Recently, we were driving home along Victoria’s Goulburn Valley Highway after spending a relaxing weekend with friends in Gough’s Bay, near Lake Eildon. For anyone unfamiliar with this road, it is a fairly typical B grade highway in Victoria, with a single lane in each direction and dotted with occasional overtaking opportunities, tight sweeping bends and varying gradients. During winter, this road is packed with skiers heading up to Mt Buller in their all-wheel drive Subaru’s and Audi’s. It’s the perfect road for a hot hatch. During summer, the snow melts in the mountains to reveal the vast eucalypt forests of the Victorian High Country, the exclusive domain of real 4WDs. These vehicles are the norm along the Goulburn Valley Highway this time of year despite not being so well suited to this type of road.
Not so Olaf, our Toyota Landcruiser 200. It seems to defy the laws of physics as it trundles along occasionally challenging the speed limit, eating up hills like they weren’t there and negotiating corners faster than a 2,800kg of BHP’s finest should be able to. I was really enjoying the drive home, revelling in the Cruiser’s silky smooth twin turbo V8 as it dispatched the miles behind us. Olaf had recently ticked over 30,000km and I started to reflect on just how good this car is and how much better it seems to get as time goes by.
First…a bit of a history lesson. I never liked Landsruisers and their owners annoyed me. I hated the way they seemed to make 4wding look easy. Then there was their smugness when I had to call on one of them to get me out of a bog or other situation where I lacked forward momentum. Their ‘generosity’ was always accompanied with the same mantra; “Why don’t you just buy yourself a Landcruiser?” It was like nails down a chalk-board. The fact of the matter was that I secretly coveted my neighbours’ cruisers but steadfastly refused to succumb to the temtation. I swore I would never buy one.
That was up until February 2015 when we ordered our new caravan. A 3,500kg town house on wheels. Our hand was forced into buying a new 4wd to tow it and our choices were few. On the list was the 200 series Landcruiser and as much as I wanted to continue by love/hate relationship with them, there was no denying it was the car for us. When we went for our test drive, I hoped it would be awful or that Kylie would find it too big for her to drive every day. None of that eventuated and today the prejudice was well and truly put to the past. We love Olaf and for good reason.
You see, unless you buy an American pick-up truck, there really are few options for a good, solid, full size 4WD towing vehicle and when you take into account the availability of service centres around the country, Toyota is as good as it gets and a long way better than all the alternatives. Nissan had a new Patrol on the market with a big V8 petrol engine which, by all accounts, is an awesome vehicle. Regardless, having experienced owning a petrol V8 4wd in the past, it would take a lot of convincing to get me to buy another one. The fuel use can be scary.
The Cruiser’s engine is magic and it seems to have loosened up considerably since we first got it. It feels smoother and more willing to rev. At first, I thought Toyota had got the transmission all wrong but now that I’ve driven it and gotten used to it, I reckon Toyota knew exactly what they were doing. You very rarely find yourself in the wrong gear. If you do, all it takes is a slight depression of the loud pedal and it kicks down a cog and rockets on in a satisfying swell of torque.
What continually amazes me is just how economic the Cruiser is. We don’t drive it like we’ve stolen it but we don’t baby it either. This trip, in particular, I drove a little more enthusiastically than I might otherwise and it still returned an average of 11.4l/100ks. Granted this is not as good as some of the other modern 4wds but for a big V8, this is outstanding. It challenges the fuel economy of my old 2.5l Discovery and is way better than our 3.0 Patrol…!
Overtaking on a road like the Goulburn is when you really appreciate the V8. Sink the boot in and the motor responds with a satisfying shove in the kidneys accompanied by a nice soundtrack. It feels unstoppable. Unrelenting. Awesome.
Putting the big van on the back changes the equation somewhat but the Cruiser takes this in its stride. The long travel accelerator requires a decent stomp to get the whole rig moving, but it does get going much better that you might expect. It will cruise all day at the speed limit with the van on the back and, apart from the shorter distances between fuel stops, it’s easy to forget the caravan is there.
We’ve done pretty much all the mods we intend to do for the time being. Dual battery system, UHF radio, drawer system, power outlets in the rear, tire pressure monitoring system, Scanguage, rear view camera and driving lights. The Lovell’s GVM upgrade suspension has proved to be a wise decision. Surprisingly, I reckon the Toyota steel bull bar is the best looking of all the alternatives. Once the warranty has run out we plan to up the performance a bit with a modified exhaust and performance chip. We did the same thing to our Patrol and the results of that were amazing.
Other mods we have planned are a catch can and perhaps a secondary fuel filter. For now, Olaf is doing the job extremely well. It’s powerful, comfortable, reliable, and reasonably economic to run plus it tows like a dream. You can’t really ask for much more…!