Do you really need all the bells and whistles to go adventure touring? To find out, we pit two extremes of Toyota’s LandCruiser range head to head with RVs in tow…
Toyota’s LandCruiser is a ubiquitous sight, from the biggest metropolis to the furthest-flung reaches of the outback. Its renown as an off-roader and tow tug have, over decades, seen the platform embraced by all manner of end user, from corporate and government fleets down to individual adventure-seekers.
For the RV set in particular, the LandCruiser has long been a desirable option for those who can afford one. After all, these are big-ticket vehicles, ranging in price from $63,740 (plus ORC) for a bare-bones 70 Series Workmate wagon to a hefty $120,301 (plus ORC) for the flagship 200 Series Sahara.
There are myriad models in between, spanning single- and dual-cab/chassis variants, troop carriers and wagon formats in multiple trim grades, so if an RV adventure is in your future, which one is best? And, do you really need all the features offered by the family’s upper echelons?
That’s what we set out to discover on a recent tow test to rural Victoria with two extremes of the LandCruiser range, a 200 Series Sahara and a 79 Series GXL single-cab/chassis, with two camper trailers – a Blue Water Campers Macquarie and a Goldstream RV Thunder Premium – along for the ride.
Why are we comparing them?
They may share nameplates but they’re miles apart in terms of price, packaging and features. As such, this isn’t a direct head-to-head comparison, but rather a look at two siblings that just about bookend the full LandCruiser range.
But first, let’s take a snapshot of the LandCruiser range which, broadly speaking, can be divided into three segments: the 200 Series, the 70 Series, and the LandCruiser Prado.
The 200 Series appeared in 2007 and follows on from preceding generations that date back to the 1960s. Generally speaking, the 200 Series delivers more comfort and more features to suit private buyers, as opposed to the rugged, more off-road-focused 70 Series.
Four trim grades are available, from the base-model GX through GXL, VX and the top-tier Sahara. The five-seater GX is only available with a 4.5-litre V8 twin-turbo-diesel (200kW/650Nm), while the upper trim grades give a choice of this or a 4.6-litre V8 petrol unit (227kW/439Nm), and a choice of seven or eight seats depending on the engine (which affects the vehicle’s GVM). A six-speed automatic is the sole transmission choice.
The 200 Series has undergone a number of relatively mild updates, most recently in 2016, while pricing ranges from $78,261 to $120,301 (plus ORC).
The 70 Series is Toyota’s latest line of off-road-focused LandCruiser – even though it first appeared in 1984! It has remained relatively unchanged over the years, yet it still enjoys an enviable reputation for reliability and off-road acumen.
The 70 Series in turn comprises the four-door 76 Series wagon (in WorkMate and GXL grades), the two-door 78 Series Troopcarrier (in WorkMate and GXL grades), and the two- or four-door 79 Series cab/chassis, the latter available in both single-cab (in WorkMate, GX and GXL grades) and dual-cab formats (in WorkMate and GXL grades).
The 70 Series drivetrain is limited to the 4.5-litre V8 turbo-diesel (151kW/430Nm) with a single turbo – as opposed to the 200 Series twin-turbo unit – and a five-speed manual transmission. Pricing ranges from $63,740 to $71,740 (plus ORC).
That leaves the 150 Series LandCruiser Prado, which is an entirely different, smaller vehicle. Powered by a 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel (130kW/420Nm), it’s priced from $53,490 to $84,490 (plus ORC).
Who will they appeal to?
Needless to say, these two LandCruiser models appeal to markedly different audiences. Our 79 Series GXL single-cab with tray is a pure workhorse – robust and simple, it’s a popular option for those who live on the land.
Still, the GXL cab/chassis tops off the 79 Series lineup, and comes with some concessions to modernity like keyless entry, remote central locking, air-conditioning, power windows and electronic cruise control.
Our test vehicle’s factory heavy-duty aluminium drop-side tray underlines its work ethic but it’s a hindrance for towing an RV. It extends over the back of the tow bar, meaning the vehicle’s already hefty turning circle is increased significantly to avoid contact between the rear of the tray and the front of the RV (or, in the case of our Goldstream RV Thunder Premium, the stone guard). For this reason alone, the 76 Series wagon is a better choice for towing – and for carrying more gear in a secure environment, away from the elements.
The 200 Series Sahara, on the other hand, comes with just about every mod-con and a high level of comfort, appealing more to purely recreational buyers with families.
The Sahara is also a superior tow tug thanks to its twin-turbo-diesel. Even though both models lay claim to a 3500kg braked towing capacity, and the 79 Series GXL also has a grunty V8, the Sahara wins out in the towing stakes when large RVs, boats, horse floats and more are on the agenda, with its extra 220Nm the telling factor.
