The only thing more common than a wide brimmed hat in outback Australia is a Toyota LandCruiser and especially the workhorse of the range, the Toyota LandCruiser 70 Series Workmate.
Like a good wine, the 70 Series LandCruiser only gets better with time. Resale values of 10 or even 20-year-old 70 Series LandCruisers are astronomical and it’s hard to pick any other vehicle on the market that holds its value as well.
And, there’s a good reason for that. They’re almost impossible to kill — in fact, they’re so good the British special forces uses 70 Series LandCruisers to fight in Syria. Closer to home though, they’re almost exclusively used by farmers and people who want to get things done with no second thought paid to reliability, maintenance or ability.
As such, Toyota didn’t want to mess with the formula. In fact, the 70 Series LandCruiser should have died when Euro 5 emissions regulations came into effect late last year. But, Toyota decided to drop a significant amount of money investing in making the diesel V8 engine Euro 5 compliant.
Toyota also introduced an extra complement of airbags and included stability control, electronic brake force distribution and a hill-hold assistant across the range to increase the 70 Series LandCruiser’s ANCAP crash rating from three to five stars.
In addition to an increase in the safety rating, the price has also increased. Starting from $62,490 (plus on-road costs) for the single-cab Workmate ute, it’s a hike of around $5500 over the outgoing model.
The price rise comes courtesy of the extra safety and chassis equipment, now with driver and front passenger curtain airbags, a driver’s knee airbag, along with two front airbags. Other changes include new injectors for improved low-down engine response, lower noise, vibration and harshness levels and a stiffer frame with thicker side rails for improved refinement and stability.
On the design front, not much has changed with the 70 Series. It’s still very much a rough and rugged workhorse designed to tackle the harshest of terrain. The exterior features a pair of headlights, a big bonnet scoop, steel wheels riding on 16-inch rims and 225mm wide tyres with a 95 profile and automatic locking hubs (a feature the 70 Series never had previously).
The advantage of automatic locking hubs is significant given the added convenience afforded to drivers. Previously, drivers would need to exit the vehicle and manually lock the hubs on the front axle to engage that portion of the driveline, then enter the car again and select four-wheel drive.
The disadvantage of automatic locking hubs is you can’t enter low-range in two-wheel drive, which you were able to do previously by unlocking the front hubs manually. But, you can manually lock the front hubs using a wheel brace if you want to make sure they don’t pop out, which can happen on rare occasions.
When the hubs are unlocked, there is no drive to the front axle. When they are locked, it enables the system to direct torque to the front axle with a 25 per cent torque split to each wheel. The new setup allows the vehicle to enter four-wheel drive mode from the comfort of the driver’s seat.
Speaking of which, the driver’s seat is where a 70 Series owner is going to spend most of their time. In typical 70 Series fashion, there’s no central locking here with access to the vehicle restricted to just a manual turn of the key inside the door lock.
Same goes for the windows, they’re manual. There’s even a triangular port in the front corner for extra air flow. Wing mirrors, they’re manual too. While this may seem like the height of cheapness from Toyota, it’s quite a clever move. By reducing moving parts and electric motors, you increase the chance of everything still working in 40 years' time.
You do get some creature comforts, though. The head unit comes with four speakers, AM/FM radio, CD player and Bluetooth audio, USB input and telephone streaming. There’s also cruise control with a steering wheel-mounted lever.
The headlights and windscreen wipers are manual and there’s no rear-view camera. But, there is power steering and visibility is generally great out the front, sides and rear.
The cabin is the definition of basic. There’s a small centre console and glove box for storing items, there’s also some room behind the driver and front passenger seats for cramming in items you need to be away from view.
Under the bonnet, it’s a familiar story. Powering the 70 Series is a 4.5-litre turbocharged V8 diesel engine that produces 151kW of power and 430Nm of torque – peaking at an incredible 1200rpm. Combined fuel consumption now sits at 10.7L/100km, which means a range of around 1215km out of the 130-litre fuel tank.
