You could probably be forgiven these days for thinking that almost all new vehicles require a degree in electrical engineering just to turn the ignition on. Hop into just about any late-model dual-cab or wagon and there are more lights, annoying chimes, buttons, interfaces and gadgetry than found in the cockpit of the Apollo shuttles.
So after recently jumping into our tow-mule 2016 LandCruiser Troopcarrier, it was a bit like stepping back in time. Yep, it’s a new vehicle commanding a new vehicle price, but the appointments are Spartan at best. Electric seats? Forget it. Power mirrors? Nuh-uh. Reversing camera, multimedia GPS system, push-button start, independent suspension, hill-descent control, multi-terrain modes or even an automatic transmission?
No sir, you’ll have to put up with features that were cutting edge back when Michael Jackson was pumping out hits and still had a ’fro.
There are just three pedals, two gear levers, five speeds, a body style that was last seriously updated in the ’80s and some pretty average seats. Even the (single) cup holder is inconveniently located on the far side of the transmission hump, and requires a fair stretch for the driver to reach. Sure, it does have AC and power windows, but still, why does this thing tip the scales at around the not-exactly-bargain-basement $65K mark?
The answer can actually be summed up in two words: That engine. Put simply, the 4.5L V8 intercooled turbo-diesel is a thing of beauty, and you’d be mad if you thought the engineers who designed it didn’t have towing near the top of the ‘must be able to do extremely well’ list.
And it does a fine job too. We took the Troopy and a prototype TerraTrek camper trailer out to the Big Red Bash, and then across the Simpson Desert via the French Line to Mount Dare – y’know, to really get an idea of how it towed (at least that’s the excuse we gave the boss). “Yeah sorry mate, won’t be in for a couple of weeks. Not completely sold on this V8 diesel yet, better put another few thousand kays on the odo to make sure…”
The reality though: she pulled our 1000kg camper with absolute minimal fuss. Sure, you could tell it was there and fuel usage stepped up from an unladen 12km/L to around the 16km/L mark, but there was still more than enough torque on tap to lug the TerraTrek (and a whole heap of other gear on-board too) up Big Red, and every one of the 1100 dunes afterward. While I can’t say I’d advocate towing anything much bigger over the French Line, it was still a hell of a tow test, and the Troopy didn’t even look like letting us down once.
A hard 5000 kilometres later – some days spent entirely in low range to cover a distance of 200km or so over eight hours and others spent knocking out 1000km on the blacktop – it was still going as strong as the day we picked it up. It’s really quite hard not to be impressed with that.
As I mentioned, this is not the vehicle for you if interior comfort is high on the can’t-live-without list. Everything that can be is covered with vinyl and the seats aren’t exactly the most comfortable butt huggers on the planet, but with that said, we did a lot of hours in the saddle over some pretty unforgiving terrain and didn’t suffer any lower back problems or bruised kidneys.
The suspension is about as tried and true as it gets, although hardly groundbreaking. Solid axles at either end are hung from radius arms and coils up front, and leaf springs out the back. The leaves actually work incredibly well. They’re super long and surprisingly compliant, especially when they have a little weight on them, such as when towing.
Even so, if we were hitched up to a larger van, then a set of aftermarket springs, shocks and a corresponding GVM upgrade would be high on our purchase list. That can hardly be counted as a negative though, unless you’re looking at something like a Ford F350
(which you can read the review of here), pretty much any tow rig will need some sort of heavy-duty suspension in the rear to tow a large trailer with anyway.
Speaking of large trailers, the Troopy is rated to tow up to 3500kg. Not any more than a lot of the dual-cab utes on the market these days, and modern dual-cabs are almost all vastly more comfortable than the bare-bones ’Cruiser. However, let’s be honest: towing upwards of three tonnes with a four-cylinder motor that doesn’t have much in the way of cubic inches, versus towing with a V8 with nearly double the capacity… hey, torque numbers are mightily impressive on these dual-cabs, but at the end of the day you just can’t argue with physics; the Troopy will simply do it a lot easier, with all 430 of its Newton-metres coming in at just 1200 rpm. It’s almost as though it was built to pull trailers.
So, the $64,000 question (literally): is the LandCruiser worth the price tag?
You could buy a top-spec dual cab with a lot more creature comforts, better day-to-day fuel economy, and have the aesthetic advantage of body panels that were designed this century for about the same money, or even less. But, and it’s a big one, this is a tow test. I’ve driven and towed with every dual-cab on the market, and if I was hitching up and taking off for the big lap, the LandCruiser would be my pick. Yes it’s simple, but it just works, and when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, simplicity and proven reliability is worth its weight in gold.
For a long-distance tourer with plenty of pulling power and enough room inside to store pretty much anything you care to take with you, sure, the LandCruiser may not tick every box, but it definitely ticks all of the right ones.
ED: Thanks to TerraTrek Campers for the use of their trailer on this shoot.