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Cruiser Celebration

The highly anticipated Land Cruiser 300 is now locally available. To celebrate the 70year legacy of this Toyota icon, we took the luxurious new ZX model to the super exclusive Cheetah Plains Reserve to meet its future past – an electrified Cruiser 79 game-viewer and an original 75 …

Sitting high in the sumptuous driver’s seat of the new Land Cruiser 300 ZX, I watched as the olive-green 79 game-viewer quietly glided by, edging closer to the herd of zebra and wildebeest next to the watering hole on the exclusive Cheetah Plains Private Game Reserve.

With photographer Ryan Abbott busy setting up the vehicles for our photo shoot in the super exclusive reserve, I again noticed the disparity between the two – the one a modern, ultra-opulent SUV tracing its origins back to the 50 Series, the other a descendant of the 40 Series and based on the rudimentary 70 Series pickup – even though they shared the same iconic origins.

Despite their divergent applications, both models have proved their mettle over the decades, operating in some of the remotest parts of the planet, and worthy of the title Master of Africa – as referenced by Toyota South Africa in its marketing campaigns.

Also, while the stately and majestic new 300 now epitomises the pinnacle of Land Cruiser progress, it is the older game-viewer with the bronze cheetah-logo on its door that serves as early indicator of the future direction for the type … as in line with the Cheetah Plains ethos to offer sustainable safari experiences, it is fully electrified.

Using a Land Cruiser 79 4.0 V6 as donor vehicle, the conversion was done by the highly experienced Cliff Barker of Barker Performance Products in Benoni. It consists of an electric motor sourced from the United States of America rated for 100 kW of power and 235 Nm of torque, coupled with a bank of lithiumion batteries – 10 modules of the same type as used by Tesla – providing about 46 kWh of power to the motor.

The electric motor is mated to the standard Land Cruiser drivetrain with the transmission locked in second gear, and range with the existing system is about 80 km on game viewing trips, and about 100 km on road. Top speed is 65 km/h, and according to the Cheetah Plains rangers the off-road prowess of the Land Cruiser Electric (with a 600 mm wading depth) rivals that of its fossil-fuelled counterparts.

So far, six has been built, with four operational, and watching it traverse the African bush – with only a slight whirr from the electric motor – it was clear their unobtrusive nature of the zero-emission Cruisers and quiet approach will deliver the highest quality wildlife sightings and an unparalleled safari experience.

Still, our 300 Series, now equipped with a refined and advanced twinturbo V6 petrol engine (first developed for the Lexus LS), replacing the V8 powerplant used in the 200, was not much noisier by comparison. Even with 310 kW and 650 Nm under the hood – compared to 284 kW and 543 Nm for the old V8 – the 300 was content to quietly trundle on at walking pace behind the silent game-viewer.

Imposing new flagship 

We collected the Cruiser 300 in majestic Graphite Grey Metallic from the executive car park at the O.R. Tambo Airport the previous day. On our way there, we passed a couple of older Cruiser 200s, and while the newcomer shares the same dimensions, it looked much more imposing than its predecessor.

Its slightly angular design is now more cohesive and has a far greater dynamic presence, with a sense of agility. The large front façade and huge chromed grille of the ZX and the signature Land Cruiser ‘channel’ down the centre of the bonnet, now even more prominent, commanded attention.

The darker body colour somewhat masked the shape of the rectangular headlamps and Ushaped radiator openings (they feature prominently on images of lighter coloured models) while the rear trapezoidal tail lamps with stylised light guides is not that different from before but are now complemented by large Land Cruiser lettering and the Toyota logo.

The introduction of the new model coincided with the 70th anniversary of the iconic Land Cruiser brand, and the flagship range arrived here in August – in time to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Toyota South Africa.

The GXR is the utility-focussed model and serves as the entry point to the range, while the ZX replaces the VXR as the luxury model. For the first time on Land Cruiser, a Gazoo Racing Sport (GRS) grade is offered. Serving as the off-road performance model, the GRS features bespoke exterior styling and trim, rugged 18inch alloy wheels, and an off-road-biased specification list.

Our ZX model, with a more “image” focused persona, sported unique and attractive 20inch alloy wheels, more exterior chrome detailing, and luxury-oriented trim inside, including a heated steering wheel with wood accents, seat heating, and ventilation for the first- and second-row passengers, power fold-down third-row seating, and a power-operated back door with hands-free function.

Tranquil traveller

Having set the navigation on the Multi-Information Display with 12.3inch screen (with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto functionality and a WiFi enabled rear-seat entertainment system with colour screens and wireless headphones) we headed for Mbombela via the N4. 

The Neutral Beige interior trim made the impeccably detailed cabin, with rear zone climate control, multiple power outlets with charging port, and a fridge on the central console feel even roomier. The seats (with power control for the driver) proved supremely comfortable and the14speaker JBL audio system provided the perfect sensory appeal for our road trip.