Before we get into how this thing drives, I need to call out the effectiveness of the optional air conditioning system ($2671). It must be one of the coldest systems on the market and makes light work of an Australian summer. Twist the dial around to cold and the cabin is cool within seconds.
Given the emphasis on its rugged abilities, we tried to keep most of this review off the beaten track with a brief stint in the city – which didn’t end up going that well, more on that later.
Our road test loop included a mix of good and poor quality country roads, a stack of gravel road driving, some off-road work and a stint in the city.
Revisions to the vehicle’s chassis and ride and handling tune means it makes light work of poor quality roads. The front suspension consists of a rigid live axle, leading arm, coil springs, along with dampers and an anti-roll bar. The rear is a little simpler with a live axle, leaf springs and dampers.
The ride tune errs very much on the side of comfort and unlike a lot of dual-cab utes (especially the rough riding HiLux) it rides very softly when thrown at potholes and corrugations.
Normally single- and dual-cab utes like this with leaf springs can be a bit rough without a load. The 70 Series doesn’t exhibit this trait and that’s courtesy of a mix of high profile tyres, a softly sprung ride and a great deal of time spent tuning on Australian roads.
The steering lacks a great deal of feedback and feels quite spongy. And, it requires an incredible 3.83 turns to move from lock-to-lock, plus you need a massive 14 metres to turn kerb to kerb. But, the advantage of the spongy steering is most noticed when you head off-road.
Soft steering response is handy when hitting sharp holes or landing in a rut that changes steering direction in a hurry. It’s not as rigid and allows freer movement in the hand.
The five-speed manual gearbox works well in most situations, but don't expect quick shifts between second and third. It can get a little fussy if you change gears too quickly. Response from the engine is fantastic with the bulk of its torque available from very low in the rev range.
Brake pedal feel is also good with a responsive pedal and progressive throttle application. While handling has been improved, it's still not amazing. That's thanks to the off-road-oriented four-wheel drive tyres and its high centre of gravity, but no big deal considering the closest the 70 Series will get to a race track is hauling supplies to build one.
It’s off the beaten track where the 70 Series really shines. Gravel roads go unnoticed, as do giant hills and challenging four-wheel drive terrain. Once locked into four-wheel drive mode, 25 per cent of torque is sent to each wheel with traction control managing wheel slip.
An optional ($1500) rear differential lock further increases performance off-road by splitting torque evenly between the rear wheels. But, we found that the 70 Series could effectively go anywhere without a rear differential lock.
For more serious occasions, the low-range mode makes this thing unstoppable. The torque available from the engine across the rev band is impressive, as are the four-wheel driving specifications.
With 235mm of ground clearance, a 35-degree approach angle and 29-degree departure angle, the numbers already make a lot of sense. Despite being a two-piece unit, the snorkel allows for 700mm of wading depth. Anybody more serious about driving off-road will switch this for a single-piece snorkel.
We found the traction control system to be a little interruptive when a wheel was in the air. It meant we had to ride the clutch and be ready on the hand brake when revs dipped. Switching off stability control made off-road driving far easier and fuss free.
I mentioned before that city driving didn’t go all that well. That’s mainly due to the optional tray fitted to our Workmate. With a 2.2m clearance at our apartment building, I thought it’d easily fit into the car park at 3AW – in the middle of Melbourne’s CBD – where we do our weekly radio show. Well, I was wrong.
With a 1.9m maximum clearance, the 70 Series LandCruiser’s two-ish-metre clearance wasn’t quite enough. I had to end up parking it in a laneway next to the building and thankfully the ‘official’ workhorse look of it let us get away without a parking fine.
Moral of the story is to keep the 70 Series in its natural habitat – away from tall buildings.
Ownership costs are reasonable thanks to capped price servicing at $340 per go. But, that’s at 10,000km intervals, which most owners will dispatch in a matter of months. It also comes with a standard three-year warranty.
You don’t buy a Toyota 70 Series LandCruiser for taking the kids to school. You buy it if you’re serious about getting the job done and need a reliable ute capable of going literally anywhere. The serious nature of this thing means that it’s likely to last for decades to come.