How much do they cost?
There’s a big price disparity between these two, to the tune of nearly $48,000. Our 79 Series single-cab/chassis comes in at $73,444 (including GST, plus on-roads), including $2850 for the tray, $804 for the towing kit and $550 for the Merlot Red metallic paint, while in comparison the Sahara is priced at $121,079 (including GST, plus on-roads). That includes $550 for the metallic paint and $228 for the towing kit. Both models were fitted with an aftermarket Redarc brake controller (RRP $382.45, plus fitting).
Sahara buyers receive a long list of standard inclusions, such as an 9.0-inch multimedia screen with integrated sat-nav, twin second-row video display units with Bluetooth headphones, nine-speaker stereo system, digital radio, auto LED headlights and wipers, centre-console cool box, four-zone climate control, electric sunroof, keyless entry, push-button starting, comprehensive trip computer, four external cameras – and on it goes.
That’s on top of 1276 litres of storage space behind the second-row seating, a 138-litre fuel capacity, and an off-road system which, beyond a dual-range transfer case, extends to features such as hill descent control, crawler mode, a centre diff lock, and multi-terrain mode. Add to that 230mm of ground clearance, a 700mm wading depth and healthy approach and departure angles, and the Sahara doesn’t just ‘talk the talk’…
In contrast, the utilitarian 79 Series GXL has all the mechanicals to get you where you want to go, just without the trimmings. Forget seat heating and 360-degree cameras, the 79 Series pins its prowess on a tough and proven part-time four-wheel drive system with manually locking front hubs to convert it to full-time four-wheel drive.
In four-wheel drive there’s also front and rear diff locks (actuated by a switch on the dash) plus approach and departure angles of 33 and 27 degrees respectively (32 and 24 degrees for the Sahara) and, like the Sahara, a maximum wading depth of 700mm.
What do they do well?
Off-road performance is outstanding for both these vehicles. With a kerb weight of 2740kg versus 2175kg (plus tray) for the 79 Series GXL single-cab, the Sahara is a big lump of a machine and for those used to smaller fare it feels it, especially around town. However, the manner in which it handles that weight off-road is impressive, its coil-over-shock arrangement at all four corners and its Kinetic Damping Suspension System (KDSS) soaking up big hits well while delivering healthy wheel articulation when needed.
The Sahara has all the electronic smarts to handle the majority of off-road challenges, while the twin-turbo-diesel’s 650Nm sees the Sahara traverse serious terrain without an issue. Of course, the big drawcard for families and recreational Sahara owners is that it can accomplish all this while cosseting occupants in the proverbial lap of luxury.
The 79 Series GXL, however, brings with it a level of off-road confidence that eclipses even that of the Sahara. Yes, it’s basic, but it’s rugged and capable, and with its low gearing, low-revving V8 and front and rear diff locks it feels like it would take nothing short of a vertical cliff face for it to meet its match.
The single-turbo-diesel engine feels markedly different to the Sahara’s twin-turbo unit, while the five-speed manual feels fairly utilitarian beside the Sahara’s cog-limited but entirely capable six-speed auto. While the 79 Series V8’s output falls short of the Sahara’s, there’s still plenty there to get yourself out of trouble. Maximum torque is delivered at just 1200rpm (1600rpm for the Sahara) and, combined with lower gearing, the 79 Series just ticks along, doing its best work through an exceptionally low rev range.
This is an ideal scenario for off-road work, where the under-stressed engine simply laps up the loads and the gradients, while it does rev higher on the highway – 2000rpm in fifth at 100km/h, versus a low 1400rpm in sixth for the Sahara.
It’s no surprise then that the Sahara wins hands down on the bitumen. Occupant comfort is exemplary, but so are NVH levels (noise, vibration and harshness); the cabin is exceptionally quiet and progress is ultra-smooth.
The Sahara’s on-road handling and performance belies its bulk on the open road, with the big V8 making light work of highway overtakes and that KDSS set-up engaging stabiliser bars to reduce body roll to thoroughly acceptable levels.
The Sahara is also a clear winner in the towing stakes; with masses of torque it takes major loads in its stride. We’d have no qualms towing loads right up to its 3500kg braked towing limit – in contrast to many dual-cab utes with identical quoted towing limits.
The relatively modest loads towed here presented little challenge for either vehicle; the Blue Water Campers Macquarie behind the Sahara weighs in at 1500kg (tare), versus 1370kg for the Goldstream RV Thunder Premium behind the 79 Series.
The Sahara barely noticed the load while the 79 Series also handled the job with aplomb, although steeper hills required fourth or even third gear to maintain momentum.
