and means you don’t need specific 12V adapters for everything. I’ve run a high-powered fridge/freezer directly off the 240V socket for a week straight and it was incredibly handy not needing to feed the power lead through to a 12V adapter further forward in the cabin.

The diesel LandCruiser is powered by an under stressed twin-turbo diesel V8 engine, which isn’t as powerful as some of the Euro competition but works effortlessly under any situation. It’s the easy, stress-free nature of the powerplant that promises to ensure years of trouble-free running - just like LandCruisers have for years. The easy way the engine generates its power and torque translates to a relaxed feel behind the wheel too.

There’s 195kW at 3400rpm and 650Nm at 1600rpm on offer and despite it’s whopping size and heft (2700kg), LandCruiser will get up to freeway speed quickly as well as execute roll-on overtaking maneuvers on the highway with ease from 60 or 80km/h. Once you’re up to speed, the oiler is really in its comfort zone and you can almost feel it settle into a cruise at just a tick over idle. The solid chunk of torque actually seems like it’s even more formidable than the numbers suggest, and you’re able to use it in conjunction with the smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission to motor the 'Cruiser around town and never work the engine hard. It’s easy to imagine most 200 series diesel engines living their whole life without ever going anywhere near redline.

The ADR fuel usage claim is 10.3 litres/100km and on test we saw an indicated return of 11.5L/100km. Our week of driving was spent largely around town - I even snuck into a CBD underground carpark - with a 170km freeway run thrown in. Once again, the diesel engine has delivered impressively close to the claim in the real world.

The twin fuel tanks (138 litres in total) offer up to a theoretical 1500km touring range in diesel form, meaning you can undertake plenty of Outback exploration between stops. Even around town, the inherent efficiency in the real world means you can make a fill stretch a lot longer than most SUVs.

LandCruiser will tow 3500kg and hauls smaller loads with ridiculous ease. I loaded a 1300kg car onto a solid car trailer and you could barely feel the weight behind the big SUV. An oversized box trailer with 300-400kg of tools and equipment in it also barely even registered from behind the wheel. The reverse camera makes lining up and hitching up a snack as well and it’s a feature you wonder how you ever lived without if you do a lot of towing.

Press the start button and the diesel engine roars into life with a reassuring, chunky idle reminiscent of a Kenworth truck. There’s an engine note that indicates there’s no straight six under the 'Cruiser’s high-riding bonnet and it’s not loud or offensive despite being unquestionably a diesel. In the cabin, the engine never intrudes on the sense of calm that you feel when you’re riding high around town.

On sealed roads, the combination of smaller 18-inch wheels and chunky tyres ensures the 200 series floats around town in comfort compared to an overshod Euro SUV running on 20s or 21s. There’s no loss of composure or banging and crashing at any speed regardless of the surface beneath. In a market where SUVs are getting harder riding than ever before, I love the Sahara’s ability to plough over any road surface. It’s comfortable and cushioned, the way an SUV should be, so that when you head properly off-road you won’t need a kidney belt and mouth guard. Some might criticise the LandCruiser’s ride as a little wallowy or soft, but I think it’s right where it needs to be.

It’s a big beast, and you’re aware of the external size of it especially in tight streets, but it definitely shrinks around you the longer you drive it. Aside from my masochistic journey into the underground CBD carpark, I never found it to be too big to pilot around town. You will need a longer-than-usual parking space to reverse park the 'Cruiser around town though, there’s no getting around that - Ranger Rover, Q7 and ML owners will know all about that.

Head for the highway though, and the 'Cruiser eases into its comfort zone. Its natural environment is covering long distances in comfort, and the 200 series is more accomplished at that task than it’s ever been. It wafts along the highway, with no register of expansion joints and high-frequency imperfections from behind the wheel. LandCruisers have never been able to handle with the alacrity of a Land Rover Discovery, but the Disco isn’t ultimately as cushioned in the really nasty off-road stuff either.

We had a short off-road run when the LandCruiser was employed as a camera car for a video shoot and rutted, rocky trails are no match for the Toyota’s competent suspension. You’ll rarely need the centre diff locked or low range, and when you do you’ll have to try pretty hard to get stuck somewhere in a LandCruiser. I employed low range once, when I was helping my father extract his three-tonne excavator, which had become bogged following some heavy rain. With the snatch strap connected to the chunky tow hook mounted on the chassis rail, and low range engaged, the slippery clay surface was no match for the combination of torque and grip. The LandCruiser simply pulled the excavator out without so much as a spinning tyre.

The Toyota LandCruiser 200 series is covered by a three-year, 100,000km warranty.

The 200 series isn’t perfect and in Sahara form, as tested here, it’s not cheap either. Buyers with the money to step up from a Prado will love the extra ability - especially the V8 engine - that comes with LandCruiser ownership. LandCruiser remains the smartest choice for anyone heading off-road, into remote areas, or covering big distances cross-country.