The ‘default’ choice for heavy-duty towing in Australia is undoubtedly the Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series. With its roomy interior, comfy ride, twin turbo-diesel grunt and off-road ability – not to mention effortless towing performance -- the five-door ‘Cruiser wagon is hard to beat.
But now there’s another four-door, five-seat LandCruiser option that is just as capable towing a big trailerboat out to the ramp, or a heavy caravan on the Big Lap around Australia.
In late-2012 Australia was the first country to receive the dual-cab ute version of Toyota’s 70 Series LandCruiser ‘workhorse’ range. Little changed since the 1980s, the popular, tough-as-nails 70 Series was previously only available as a single cab ute, wagon and Troop Carrier.
But Toyota finally relented to requests from recreational enthusiasts, not to mention its core market of mining and rural buyers, and introduced the dual-cab version, which seats five adults reasonably comfortably while hauling close to one tonne in the rear tray and three and half tonnes off the towball.
Like the ‘old school’ Land Rover Defender ute, the LC79 ute is a spartan, almost agricultural affair, with little in the way of hi-tech equipment found on the 200 Series LandCruiser or latest crop of lifestyle-oriented dual-cab utes.
As a result, the 70 Series even in its latest, dual-cab ute form remains a truck-like, no-frills workhorse available in just two grades, Workmate and GXL.
Both come with 130-litre fuel-tank capacity, stump-pulling 4.5-litre turbo-diesel V8 engine, long-throw five-speed manual gearbox and part-time 4WD with two-speed transfer case.
While the 70 Series was upgraded recently with a better audio system (with Bluetooth and voice recognition), improved seats, standard fit air intake snorkel, and front and rear diff locks (standard on GXL models), the standard equipment list remains sparse.
The basic ‘hose out’ Workmate features 16-inch steel split rims, aluminium side steps, vinyl seat facings and floor coverings, and black bumpers, while the GXL gets 16-inch alloy wheels, over-fender flares, remote central locking, differential locks, fog lamps, power windows, carpet and cloth seats.
It might be cheerful but it’s not cheap, with the GXL version tested here costing $67,990, making it the most expensive dual-cab ute on the market. And that’s not including air-conditioning or heavy-duty tray fitted, which adds another $5000 or so.
That’s almost $20,000 more than the top-spec Mazda BT-50 which offers similar towing performance and vastly superior comfort, safety and on-road manners. Like most LandCruisers, you’re paying a premium for bulletproof construction and the off-road brand’s well-earned reputation for reliability and longevity.
In case you were wondering, the LC79 dual-cab ute was created by using the rear doors from the 76 Series wagon and fitting them to an extended 79 Series ute cabin.
The new body sits on the same 3180mm wheelbase as the single-cab ute which puts the cargo tray behind the rear-axle line to accommodate the larger cabin.
Underneath, you’ll find a ladder-frame chassis, while live axles both fore and aft feature soft-riding coil springs up front and load-bearing leaf springs at the rear.
Safety is also in the minimalist category. Despite recently gaining anti-lock brakes, the 70 Series only manages three safety stars due to the lack of side curtain airbags or electronic stability control.
ON THE ROAD
Truck-like is the best way to describe the driving experience of a 70 Series LandCruiser. As with any 4X4 worth its salt, the driver is perched high (on reasonably comfy cloth seats), affording excellent views across the big, flat bonnet.
Borrowed from the 76 wagon, the rear seat provides a wide, flat pew with ample space for three adults, although there’s not as much legroom as in a HiLux ute. The centre position misses out on a three-point seatbelt and headrest, compromising safety, and there are no provisions in the back seat for the fitting of child seats.
Even with just two people on board, acceleration is leisurely from the turbocharged 4.5-litre V8, which has 220 less Newton metres of torque than the perkier, twin-turbo LC 200 Series.
But what it misses out in outright grunt, the LC79 makes up for in stump-pulling low-down torque. Delivering 151kW at 3400rpm and 430Nm from just 1200rpm through to 3200rpm, the under-stressed V8 boasts the flattest torque curve of any Toyota engine in the local market.
The long-throw gear changes can be a chore, but luckily they are kept to a minimum as the engine will work willingly from as low as 800rpm in fifth gear. The downside is over-revving at freeway speeds -- around 2500rpm in top gear -- which boosts fuel consumption. And cabin noise from the rumbling engine and wind noise around the large, manually-adjusted exterior mirrors, is rowdy at the best of times.
Dual-cab utes are notorious for big turning circles, and the LC79 ute’s is one of the worst. It makes inner city U-turns or parking in tight suburban shopping centres almost impossible.
The big ute also wallows through corners, requiring heavy braking before attempting sharper turns even at lower speeds. With no load out the back, the leaf-sprung ride ranges from relatively comfortable over smooth freeway to jittery and bumpy on B-roads and rougher tracks.
You can’t complain about its off-road credentials though. It has all the right gear including front and rear diff locks as well as 235mm ground clearance (unladen), and 700mm wading depth.
The part-time four-wheel drive system uses old-style manual locking hubs, and further muscle is required to activate low range via the separate gear lever.
While a tonne short of its maximum towing capacity, the 2400kg Robalo fishing boat and trailer we hooked up for our tow test provided a decent indication of the LC79’s steam train-like towing ability.
Under tow, it sat down visibly at the rear, but this wasn’t noticeable at the wheel. If it’s a concern, Toyota offers a Load distribution hitch for $495 as part of its factory accessories range.
Otherwise, the extra weight out back served to smooth out the unladen ute and no doubt another 850kg or so in the tray would settle the rear end further.
The two and half tonne trailer only slightly dulled acceleration, and we have little doubt it would cope easily with the full 3500kg, as well as another 850kg or so in the tray, given the specified 3300kg GVM.
Another plus as a tow tug are the huge side mirrors, which can be manually-adjusted wide enough so that aftermarket towing mirrors aren’t required.
Fuel economy isn’t a strongpoint though. Toyota quotes an official combined figure of 9.1L/100km, and another carsales.com.au road test achieved 11.1L/100km. On this occasion we averaged around 15.0L/100km over a combination of towing and solo driving.
A dual-cab ute version of Toyota’s popular 70 Series workhorse has been a long time coming. While it boosts its appeal to family buyers, you can’t hide the fact it remains a hardcore work vehicle at heart.
Built for the toughest applications, it really only makes sense if you plan to spend a lot of time in the mud or sand. The noisy cabin and poor road manners also make it harder to live with on a daily basis.
Most recreational buyers after a heavy-duty ute would be better served by a more modern, comfy and cheaper option like the Ford Ranger or the mechanically identical Mazda BT-50 which are both equally capable of towing over three tonnes.
Engine: 4.5-litre, V8 turbo-diesel
Max. power: 151kW at 3400rpm
Max. torque: 430Nm at 1200-3200rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual
Ground clearance: 235mm
Kerb mass: 2205kg
Fuel: 130 litres
Towing cap. unbraked/braked: 750kg/3500kg
Tow ball mass maximum: 350kg
Fuel economy (claimed): 11.9L/100km
Price: $67,990 (MRRP)
Options fitted (not included in above price): Tow bar kit $495; air conditioning $2761, heavy-duty steel tray $2508, headboard mounted spare tyre hangar $73