Buying a car often follows down a path of logic or emotion – the classic head-versus-heart decision.
The 2020 Toyota LandCruiser 76 Series is, let’s face it, an emotional one. Although, it’s often caught parading as a logical one. It’s a highly usable and desirable old bus, mostly because it’s very old, simple and heavy-duty.
There’s a caveat to this, however. There are a few people out there who will use the LandCruiser in a way that makes sense. Aside from mine sites and full-time cockies (who lean more towards 79 Series utes), those who truly need a vehicle like this are few and far between.
The cold, hard truth of day says that a vast majority of those who own 70 Series LandCruisers don’t need them.
But that’s the beauty of car ownership. It’s not about what we truly need. It’s more a combination of what we want, and what we think we need.
And further compounding the whole ‘logic’ problem, the LandCruiser wears its age and lack of features like a badge of honour.
A lot of things you might take for granted in a car in 2020 aren’t present in this one: adjustable seatbelts, more than two airbags, touchscreen infotainment (although that will be updated soon), more than one cupholder, a handbrake that doesn’t need to be nearly ripped out of the floor to work, and any idea of advanced active safety.
The list continues: halogen lights, manual air-conditioning, firm leaf-sprung ride, absent off-centre steering feel, no electric adjustment in the mirrors, no multifunction display, no reversing camera and no parking sensors. This is a car that shouldn’t be compared to others at similar pricepoints.
Don’t forget, this 2020 Toyota LandCruiser 76 GXL has a list price of $69,090 before on-road costs. And although prices vary from state to state, all of Toyota’s advertised drive-away prices sit some distance above $75,000. Three-quarters of the way towards six figures.
The LandCruiser, if judged on logical and pragmatic merits against its contemporaries, falls woefully short in many, many aspects.
But, flip the coin. The LandCruiser should not be compared to other vehicles out there. Because it cannot. It’s of a different breed – an old design and philosophy that has since been made extinct by other manufacturers.
Aside from the 2196kg (tare weight) made up, largely, of steel in the ladder chassis, live axles and heavy-duty suspension, you’ve got a time-honoured recipe of four-wheel-drive utility and durability. A chassis and suspension design that hasn’t made concessions for ride comfort and refinement.
Some numbers help paint the picture. A 2265kg kerb weight and 3060kg GVM yield a 795kg payload. Healthy, but lower than the TroopCarrier (975kg) and ute (1125–1225kg) variants. The braked towing capacity is 3500kg, and a 6560kg GCM means you can use all of both towing and payload at the same time.
Under that hulking bonnet hides the major drawcard of the LandCruiser: a 4.5-litre turbo diesel V8. With the capacity, cylinder count and configuration all being very brag-worthy, the outputs are not – 151kW is a pass mark for an engine half the size, and coming in at 3400rpm. Peak torque, while only numbering 430Nm, is available literally everywhere: 1200–3200rpm is a sensationally wide and flat torque curve.
Combine that engine with short gearing, especially first gear, and you’ve got the original analogue anti-stall. The engine feels muscular right through the gears, although it’s never fast. The torque, and general character, is enticing and addictive.
Toyota quotes 10.7 litres per 100km on the highway, and our usage was surprisingly close to that: 11.1L/100km. However, our testing did include some long-legged country and highway driving. If you were grinding through town that number would undoubtedly head northwards.
The engine is noisy in operation, piezoelectric injectors tick away like a sewing machine, and you can hear the turbo gargling through the raised air intake when the window is wound down. The combination of four camshafts, 32 valves and eight pistons, with a 16.8:1 compression ratio, along with a noisy engine fan, makes a bit of a din.
On the highway, Toyota’s taller fifth gear ratio means it doesn’t rev as badly as it once did, but the LandCruiser is still yearning for a sixth gear ratio. There’s a bit of mechanical and wind noise going on compared to other vehicles. It’s something you can choose to embrace and enjoy, which leaves the Toyota feeling a bit more fun and interesting than most other vehicles out there. Or, you can not enjoy it, and feel the age of this old beast hit you squarely between the eyes (well, ears, really).
What is going to be more difficult to live with is the relatively firm ride offered by the LandCruiser around town. You get jostled about a bit over bumps and road imperfections, feeling the relatively tall and narrow body wallow around.
