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Celebrating a 70-year-old Icon |

The highly anticipated Land Cruiser 300 is now locally available. To celebrate the 70-year legacy of this Toyota icon, we took the luxurious new ZX model to the exclusive Cheetah Plains Reserve to meet its future and its past – a modified all-electric Cruiser 79 game-viewer and an original Cruiser 75 pick-up…

Sitting high in the sumptuous driver’s seat of the new Land Cruiser 300 ZX, I watched as the olive-green 79 game-viewer quietly glided by, edging closer to the herd of zebra and wildebeest next to the water hole on the exclusive Cheetah Plains Private Game Reserve.

With photographer Ryan Abbott busy setting up the vehicles for our photo shoot in the exclusive reserve, I again noticed the disparity between the two – the one a modern, ultra-opulent SUV tracing its origins back to the 50 Series, the other a descendant of the 40 Series and based on the rudimentary 70 Series pickup – even though they shared the same iconic origins.

Despite their divergent applications both models have proved their mettle over the decades, operating in some of the remotest parts of the planet, and worthy of the title Master of Africa – as referenced by Toyota South Africa in its marketing campaigns.

Also, while the stately and majestic new 300 now epitomises the pinnacle of Land Cruiser progress, it is the older game-viewer with the bronze cheetah-logo on its door that serves as early indicator of the future direction for the type – it is fully electrified to bring it in line with the Cheetah Plains ethos of sustainable tourism.

Using a Land Cruiser 79 4.0 V6 as donor vehicle, the conversion was done by the highly experienced Cliff Barker of Barker Performance Products in Benoni. It consists of an electric motor sourced from the US and rated for 100 kW and 235 Nm of torque, coupled with a bank of lithium-ion batteries – 10 modules of the same type as used by Tesla – providing about 46 kWh of power to the motor.

The electric motor is mated to the standard Land Cruiser drivetrain with the transmission locked in second gear, and range with the existing system is about 80 km on game viewing trips, and about 100 km on road. Top speed is 65 km/h, and according to the Cheetah Plains rangers the off-road prowess of the Land Cruiser Electric (with a 600 mm wading depth) rivals that of its fossil-fueled counterparts.

So far, six has been built, with four operational. Observing these silent stalkers traverse the African bush, with only a slight whirr from the electric motor, it became clear why the unobtrusive nature of the zero-emission Cruisers and quiet approach delivers the highest quality wildlife sightings and an unparalleled safari experience.

Still, our 300 Series, now equipped with a refined and advanced twin-turbo V6 petrol engine (first developed for the Lexus LS), replacing the V8 powerplant used in the 200, was not much noisier by comparison. Even with 310 kW and 650 Nm under the hood – compared to 284 kW and 543 Nm for the old V8 – the 300 was content to quietly trundle on at walking pace behind the silent game-viewer.

Imposing new flagship 

We collected the Cruiser 300 in majestic Graphite Grey Metallic from the executive car park at the OR Tambo Airport the previous day. On our way there, we passed a couple of older Cruiser 200s, and while the newcomer shares the same dimensions, its appearance is much more imposing than its predecessor.

Its slightly angular design is now more cohesive and has a far greater dynamic presence, with a sense of agility. The large front façade and huge chromed grille of the ZX and the signature Land Cruiser ‘channel’ down the centre of the bonnet, now even more prominent, commands attention.

While the shape of the rectangular headlamps and U-shaped radiator openings are somewhat masked on the darker body colours, they feature prominently on images of lighter coloured models. The rear trapezoidal tail lamps with stylised light guides are not that different from before, but are now complemented by large Land Cruiser lettering and the Toyota logo.

The introduction of the new model coincided with the 70th anniversary of the iconic Land Cruiser brand, and the flagship range arrived in South Africa in August – in time to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Toyota South Africa. Besides the petrol V6 a new 3.3-litre V6 turbodiesel engine, delivering 225 kW and a humongous 700 Nm of torque between, and a new grade line-up was also introduced.

The GX-R is the utility-focussed model and serves as the entry point to the range, while the ZX replaces the VX-R as the luxury model. For the first time, a Gazoo Racing Sport (GR-S) grade will be offered on Land Cruiser. Serving as the off-road performance model, the GR-S features bespoke exterior styling and trim, rugged 18-ich alloy wheels and an off-road-biased specification list.

Our ZX model, with a more “image” focused persona, sported unique and attractive 20-inch alloy wheels, more exterior chrome detailing and luxury-oriented trim inside, including a heated steering wheel with wood accents, seat heating and ventilation for the first- and second-row passengers, power fold-down third-row seating and a power-operated back door with hands-free function.

Tranquil traveller

Having set the navigation on the Multi-Information Display with 12.3-inch screen (with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto functionality and a Wi-Fi enabled rear-seat entertainment system with colour screens and wireless headphones), we headed for Mbombela via the N4. 

The Neutral Beige interior trim made the impeccably detailed cabin feel even roomier, and even homely with its rear zone climate control, multiple power outlets with charging port, and a fridge on the central console. The seats (with power control for the driver) proved supremely comfortable and the14-speaker JBL audio system provided the perfect sensory appeal for our road trip.

Underpinned by the new GA-F platform the 300 ZX, while similar in size to its predecessor, is 200 kg lighter, and with more power from its silky-smooth V6 it felt lither and livelier on the road than the V8-powered 200 Series. Throttle response was immediate, and the new 10-speed auto transmission seamlessly shifted power to the 20-inch rubber.

On the road, the big Cruiser just did everything so effortlessly. It negotiated long inclines virtually without a change in its (subdued) engine pitch, it made overtaking a breeze (many road users slowed down just to get a better look at it) and it felt solid and planted in the tighter stuff, thanks to fine-tuned suspension performance.

Even on broken tar surfaces and some very rough dirt roads leading towards the Sabi Sands gate, the Cruiser just glided along, serenely. The biggest challenge was to check the speed over rough patches to preserve the tyres, as it was easy to underestimate its tempo of travel.

Once inside the reserve, the new Multi-Terrain Monitor with Panoramic View, providing you with a real-time view of the road surface beneath the vehicle, the immediate surrounds and the position of the wheels, came in handy to avert the paint-scratching thorn bushes, and the Multi-Terrain Select system automatically judged the road surface, adopting the most appropriate driving mode.

While we did not encounter real off-road challenges, the ride quality of the new 300 was exemplary on rougher terrain, compliments of its highly capable four-wheel drive system. Even after a full day of off-roading, we still felt relaxed and fresh – in contrast to man-handling the old Cruiser 45 with its 4.2-litre diesel mill and manual ’box over the same terrain…

Last word

After our 1,200 km round trip in the new Land Cruiser 300 ZX we can safely say the new flagship range, the first new Land Cruiser station wagon model in 14 years, further reinforces the status of the iconic nameplate and the Cruiser’s status as an automotive legend.

Representing a heritage now spanning seven decades and more than 10 million sales across 170 countries and regions, the new 300 Series has greatly benefitted from developments in terms of body rigidity and dynamic balance, together with improved off-road performance and on-road capability.

With the diesel and GR-S derivatives following shortly (and perhaps a hybrid model later) it is a worthy successor to its successful forebears, and one that makes you understand why those who have experienced the magic of the Master of Africa, tend to stick with the pinnacle of the Toyota SUV range.

Report by Ferdi de Vos | Images © Ryan Abbott / Driven

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