Toyota's venerable Land Cruiser range has been updated with a facelifted version of the 70-series bakkie joined by a brand new, diesel-powered, wagon version.
The revamped Oriental-overlander does not depart radically form its utilitarian roots, styling is still a study in form following function, with a more rounded nose softening the overall appearance of the face lifted bakkie versions.
Newly available in South Africa the 70-series station wagon has a decidedly chunky appearance. With a dash of chrome around the nose, its lineage is unambiguously closer to its bakkie sibling than the larger 100-series wagon or contemporary Land Cruiser Prado.
Although the bakkie is still hardly pretty, the more rounded styling works, and the wagon has a certain retro charm about it. Both the bakkie and wagon are characteristically urban-unfriendly off-roaders, by appearance, and more explicitly by nature.
Parking them up on side-walks at the shopping centre or local gym will garner little posing value. Driving them on tar is a ponderous experience - especially the diesel versions - and the bakkie rides quite harshly on tar when unladen.
Scrutinize the new specification sheet though, especially the mechanical improvements, and the purpose of the new 70-series Cruisers galvanises itself: to venture into Africa's most forbidding terrain and return.
Mechanically the engines remain much the same, a choice of 4.2-litre diesel or 4.5-litre petrol (both straight-sixes, the petrol being fuel injected) producing 96 kW at 3 800 r/min and 162 kW at 4 600 r/min respectively, both driving through a five-speed manual gearbox with high- and low-range ratio's in full four-wheel drive.
Severe off-road work requires prodigious torque at low engine speeds and here the engines, with outputs of 285 Nm at 2 200 r/min for the diesel and 384 Nm at 3 600 r/min, really come into their own.
Lock up and go?
Essentially the most crucial change to the new 70-series is the addition of front and rear lockable differentials, and automatically lockable front hubs on the bakkie version, which eliminates the laborious task of manually stepping out of the vehicle to lock the front hubs and engage four-wheel drive capability.
Extremely challenging terrain in the Kouga Mountains of the Eastern Cape was selected to illustrate the off-road capability of the new Land Cruisers.
When meandering through, up and over the mountainous, shale-strewn terrain once low range is engaged and both differential locks are synchronised, the 70-series is literally unstoppable. This was proven as both bakkie and wagon versions assaulted a notoriously steep, rock strewn slope (a well known vehicle wrecker amongst the local Kouga community) with nonchalant ease.
The wagon, with more even weight distribution, provides a more comfortable ride when traversing extreme terrain. The bakkie's habit of bucking and bouncing on-road when unladen is exacerbated off road.
Despite a harsh ride, the bakkie is still probably the only four-wheel drive bakkie which can move a full ton off-road to truly inhospitable locations, and the ride improves in relation to the amount of weight added.
Back to basics
Unpretentious and enormously capable off-road, both the pick-up and wagon versions are not anointed with a long standard features list.
You get air-conditioning - a welcome addition on the bakkie - power steering, standard radio/CD-player - only on the wagon - and... well, not much else. Except for the capacious 180-litre long-range fuel tank on the bakkie models to test the patience of petrol jockeys doing the filling up...
There is no anti-lock braking, no traction control, no stability control program, no hill descent assistance, no leather seats (the bakkie interior is still easy to hose down vinyl), no wood insets on the interior trim and subsequently very little in the line of electronics which can go awry.
It's all very basic. It works very well. And it's a Toyota too: which means reliability in non-negotiable.
An uncanny feeling of confidence comes as standard though. Even in the hands of novice off-roaders, being able to tackle nearly insurmountable obstacles with a sense of ease which undermines the degree of difficulty concerning terrain, or the amount of punishment the vehicle can cope with, is hugely inspiring.
Both the bakkie and wagon might not look very contemporary. They may not be too pleasing to drive on the highway either - especially the bakkie. A dearth of standard features might incur the wrath of passengers spoilt by a generation of equipment-laden SUVs.
Yet, if you like driving in a straight line - even if there are no roads - and like going over things instead of around them, there are probably no other vehicles as capable or easy to drive off-road as the new 70-series Land Cruisers.
If you are planning a serious expedition into Africa, and would like to get home without incident or outside assistance, take one of these.
Land Cruiser Pick Up Petrol 4.5: R312 000
Land Cruiser Pick Up Diesel 4.2: R328 000
Land Cruiser Station Wagon Diesel 4.2: R362 000