If you're going to blow the best part of 80 grand on some off-road metal, which way should you go?
It’s the 4WD comparison that you probably didn’t think of, and two vehicles you don’t exactly cross-shop like Corolla v i30, or Navara v Triton. But in a way, the Toyota LandCruiser and Ford Ranger Raptor are definitely competitive.
One is a legend of the Australian 4WD scene – a veteran of service and hardship over decades. Not much has changed, because it hasn't really needed to. The other is a brand-new design sporting all kinds of stuff never seen before on the humble 4WD ute: internal bypass shocks, 33-inch light-truck all-terrains, and a propensity to jump.
Both are hugely desirable, and both will cost you somewhere around $70,000. A large amount of money for something destined to get beaten off-road, but that's the exact purpose. And let's call a spade a spade: if you're buying either of these vehicles and you're not going to take them off-road, you're really missing the point.
While the Ford Ranger Raptor has a sticker price of $74,990, the LandCruiser 78 Series GXL has $70,740 against it. Add in air-conditioning (a $2700 option), plus some additional bits like floor mats (come on, Toyota), and that margin closes up to not much.
But which is the best option? Which path should you choose in your quest for off-road nirvana?
Ford’s Ranger Raptor had been very highly anticipated by the Australian public. When information leaked, and spy shots were uncovered, speculation ran rife and idealistic. Most of the chat centred around the engine. Ecoboost? Petrol? Diesel? V6? Four-cylinder?
Nope. A 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo-diesel. Ninety-eight per cent of Australians lamented the contents of the Raptor’s engine bay, or lack thereof. Internet commenters lined up in their thousands to decry its inadequacy.
The thing to know is that while it’s disappointing, it’s actually not that bad. There’s no doubting the Raptor would be much more compelling if you multiplied the engine by a factor of 1.5 or two, but as it stands, there is still enough torque to get you moving smartly off-road, and you only really start to feel underpowered when trying to overtake at highway speeds. It just doesn’t seem to be as much of an enthusiast’s choice, like the tyres and suspension.
In comparison to the Troopy's retro suspension and chassis, Ford has done a thorough and exhaustive reworking of the Ranger’s chassis and suspension in a quest to make it a proper Raptor. Our Australian Raptor’s driveline can’t hold a candle up against the F-150 Raptor, which will cover the 100km/h dash in literally half the time. But that’s a subject that’s just about been done to death, so I won’t dwell on it.
Where Ford can be justifiably proud is the rest of the Raptor: disc brakes and coil springs replace drums and leaf springs at the rear, working really nicely with a coilover and Watt's linkage set-up. Legendary aftermarket mob Fox Racing handles the damping and it’s all tuned terrifically. The suspension mods give the Ranger Raptor a completely different drive to any other 4WD ute.
If you’re reading this story, you probably already know that the Raptor can drive at incredible speeds along rough terrain, and keep the driver connected and in control thanks to the top-shelf suspension set-up. It can also do some pretty impressive jumps; something I don’t think any other new vehicle has ever really purported to do.
What’s often overlooked in all of this overzealous coverage of the Raptor’s impressive high-dynamic off-road character is how the Raptor handles technical, low speed and challenging off-road stuff.
Seeing as the 33-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain rubber increases the ground clearance, and the improved suspension and wheel track give more articulation. Don’t forget, it still has the traction control and rear locker of a Ranger (which work together well), as well as the Terrain Management System.
More traction, more clearance and more flex mean the Raptor is easily more capable than all other mainstream 4WD utes in low speed, technical off-roading. Hands down.
The interior of the Ranger Raptor is mostly business as usual when compared to the Ranger. The vibrant orange stitching is replaced with Ford Blue, which adds some zing to an otherwise fairly demure interior. It's a design and layout that works, with the excellent Sync 3 complemented by twin LCD displays in the binnacle. The seats, in particular, are quite good – cosseting and supportive.
As they say, however, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. All of that off-road goodness comes with drawbacks to payload and towing capacity. The Raptor takes a hit in both categories with a 758kg payload and 2500kg towing capacity. And we reckon it would probably be fast approaching the bump stops at those weights.
The payload is a few hundred kilograms less than the Ranger, and all other 4WD utes for that matter. It’s an important consideration for those looking to buy one, if they do intend on loading their vehicle to the gunwales or towing really heavy things.
