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Driving Seat: A matter of OPINION: Luxury workhorse.

Byline: Alistair Coull and Val Jessop

WIDELY regarded in many parts of the world as a Japanese Range Rover, the Toyota Land Cruiser is a highly competent off-road vehicle with superb,on-roadmanners.

The latest generation Land Cruiser has been around for a few months now and is a replacement for the Colorado which used to be a scaled down version of the gigantic flagship Amazon SUV.

The Land Cruiser,however,is a lot more than just a reworked Colorado. It is a completely new car billed by Toyota as a `landmark' in the 50 year history of the marque.

Offered in four trim levels (LC2 through to LC5)and with a choice of petrol or diesel power,and manual or automatic transmission, theLand Cruiser is a technical tour-de-force that reflects Toyota's mastery of building serious off-roaders able to cope with demanding third world terrain.

Sophisticated it certainly is but I think that along the way it has lost some of the macho appeal that made the previous generation Land Cruisers so attractive.

Having said that,however, there is no way I can criticise its plush cabin and it is difficult to know what makes the larger Amazon worth ten grand more.

To make the point about how luxurious it is, standard kit includes front, side and curtain airbags,WIL front seats (that stands for whiplash injury lessening so its purpose is obvious).The wide fascia houses a pan-EuropeanDVD-based satellite navigation system along with cruise control,dual zone climate control,electric tilt and slide sunroof,electric lumbar support, heated front seats and leather trim. All these,and many more, are bundled together in the price.

The Land Cruiser is,of course, also one of the world's foremost all-terrain vehicles and so the up-market cabin spec is matched by some high-techgizmos under the bonnet.

For on-road security, theLC5 gets active traction control and vehicle stability control. Off road, there is a whole host of get you anywhere hardware and intervention electronics to make tough going easy. It obviously has permanent four-wheel- drive along with hill assist and downhill assist, limited slip differential, separate front and rear diff lock and a low ratio transfer box.

I didn't manage to test the car's credentials off- road but I can testify to the fact that so much luxury allied to a serene whisper from the torque- rich engine , motor way trips were a doddle.

Comfort levels are superb and the drive almost effortless. With a combined fuel consumption of 27.2mpg, the 87 -litre tank is good for at least 500 miles.

With the rearmost seats of the seven seater layout folded, the loads pace is large enough for a family of four with room to spare.

Even if you have no intention of traipsing across the Sahara or taking the car further off road than Tesco's car park, you might be one of the thousands of people who like to lug around a horsebox, boat or caravan. The Land Cruiser will cope with impunity.

Without a trailer to hold you back, the big four pot diesel whisks you to 62mphin under 13 seconds and with a top speed of 106mph,motorway cruising hardly stresses the engine.

JUST standing at the side of the hefty Land Cruiser dwarfs even six-footers, never mind anyone around the 5ft 2inmark.

The vehicle isn't that much smaller than the massive Toyota Amazon -so,like its big brother,it's a station wag on you think twice about before nipping into town.

Not that this lumbering 4x4 giant doesn't respond well in the high street. It can be as light- footed and dainty as you like and its manoeuvring capabilities are impeccable and without effort. But you cannot pour a quart into a pint pot.

Parking can be a problem. Though the wheels might just fit within allocated parking perimeters, the vehicle's flanks tend to encroach on another's air space.

Such close encounters can be very restricting to driver and passenger,not to mention those in the next parking slot. I came to the conclusion quickly that two spaces are definitely better than one as far as the Cruiser is concerned. Better still is on-street parking which can often be more accommodating.

Behind the wheel, the all-new 4x4Toyota never seems as large as it appears on the outside.

Once under way even driving in the most congested urban jungle was a relatively relaxed affair. No sweat,no muscle-straining.

The pedals are not too heavily weighted and the power steering ensures the vehicle responds quite well, given it's hefty burden.

Out on the highways and byways the 11thgeneration Cruiser is a happier animal, but never more so than in its natural environment -in the green jungle, wielding its strength -which on this occasion was barely tested at all. Trundling alongside a bike scramble route in the southern Pennines can only be likened to taking a marathon runner on a Sunday school saunter.

The Cruiser's 10 predecessors have proved the marque's pedigree with global adventures on some of the world's toughest endurance rallies,not to mention its role in the military and commercial fields.

Despite the Toyota's brawny image and heritage, the 3.0-litre turbodieselLC5 test vehicle, with auto transmission,offered comfort levels to match those in the more pampered SUVs.

The power unit belts out 161bhpand provides 343Nm of torque and takes the Cruiser to 62mphin 12.7 seconds. Not riveting,but nonetheless impressive,considering its bulk. It reaches a top speed of 106mph while returning a combined fuel return of just over 27mpg.

The Cruiser is very much a rugged workhorse,but one you can easily live with on tarmac. This has been one of Toyota's chief aims: not compromising on off-roadattributes, yet providing a vehicle that can compete with, the opposition in the lucrative segment of the high street SUV. It's a fine balance,but one I think Toyota has achieved.

Toyota Landcruiser D-4D5dr

ENGINE: 2982 cc DOHC 16V 161bhp@3400rpm 334Nm@16003200rpm PERFORMANCE: Top speed: 106mph 0-62: 12.8secs ECONOMY: Town: 21.6/ out of town: 32.5/ mixed: 27.2mpg CO2 EMISSIONS: 277g/km INSURANCE: Group 12 PRICE: pounds 36,708
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 20, 2004
Words:1023
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