Article from Car Advice.
It’s not every day you’re invited to drive a prototype Toyota LandCruiser. But back in May, we had exactly one of those days.
New model releases are the bread and butter of this trade, and the reason why there is a small throng of motoring journalists out there plying their trade.
I haven’t been doing this job for nearly as long as others, but I’ve also seen plenty of new-generation models roll by over the years.
Regardless of how uninteresting or common a car might appear on first impression, there’s always a little bit of excitement that bubbles up when you get to see, drive and assess something new.
This time, though, it’s different. Along with a huge sense of excitement, I’ve also got shades of trepidation.
It happens less than once in a decade, and Drive is lucky enough to be one of the few publications able to snag a sneak preview of Toyota’s new LandCruiser.
This isn’t a normal media launch, you see. In between lockdowns and border closures, a small group was ferried down to Anglesea, Victoria under strict instructions to tell no one. This was back in May.
After having all of our electronics removed – and being read the riot act for I think the fourth time – we drive up to a nondescript shed amongst Toyota’s exclusive facilities within the Australian Automotive Research Centre.
The shed is surrounded by quintessential Australian bushland, as well as a perimeter of high fencing. It’s green and is lacking in any discernible features other than the large number ‘8’ on the side.
But as we soon find out, Shed 8 is something like Area 51 for Toyota Australia.
Instead of laptops and recording devices, we’re armed with pens and notepads. It feels strangely quaint, and I start thinking about the rare journalistic skill of shorthand. It wouldn’t go astray around about now.
The shed isn’t huge, but is much bigger than your average backyard number. Inside, it’s organised and clear of mess. While it’s impressively clean – especially when your own shed at home is an embarrassing mess – you can tell when you’re standing in a well-used workplace.ADVERTISING
Inside are some tool trolleys, cabinets, stacks of wheels and tyres, an empty hoist and two vehicles. One needs no introduction: a 200 Series LandCruiser, silver with an alloy bullbar.
The other is under a cover, but we know what it is. The next-generation Toyota LandCruiser, which we now know is called 300 Series. It definitely needs an introduction.
This is the only development model located outside of Japan at the time. While it has been logging kilometres right around Australia, it’s now waiting patiently for a new kind of test: a motley bunch of motoring journalists.
And it’s quite an honour: we’ll be the first people outside of Toyota Australia who will get to have a steer.
That excitement grows, and you can see a tinge of fear in the face of some of Toyota’s representatives. If this event doesn’t go to plan, or somebody breaks the embargo, there would be a few people inside Shed 8 who would be out of a job.
There is a team of around six normally at this facility, which scales up and down depending on how much work is needed at the time. Currently, there are about 12 of us huddled in the shed. That includes journalists, as well as Toyota’s public relations and engineering representatives.
Paul Diamandis is head of Toyota Development in Australia. He has a big, cheeky smile and engaging eyes, as he describes Shed 8 as “a humble place, where a lot of good things happen”.
Paul is joined by Ray Munday – Toyota Australia’s Vehicle Evaluation and Durability Manager – and Peter Prescott, Advanced Systems and Active Safety Development Manager. In other words, he is the brains behind things like Crawl Control, traction aids and active safety equipment.
The Toyota development team has been working in secret for seven years now, readying the next instalment of the LandCruiser for showrooms around Australia.
The team proudly explains that Australia – the terrain, its people and the local engineering team – has been key in the development of the new LandCruiser.
Our 7.692 million square kilometres offers up 80 per cent of the extreme, hostile and challenging environments needed to test and develop such a vehicle. Dust, corrugations, heat, rocks, hills, mud and sand.
It’s only the altitude and extreme cold that our hot, flat continent doesn’t do so well. Everything else, Paul explains, we have in spades. And if the LandCruiser is proven to be tough enough for Australia, then it’s tough enough for the rest of the world.
The development process for the new LandCruiser started back in 2014, with Toyota’s philosophy called Genchi Genbutsu. This translates roughly into ‘go straight to the source’. In other words, you’re only really able to solve a problem when you’ve experienced it first-hand.
Before design and engineering progresses too far, engineers and designers – both Australian and Japanese – travel around the country to interview LandCruiser owners and drivers, and discuss with them the most important elements of performance. What is good, what could be better, and what needs changing.
It’s not the suburban mums and dads, either. People like the large and active membership group of the Toyota LandCruiser Club of Australia are interviewed, as well as Indigenous Land Managers from the territory and outback farmers.
What they found was a huge importance placed on the vehicle’s reliability, durability and quality.
Non-negotiable attributes included diesel power, good towing capability, compatibility with popular accessories like bullbars and winches, and good comfort for long-distance driving.
And, of course, the capability of the LandCruiser needs to be improved both on-road and off-road. More power, more torque, more comfort, more efficiency.
But at the same time, the LandCruiser can’t veer away from those tenets of utility and durability.
The engineering team highlighted other important aspects. An improved powertrain with better performance, especially when towing. But nodding to the popularity of the LandCruiser in the suburbs as well as the bush, they wanted to improve the agility and nimbleness of the LandCruiser for around town driving.
And finally, the LandCruiser couldn’t get any bigger. Space is great, but going too large brings its own set of problems around fitting down bush tracks and into shopping centre carparks alike.
And with the slated improvements around performance, Toyota’s engineers were also given the job of upping the ante for durability. Because if you can drive it harder, then you will. So it needs to be able to handle it.
While other parts of the world saw prototype vehicles, nowhere (other than Japan) saw as many as Australia. So, if the LandCruiser could talk, it might have a bit of an Australian drawl.
New LandCruisers don’t roll around too often. The current 200 Series has been hard at work since 2007. And before then, the 100 Series – the first LandCruiser with independent front suspension – dates back to 1998.
The new 300 Series LandCruiser prototypes have been getting around Australia since 2015, but have been kept under wraps impressively well during that time. Leaks of images and information have only come through in the last year or so.
The secret has been well-kept for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because the 300 is the same shape and wheelbase as the outgoing 200, test mules have been hiding under a 200 Series body. Only the most serious trainspotters would pick out the different six-stud pattern and different shock absorber location.
And secondly, much of the testing and development is done either in remote areas or secure, private properties away from prying eyes.
While Toyota might employ some of the best in the business in terms of engineering, Japan isn’t exactly overflowing with remoteness. Engineers who likely catch a train to work, and might have never been outside of phone reception in their life, go through something of a life-changing experience when they go to the source.
You can imagine it: Japanese engineers, regardless of their expertise, hail from a country where you’ll find 347 people per square kilometre. Australia has 3.3, less than one per cent of Japan’s figure. And if you consider that most of Australia’s population fringes our coastline, imagine the impact of leaving somewhere like Tokyo and heading straight into the Outback.
We were told of some profound, life-changing reactions from Toyota engineers as they began to understand the vast distances of wild and rugged land that lies in between A and B, as they went to the source for first-hand experience.
One engineer even went so far as to return to Japan, book in a long sabbatical, and return to Australia as a traveller.
I’m not sure which other vehicle manufacturers and engineers do this kind of work in Australia, and go to the same extent as Toyota. It undoubtedly has a positive impact on the end product for Aussie buyers.
But it must also be said that this new LandCruiser 300 Series has some of the biggest boots to fill in terms of maintaining and growing a reputation for quality, reliability and durability.
Time will only tell if Toyota has truly done the job.