The Raptor’s capacity is still quite high compared to most other vehicles (like wagons), and is likely enough for most recreational usage (I'm thinking towing a tinny or camper trailer, and throwing some camping gear in the back).
Safety takes a hit, too. The new Ranger has more advanced safety tech like AEB and adaptive cruise control, which is available standard on the Ranger Wildtrak, and as an option on the Ranger XLT.
In comparison, the Troopcarrier has a 935kg payload and 3500kg towing capacity. In other words, you’ll likely never exceed either unless you’re doing something a bit strange. Additional good news is that the GCM is 6800kg, which means you can use 100 per cent of your payload and towing capacity at the same time.
As a bonus, you don’t need to channel your inner Pythagoras to figure out if you’re legal or not. On the Raptor, your GCM is short-changed 240kg.
It might be pointing out the obvious, but safety isn't a strong point of the Troopcarrier. While the single-cab 70 Series LandCruiser gets five airbags to help attain an ANCAP five-star rating, Toyota cut corners with the rest of the range with only two airbags. However, the addition of stuff like electronic brake force distribution, brake assist and stability control does go across the range. Hardly groundbreaking stuff.
Comparing these two vehicles, which isn’t as outrageous an idea as you first might think, boils down to a philosophical outlook. An existential comparison. One is the most traditional take on the Australian 4WD, which is designed around having a good time for a long time.
On the other hand, the Raptor is a brattish, modern take on the 4x4 ute. It’s a sign of the times when the idea of a humble, spartan workhorse is being left behind for an adventure-ready, prestige symbol of dynamic off-roading.
If you don't think the ‘agricultural’ LandCruiser is an aspirational vehicle, or something that many Australians yearn for, I'd put it to you that you're absolutely wrong. Search Instagram for hashtags like #Troopy, #vanlife, #homeiswhereyouparkit, or anything to do with 'overland' or 'touring', and you'll see one vehicle more prominent and more lusted after: the iconic Troopcarrier.
Despite being slow, thirsty, expensive and cumbersome, the 70 Series LandCruiser is still selling strongly. In fact, the 70 Series ute often outsells cheaper, safer, more powerful and efficient Amarok and BT-50 utes.
The somewhat humble and undoubtedly expensive Troopy can trace its lineage back to the genesis of recreational and working 4WDs in Australia, with the FJ47 Troopcarrier being the first of the kind. Over the years, Toyota built a reputation into true icon status. It's made in Japan by Toyota, but in every other sense the LandCruiser 70 Series is unmistakably Australian.
It's where today's behemoth that is Toyota, the world's biggest single marque on the planet, started and built its enviable reputation. While Land Rovers were once the bread-and-butter 4WD of Australia, Toyota crafted its offering into something Australians wanted: bigger, tougher and more powerful.
The recipe of bits that made it so successful back then is what makes it so unique today: a big diesel engine with oodles of low-down torque; stacks of fuel capacity; coupled with low reduction gearing and locking differentials for great off-road capability.
This is all bolted to a heavily built ladder chassis designed purely for durability and hard work. Leaf springs are still employed at the rear end, while coil springs and radius arms have been adopted up front. They're not tuned for comfort or jumps, either.
The engine is Toyota's own much-vaunted 1VD-FTV: a 4.5-litre common-rail diesel V8 that makes 430Nm at 1200–3200rpm and 151kW at 3400rpm. So, yeah, that’s a few kilowatts and about 70Nm less than the 2.0-litre, twin-turbocharged diesel in the Raptor. From 2.25 times engine capacity.
However, the fact that the LandCruiser makes peak torque literally one light stab of the throttle off idle, right up to below the redline, tells you much about the character of this engine. It’s the epitome of under-stressed and over-engineered design. It definitely runs out of real puff in terms of outright acceleration as you start to wind the engine up past that 3000rpm mark, urging you to change up a gear. However, it feels so unfazed by loads and hills. It's a great candidate for turning up the wick with tuning, as well.
Where the engine is at its strongest is at low speeds and low revs, where it’s virtually impossible to catch it napping. That torque is available instantly off idle, leaving you feeling supremely confident at low speeds and off-road.
The other part of the story here is gearing. While it makes the LandCruiser cumbersome and tiresome to drive on-road, the gearbox and transfer case are geared to make off-road driving, even with a manual transmission, easy. Those updates in 2016 see the LandCruiser range fitted with off-road traction control, a digital relative of the analogue locking differentials.
