Owner Review

2016 Toyota LandCruiser Workmate (4x4) review

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Okay, so it's not actually my personal car but I did choose it and it was effectively mine for a month.

Yes, I had an outback assignment to complete at the edge of the Great Victoria Desert and to my mind the LandCruiser was the logical choice.

With the amount of discussion on CarAdvice and the obvious reverence for the 'no nonsense' 4WD that accompanies the comments section of any LandCruiser review, I thought the readers may be interested in a story from someone relying on one for work duties and how it performed when pushed hard in the powdery pindan sand and stony desert terrain.

Picking up the 'Cruiser from Kalgoorlie and heading east for 300 odd kilometres was a familiar ritual for this gas industry worker who has had the 'pleasure' of pedalling 75, 76 and 79 Series 4x4s for the 30 years that they have been around for. And, soon after turning on to the Goldfields Highway (where the pathetic radio/sound system loses its signal) the grimace appeared as I settled in for the 'time machine' ordeal.

The cramped cabin is awful and no amount of squirming, seat adjustment or column angle will ever get you remotely comfortable.

The engine screaming at 2650rpm for a lousy 110 km/h, the hard flat seats, cramped footwell, wind noise, lack of armrests or console, wandering steering and general NVH make this the most abominable touring machine one can imagine – and you only have to stump up 70-odd Grand for the pleasure.

Winding the ancient beast up to 140 is effortless for the under-stressed V8, easily spinning the 4.3:1 crown-wheels but the wayward steering, now shrieking engine and skinny window frames flapping in the breeze combine to elevate the stress and concentration levels to a point where the longer, drawn out torture becomes the preferred option.

It's not all hopeless however, as the twin fuel tanks give you a much appreciated 900km range even at 16-litres per hundred. And these things don't overheat any more like they used to for the first, well, 15 years of production which means the famed Nippondenso air con keeps volumes of cool air pumping as the ambient climbs past 40.

And, being a LandCruiser I never have that feeling of 'will this thing get me there?'

Meet up with the rest of the crew at the mine site who have chosen a dual-cab HiLux and I immediately feel happier with my weapon of choice, especially with the new set of Hercules 235/85/16 mud tyres making the the HiLux seem extremely undershod with its 225/75s.

I get the job of lugging the tandem fuel trailer which the 'Cruiser shrugs off with aplomb with its low gearing now starting to pay off and the ground clearance has me walking into rough sections with live-axle ease in contrast to the horrible grinding noise the HiLux makes as it bottoms out and high-centres regularly.

Much of our work with digging up and repairing the Right of Way and buried gas pipeline meant that we were driving over miles of unmade road littered with tonnes of broken bulldozed timber. Once again the 'Cruiser was in its element – the tough underpinnings coping with the slamming of timber and rocks, narrow bodywork avoiding the majority of flipped up logs and branches as the chunky tyres cantilevered them out of the ground and the substantial ground clearance giving you the confidence to pick the best lines through the terrain.

By contrast, the HiLux had three of the four doors and one guard dented, both sidesteps caved upwards and plenty of flat tyres.

Heading solo back to camp in the evenings again reminded me what a crude device this thing was for dynamic ability. The turning circle is abysmal for this size of vehicle and the slow ratio compounds the issue when manoeuvring and correcting wayward slides which brings me to possibly the worst aspect of the 70 Series and a true indictment on Toyota and their rusted-on buyers.

Who in the hell decided that it was reasonable to fit a front axle a full four inches (102mm) wider in track than the rear. This is the most penny-pinching and insulting engineering that I have seen for a long time and it makes a poor handling ute downright dangerous at times.

Most of us who travel regularly on bush tracks use the centre hump between the wheel ruts to advantage at speed to rub the inside edges of the tyre shoulders against to prevent the vehicle sliding off the track. Try this method with the narrow rear axle and the rear tyre tries (and sometimes succeeds) to climb over the hump and throw the ute sideways – horrifying!

Another aggravating trait is the tendency, in muddy conditions where you are carving ruts, for the rear tyres to again try to climb out of the wider ruts that the front tyres have laid down. I had this happen a lot in sticky conditions north of Innaminka, South Australia, a couple of years ago but had to push hard or get stuck in the middle of nowhere. The wild swaying was well known to the many LandCruiser operators up that way and all complained of that stupid rear axle.

Shame Toyota.

No doubt plenty of these crates (especially Troopies) have ended up on their side or roof because of this nasty cost-cutting and hopefully reports like mine and many others that I have read will prompt Toyota to do the right thing and fix it.

So, right when I thought how could anyone part with their hard-earned for this blunt instrument the old Tojo gave me a slap in the chops as they so often have.

While traversing a wide sloping sandhill inspecting the restoration work from the tractor up ahead the drop-off became steeper and the ground a lot softer – frantic double clutching back to second and pedal to the metal was too late to stop me grinding to a halt as I slipped sideways down the side of the sandhill.

I could have kept going backwards and forwards until I reached the base of the hill and motor away unscathed however a substantial tree was right on line and I had the unenviable task of calling up on the two-way for assistance and to then suffer the gleeful abuse and demands for a 'carton' to atone for my ineptitude.

Unless, however, the mighty 'Cruiser could pull off its self-help party trick.

This is where this type of machine and engine can really make a difference. Anyone who has dropped to their axles in soft sand but managed to dip the clutch before wheelspin will know that the next tyre revolution can be the most important one of all.

As the car has settled into position you will get half-a-metre-plus of movement if you ease out the clutch at low rpm before the wheels start spinning and further down you go.

If I could use that metre to have the wheels on full lock to point me back up the hill and then use the 4.5 V8s smooth torque to keep the rig grinding in the right direction, I could avoid that embarrassing radio broadcast.

So, dial up 1200rpm, clutch pedal out in one smooth arc and voila! – movement then go-pedal 3/4 of the way to the floor – no hesitation and off we go.

'Oh go you good thing' as I bang my palm on the steering wheel, adrenaline pumping as I deftly made my escape – pride still intact thanks to the flexible engine.

When I read experts dribbling about how German Manufacturer X gets the same torque out of two or three litres , I think 'You really don't have a clue, keyboard warrior'.

Well cut a long story short and back in Kal and the HiLux has probably $5000 dollars in damage. My LandCruiser one tenth of that – horses for courses.

Would I buy one? Only if I had to continuously work this type of desert or narrow wooded high country but gee, my hand would tremble as I handed over the cash and somehow that rear axle would end up being a deal-breaker.

Talking to the mechanics at the minesite about the reliability of the 70 Series brought up the issue of the internal starter motor that sits under the inlet manifold area. The starter itself wasn't too bad but the fuel cooler next to it has a habit of fracturing and damaging the starter which is a very expensive repair.

Also the location of the alternator at the lowest point of the engine bay causes them to fill with mud and dust requiring regular replacement at $700 a pop. They had started fitting sealed alternators to some utes which solved the problem but cost $3000 each.

Another point to ponder was that 14 years ago I completed a very similar project in my then six-year-old F250 single-cab with the traction-beam front end and 7.3-litre turbo diesel. This car was far superior to the Toyota in every aspect that I could think of except dealer back-up.

While the 70 Series has no real challengers in the hardcore stakes, they are still embarrassingly crude and when I think how outclassed they are by a 20-year-old F-Truck, my advice to Toyota would be to do a live axle commercial version of the upcoming 300 Series and pension off the old 70.

If they can do that and make the 300 Series single-, king- and dual-cab commercials as tough as the old 70, they will sell every one they can make – even to me!