The LandCruiser’s interior is also a bit annoying for day-to-day usage. With only one cupholder and a whimsically small centre console, there isn’t really any room for your general stuff, although there is plenty of free space over the transmission for stuff.
The second row is just a second row, with little on offer in terms of space and amenities. There are no ISOFIX points available, and the roof-mounted top tether points are impracticably mounted right near the back doors. There are no vents or USB points, either. Remember, don't compare.
While the engine is certainly enjoyable and engaging to drive and row through the gears around town, it’s an exquisite engine when you go off-road. It’s the definition of effortless, giving you a lazy, slow crawling and cruising ability just above idle. Because gearing is low, you can surge ahead with some solid acceleration when you need some extra momentum and wheel speed.
Also worth noting here is that the low-slung alternator is inviting trouble off-road – to the point where sealed and water-cooled replacement units are available from the aftermarket. And while the raised air intake is good, its three-piece design means it isn't sealed against water ingress like you might assume.
First gear is 4.529:1, and the final drive differential ratio is deep as well: 3.909:1. So, although the low-range transfer case isn’t so low (2.488:1), a crawl ratio of 44:1 with that big lazy engine feels good off-road.
Suspension errs on the side of durability and simplicity, rather than comfort and performance, both on-road and off-road. Big, bulging underslung leaf springs at the rear don’t have a lot of finesse in terms of bump absorption, and then also make a big dent in terms of ground clearance around the back.
Leaf spring perches and lower shock mounts, in particular, are quite close to the ground. Toyota might have been measuring elsewhere when they jotted down 230mm of ground clearance.
That’s not the only bad thing about the rear suspension. The woefully disparate wheel track, with the rear measuring 95mm narrower than the front end, is bordering on offensive for such an expensive vehicle.
Clearance is otherwise quite good, with 33-degree approach and 23-degree departure angles being decent. Toyota doesn’t list a ramp-over angle, but the 76 Series LandCruiser’s shorter 2730mm wheelbase does make it a better and more nimble bet off-road compared to the longer TroopCarrier (2980mm) and ute (3180mm) models.
Locking differentials, both front and rear, become a saving grace for the LandCruiser when you are off-road. While there are now things like traction control, hill hold assist and brake assist, locking both differentials means all wheels rotating at exactly the same speed, and lets you find traction and go-forward when others would be spinning their wheels. Despite how advanced and effective traction control has become these days, diff locks are still very hard to go past.
Without them, the LandCruiser wouldn’t be terribly special off-road. Thankfully that dial is still on the dashboard, and is one of the best reasons to look at a GXL instead of the Workmate specification.
For many of those buying a 70 Series LandCruiser, driving away from the dealership is only the start of what can be a long and costly journey into creating their own take on the perfect four-wheel drive.
All of the LandCruiser’s shortcomings can be overcome (and then some) by the huge aftermarket following: power, suspension, ride comfort, interior comfort and practicality, off-road ability, ground clearance and payload. Go all out and you can opt for portal axles, coil conversions, and even six-wheel-drive conversions are available.
For most considering a 70 Series LandCruiser, the decision is already made, and competition doesn’t really exist. The shorter-wheelbase 76 Series throws a slight family orientation to Toyota's lauded workhorse. And despite it lacking in all of those important disciplines, I absolutely love it. It's a four-wheel drive that gives a solid middle finger to progress and gentrification, while it prefers to stick to its time-honoured skills of durability and utility.
When behind the wheel, my wife was visibly shocked when I explained to her that the 76 Series LandCruiser, so bereft of modernity, actually costs a little more than the previous (very modern) car she drove: a new Kia Sorento GT-Line.
"Why would anyone buy this thing?" she blurted.
I told her that it was a good question, and the LandCruiser continues to be very popular in Australia despite its age and cost.
"Well, I know what I would be buying," she retorted.
"Me too," I thought. And even though it's a dumb decision in so many ways, I would love to own this LandCruiser. I mean, it's kind of like a four-wheel-drive version of owning a supercar, which when driven on public roads can never be exploited to its full potential. Even though you might not be using the LandCruiser to its full potential, you can still appreciate it and what it represents.