Inside, precious little has changed since those 70 Series first arrived back in in the mid 1980s. And let’s be honest, nothing really changed much before then either. The interior is an incredibly simple affair, with a single-DIN stereo running to four speakers (two more than a ute model), and not much else.
Air-conditioning is a $2700 option. And that’s the only option. It's an absolute dinosaur inside, which is either charming and quaint or horrifically old, depending on which way you look at it.
Aside from the big V8 and spartan interior, there isn’t much else happening up front, but there is a gigantic blank canvas at the back that is absolutely begging for some kind of fit-out.
Drive once around the block, look in the back and you might start wondering, 'I wonder what the Kimberley is like this time of year?'. Then, I immediately went to 'How much money have I got saved? What can I sell?'. It's a car that would coerce you to travel. Throw in a false floor and mattress at the bare minimum, and just hit the road.
After coming out with the new look and driveline back in 2007, the LandCruiser received a few upgrades in 2016 worth noting.
While the single-cab ute got upgraded safety gear and a five-star safety rating, the rest of the range made do with traction control and stability control, along with Euro-5 emission compliance thanks to piezoelectric injectors and a manually switched DPF in the exhaust.
The gearbox was modified with taller second and fifth gear ratios for easier driving along the highway, and although that made a big difference, it’s still hard work compared to anything more modern.
One thing that Toyota didn’t fix or change was the massive disparity in wheel track between front and back. When Toyota fitted a V8 in lieu of the long lineage of straight-six motors that lived under the bonnet, it had to fit a wider front axle to accommodate the packaging. However, Toyota didn’t stretch out the rear end to suit, leaving a huge 95mm difference.
Aesthetically, the wheel track is very displeasing. However, it also has a negative impact on the way the car drives. You’ll be forever bouncing between disparate wheel tracks off-road, there’s a loss of balance between front and rear dynamics and articulation, and the fact they cut corners on finishing the job is just plain irritating.
It can be fixed via the aftermarket, but will cost you more money and annoyance. Then, you start thinking about other stuff you’d need to be happy with the LandCruiser, and you know it’s going to cost a lot of money before you’re completely happy with it.
At the same time, the fact that this thing has half-decent tyres, good ground clearance, twin lockers and 180L of fuel as standard means it could take on something like the Canning Stock Route without major modifications. And that is something very special, especially by today's standards.
Both of these vehicles are very special in their own way, but they are also equally flawed with potentially major shortcomings prospective buyers will need to stare down. Choosing one is a very personal, philosophical decision.
Both are very capable off-road, right at the top of the tree. They reach it each in a different manner, and are capable in different ways. Both have great low-speed technical ability, which will outstrip most drivers' wants straight out of the box.
While the Raptor has additional cachet for high-speed shenanigans, the LandCruiser has a capability of the slower, desert-crushing, continent-slaying style.
Both options are compromised, which is the price you pay for the off-road focus. On-road handling is old-school, although the Raptor scores extra points for having such a smooth ride. Neither is outright safe, although more airbags in the Raptor leaves it being the safer option.
It's an intensely personal choice between these two vehicles. I’d be very happy with either in my garage, but I’d also know that I’d probably be looking to modify either of them to make them a bit more complete. The LandCruiser, in particular, would need a few decent tweaks to get it where it needs to be.
The Ranger Raptor is a very special 4WD. It was my favourite vehicle of 2018. Its suspension is brilliant, and the fact that good 33-inch off-road tyres are offered off the factory floor makes it much more set up for off-road fun than any other 4WD ute. In many ways, it's the more logical option out of the two: it's safer, faster, more efficient and significantly more modern.
And when you add up the numbers, it's a clear winner. You'll still need to accept some shortcomings, however. The engine is uninspiring, and it's less safe than other utes, despite being more expensive.
On the other hand, the LandCruiser's antiquated design leaves it feeling like the odd one out in Australia's current motoring landscape. A big diesel engine, low gearing, live axles, rough suspension and simple interior devoid of anything modern are difficult to live with. But that is also what makes it so special. That delivery of torque is fantastic, and the driving experience is exciting, albeit also draining.
If you've got an interest in hitting the road full-time, or building something for Len Beadell's bomb tracks, then it's impossible to look past. If I had to choose one of the two, I'd pick the Troopy. Warts and all. Now, where did I leave those maps?