I reckon Toyota have got themselves into a bit of a bind with the 70 Series in the same way Land Rover did with the Defender. Because their audience doesn’t like change they’re stuck with a foot in the old camp and the other in the new.
The body, chassis and ergonomics on both vehicles are really pretty average (I can already hear readers crying foul with me comparing the Defender’s appalling interior with that of the Toyota… I concede that the 70 has had some evolution whereas the Defender barely any).
By retaining the same chassis design for around 20 years now, only changing the front springs to the current coil spring design, Toyota have been stuck with a narrow cab and a narrow track. In the cab-chassis and the wagon it’s really obvious and if you’re a big bloke there’s not a lot of elbowroom. The accommodation in the cab-chassis feels even worse because there’s so little cab length, so even sliding the seat right back still leaves you short of comfortable room to the steering wheel and pedals.
The troop carrier has a different feel, probably because of the higher pitch of the roof to accommodate the patrons perched on the bench seats in the back atop the wheelarches, but it’s still cramped.
Now I know it’s a work truck and they’re not supposed to be flash inside but the seats and their coverings are awful. Yes you can opt for the GXL models across the range and enjoy much better seating and trim, but the Workmate’s interior is not conducive to long distances and won’t help driver fatigue. I wholly support a vinyl floor, it’s easy to brush out, but vinyl seats are hot and sweaty and there’s not much padding. Most owners will do the default fix and cover them with canvas covers, but that doesn’t help the shapeless unsupportive design.
The dashboard was revised in the last 12 months and not before time. Because the V8 model originally came out without airbags it effectively ruled itself out of a lot of Government and mining business (that’s the reason why the Hilux became the biggest selling ute). This most recent offering has the revised dash with the round air vents (reminds me of XP Falcon tail lights) and driver’s and passenger airbags.
The instruments are bathed in a warm glow at night and hip, hip, hooray, that clumsy button atop the steering column that used to control the key/steering lock has been given the flick. One thing that has been retained, that’s good value, is the same air conditioning system. It’s always been very effective at cooling the cab quickly and remains so today. The heating/a/c controls are old school too, slides and cables, no digital electronic stuff… that’s good.
I don’t need electric windows so thankfully there are winders still, but I would have liked bigger (read wider) door mirrors. Another advance is the windscreen washer stalk. Pull the arm and the jets squirt and the wipers wipe at the same time. The old models had to be pulled and flicked to do the same job. Why???
So what’s it like to drive? Well it’s a part-time 4WD system and here it’s really showing its age. There’s manually locking hubs in the centre of the front wheels, offering a freewheeling and locked position. The transfer lever offers 2H (2WD), 4H (4WD High) and 4L (4WD Low). In 2H 100% of the drive goes to the back wheels only, the High and Low ranges split the drive equally 50/50%. In 4WD you need to be on a loose surface, high friction surfaces like bitumen, concrete and paving will wind up the transmission and if you’re not careful you’ll break it. Changing into Low range is sometimes troublesome, as you need to lift the transfer lever and pull back to pick up the position. The lockout spring is stiffly sprung and some users will struggle.
I think hubs are way past their use-by date, they create confusion and I’ve seen instances where they don’t work, either broken or assembled incorrectly at the factory. Unable to be successfully locked you won’t be able to get power to the front wheels. Here’s a trick though that’ll confirm whether they’re in or out. Always make the shift from 2H to 4H on the move (you can engage 4H in any gear at speeds up to and in excess of 80kph). If the transmission crunches the hubs aren’t locked (or are broken).
The main gear lever is a bit like the transfer lever. Until they’ve clocked up significant kilometres the action is very stiff and notchy. Whilst some blokes will warm to this, plenty of other users will find it overly rigid and annoying.
Whilst we’re talking gears, the spread used by Toyota needs a rethink. First is way too short and second runs out of puff pretty quickly too. The gulf between second and third though is enormous, whilst fourth and fifth follow in a logical sequence. You notice the third to second change being out of whack when slowing for a corner, use too much entry speed in third, change to second and pop the clutch, only to be rewarded with a chirp from the tyres as the back end locks up for a moment. This catches a lot of drivers out and it takes them a while to modify their driving style to suit.
Running the standard 7.50 Dunlops the steering is overly nervous. The combination of narrow track and skinny rubber has the Workmate doing a merry dance on most surfaces. When just about every 70 Series I get into has over-inflated tyres too, the steering wobbles are magnified even more (read the placard). A much better tyre fitment is Bridgestone’s 661 Desert Dueler. Marginally wider in a LT235/85R16 size the tyre steers the 70 a whole lot more accurately, will carry heavier loads with greater poise and without punctures. I’ve converted lots of Government and industry Land Cruiser 70 users to the 661 with fantastic results!
The split rims are a bit of an issue too. They’re too heavy and add a heap of unsprung mass to the suspension that contributes to axle tramp on corrugations. Changing them is a pain too when you’ve got a flat, they’re heavy to lift. A one-piece wheel is much lighter and a better bet.
Whilst we’re talking suspension (and Toyota is not alone here), the standard springs and shocks are average. Toyota have a bit of a juggle with the three vehicles in the range, the ute and troop carrier carry the bigger load and get the rigid rear springs, the wagon gets a median spring. One’s too soft, the others are too hard. ARB offers good alternatives and they’ll better carry the load.
So to the business end, a 4.5 litre V8 turbo-diesel sits up front. On the face of it, it should have plenty of mumbo, but the numbers don’t lie. Whilst there’s 151Kw of power, there’s only 430Nm of torque and torque is what you need in a 4WD. Commendably the maximum torque appears at 1200rpm and there’s plenty of flywheel mass for low speed lugging, but for a motor the size of the 70’s I’d want what the 200 Land Cruiser gets, 650Nm.
You really feel it in just about every driving situation. The gearing is too short and it runs out of steam especially when towing. It needs a six-speed gearbox to improve highway engine speed, but loads more torque. You can get 450Nm out of a 2.5 litre 4 cylinder diesel these days, so a motor nearly double the size should be putting out a lot more go.
Commendably this generation 70 retains the traditional effortless control in Low range that its predecessors have had. This vehicle has always had deep gearing and for serious off-road work you can putter around at a snail’s pace with complete confidence. Point it down a steep hill and it engine brakes superbly. Plenty of other makers could take a leaf out of Toyota’s book here.
The 70 series is still favoured by Government and industry for heavier loads and the only other serious alternative the Nissan Patrol looks like its going down the same path as the Land Cruiser 200, up-spec and wagon only which will be a shame because competition breeds better vehicles.
The earlier mentioned Defender isn’t an alternative for the masses; most people don’t understand Land Rovers, so the 70 series soldiers on under-developed. It’s an OK truck but in today’s safety driven world it needs an ABS brake option, more horsepower and a better interior.