Underpinned by the new GAF platform the 300 ZX, while similar in size to its predecessor, is 200 kg lighter, and with more power from its silky-smooth V6 it felt lither and livelier on the road than the V8powered 200 Series. Throttle response was immediate, and the new 10speed auto transmission seamlessly shifted power to the wheels.

On the road, the big Cruiser just did everything so effortlessly. It negotiated long inclines virtually without a change in its (subdued) engine pitch, it made overtaking a breeze (many road users slowed down just to get a better look at it), and it felt solid and planted in the tighter stuff, thanks to fine-tuned suspension performance.

Even on broken tar surfaces and some very rough dirt roads leading towards the Sabi Sands gate, the Cruiser just serenely glided along, and the biggest challenge was to check the speed over rough patches to preserve the tyres, as it was easy to underestimate its tempo of travel …

Once inside the reserve, the new Multi-Terrain Monitor with Panoramic View, providing you with a real-time view of the road surface beneath the vehicle, the immediate surrounds, and the position of the wheels, came in handy to avert the paint-scratching thorn bushes, and the Multi-Terrain Select system automatically judged the road surface, adopting the most appropriate driving mode.

While we did not encounter real off-road challenges, the ride quality of the new 300 was exemplary on rougher terrain, due to its highly capable four-wheel-drive system with huge wheel articulation, and even after a full day of off-roading, we still felt relaxed and fresh – in contrast to man-handling the old Cruiser 45 with its 4.2litre diesel mill and manual ’box over the same terrain …

The others

After our 1 200 km round trip in the new LC 300 ZX we can safely say the new flagship range, the first new Land Cruiser station wagon model in 14 years, further reinforces the status of the iconic nameplate and the status of the Cruiser as an automotive legend.

The diesel models, also available in all three grades (GXR, ZX, and GRS), are now equipped with the new, refined, and advanced F33AFTV 3.3litre twin-turbo V6 diesel engine delivering 225 kW at 4 000 rpm and a humungous 700 Nm of torque between 1 600 and 2 600 rpm, compared to the 195 kW and 650 Nm of the preceding 1VDFTV 4.5litre turbodiesel V8.

The GRS features bespoke exterior styling, with a centre band and white Toyota lettering breaking the large front façade and huge, blackened out grille. It has GR badges at the front, the rear, and in the interior, EKDSS (an evolution of the kinetic dynamic suspension system of Toyota) and Multi-Terrain Select (MTS).

The diesel is slightly noisier than the silky petrol mill but with the vast reserves of twisting force of the oil-burner, it effortlessly flattens any gradient, slope, or obstacle. Its biggest advantage over the petrol-driven model is its consumption – the GRS delivering an average consumption of about 11 ℓ/100 km (Toyota claims a figure of 8.9 ℓ/100 km) compared to over 15 ℓ/100 km for the petrol ZX.

Long live the king …

The new Land Cruiser 300 is a worthy successor to its successful forebears. Representing a heritage spanning seven decades and more than 10 million sales across 170 countries and regions, it has greatly benefitted from developments in terms of body rigidity and dynamic balance, together with improved off-road performance and on-road capability.

It also makes you understand why those who have experienced the magic of the Master of Africa (and can afford it), tend to stick with the pinnacle of the Toyota SUV range. But the way things now stand, you will have to wait very patient if you want one, as production has been set back dramatically by the semi-conductor crisis in the motor industry – and the waiting list is just getting longer …

Anniversary Edition

To mark the 70th anniversary of the iconic Land Cruiser, Toyota has released a special edition of the retro-styled 70 Series, first launched in 1984. It will be based on the flagship grade and will be available in both 76 Series’ Wagon and 79 Series’ single-cab and double-cab pickup body styles. Only 600 examples of the 70th Anniversary Land Cruiser – 320 double cabs, 200 single cabs, and 80 wagons – will be built. 

Compared to the standard 70 Series, the Anniversary edition receives a redesigned, blacked-out front grille with Toyota lettering replacing the traditional logo. The front bumper and wheel arch cladding has also been blacked out. The dark treatment is carried over to the 16inch alloy wheels and headlamp bezels, with the DLRs and fog lights upgraded to LED units. “Heritage” and “70th Anniversary” decals further distinguish the special Cruiser.

Inside, the special model receives premium black seat upholstery, a Hilux-derived leather-clad steering wheel, and leather-wrapped shift lever. It is powered by the proven 4.5litre V8 turbodiesel engine mated to a fivespeed manual gearbox, sending power to all four wheels. The Land Cruiser 70th Anniversary Edition is expected in South Africa in November.

Text: Ferdi de Vos | Images: Ryan Abbott