Our 79 Series single-cab has a payload of around 1300kg (excluding tray), while the corresponding figure for the Sahara is around 700kg. Generous on both counts, but for anyone intent on tackling The Big Lap with a heavy RV, the cab/chassis variant offers appreciably more load-lugging ability.
While the gross combination mass for both these vehicles is very similar (6850kg for the Sahara and 6900kg for the 79 Series), after subtracting the maximum 3500kg towing limit and the weight of a full tank of fuel and occupants, the 79 Series single-cab still has appreciably more capacity left over for luggage and tools/spares – and that goes for the 79 Series dual-cab, too.
Both vehicles attract a five-star ANCAP safety rating. The Sahara has a broad suite of passive and active safety systems befitting a vehicle at this price point (including a pre-collision system and radar cruise control), while even the 79 Series receives five airbags, four-wheel disc brakes, height-adjustable three-point seat belts, plus of course electronic stability control (with traction control and antilock brakes).
What could they do better?
The Sahara’s size is a drawback in the city, although its panoramic cameras and sensors assist when parking. The Sahara’s steering range of 3.25 turns lock to lock isn’t too onerous, compared to 4.25 turns for the 79 Series. The Sahara’s turning circle is appreciable, though unduly so for its size, while the 79 Series’s circle roughly equals that of a cruise ship.
As mentioned, the tray on the 79 Series severely limits the articulation of the combination when turning left or right, making a 79 Series wagon a far better option for RV applications, unless the RV in question has a longer drawbar.
The 79 Series ride is fairly harsh and ‘jiggly’ on sealed roads, thanks to those rear leaf springs. In short, it’s essentially a commercial vehicle built to work – the ride smooths out considerably with some weight, though it’s no match for the Sahara’s supple glide.
We drove the 79 Series in some miserable weather and found the cab windows misted up considerably, with the very basic HVAC (heating, venting, air-conditioning) system only just able to keep the worst of it at bay. The side window venting was the bigger issue, rather than the windscreen.
Oh, and while the 79 Series GXL does get a sound system with Bluetooth audio and telephony, the latter with voice commands, there are no integrated controls on the steering wheel and the voice command system seems a bit ‘hit and miss’.
You can’t tow big loads without any impact on fuel economy, but both vehicles here returned reasonable figures given the task. The Sahara returned a figure of 16.1L/100km while the 79 Series achieved 15.4. Still, with respective fuel capacities of 138 and 130 litres, we’re looking at an identical (and healthy) working range of around 800km.
Our final negative concerns servicing costs. Both LandCruisers have 10,000km factory service intervals. These days that’s looking rather short and, over the years, it will add to each vehicle’s total cost of ownership significantly.
Which wins, and why?
So which one comes out on top for RV applications? It all comes down to your budget and intended usage.
For families in particular with the financial means, Toyota’s LandCruiser Sahara is the luxury liner of Australia’s highways and byways. Short of large fifth-wheel trailers, it will transport its occupants and haul all manner of campers and caravans all over the country in ease and with complete comfort, from capital cities to the most remote outback tracks.
However, with that hefty price tag come hefty insurance premiums, and all those features mean potentially more things to go wrong – an aspect that doesn’t afflict the humble 79 Series GXL.
If you can do without the creature comforts and the extra grunt from the twin-turbo-diesel, the 79 Series GXL will still get the job done and it’s arguably a more capable off-roader. We didn’t push our 79 Series anywhere near its off-road limits in this test (nor that of the Sahara, for that matter), but there’s a reason why so many of these are still sold every year, despite the decades-old design.
In short, for couples or solo adventurers intent on exploring Australia’s most remote regions, the 79 Series still has a rugged appeal that far outstrips its modest specifications.
And, as different as these two are, they both cater for their intended users and applications remarkably well. Luxury is nice if you can afford it, but sometimes a back-to-basics approach is best.
In any case, as far as these two models are concerned, there’s no end in sight for the storied history of Toyota’s LandCruiser.
2018 Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series Sahara pricing and specifications:
Price: $121,079 (plus on-roads)
Engine: 4.5-litre eight-cylinder twin-turbo-diesel
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel: 9.5L/100km (ADR Combined), 16.1L/100km (as tested)
CO2: 309g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety Rating: Five-star ANCAP
2018 Toyota LandCruiser 79 Series GXL pricing and specifications:
Price: $73,444 (drive away, ex-Melbourne)
Engine: 4.5-litre eight-cylinder turbo-diesel
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Fuel: 10.7L/100km (ADR Combined), 15.4L/100km (as tested)
CO2: 281g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety rating: Five-star ANCAP (2015)