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Off-road test: Lion Heart


Words and pictures by Grant Spolander.

I long ago learnt never to criticise a 4×4 and its overland ability; nor to assign any titles or categories. For example: it would be easy to tag the Jimny as a toy 4×4 with less packing space than a Lion matchbox, and, therefore, an impossible vehicle to overland in. Yet, we often see readers trekking deep into African with their beloved Suzukis.

Nonetheless, it’s safe to say that there are distinctive characteristics that make some 4x4s better suited to overland travel than others. In no particular order, they are: comfort, off-road capability, reliability, payload capacity, packing volume, fuel efficiency, and spare-part availability. The tricky part is finding a 4×4 that offers all of the above. On that note, the Land Cruiser 70 SW (or LC76) is often patented as The Ultimate Overland Rig. However, the title is based solely on the LC76’s renowned reliability, and ignores the fact that its 4.2-litre diesel engine (1HZ) is slower than a malnourished carthorse begging for a bullet to the head. Personally, I’ve never thought this vehicle to be worthy of the Ultimate Overlander title – but that was before Toyota dropped a diesel V8 under the hood, when, like a Disney fairy tale, the poor pony morphed into a mustang stud.

At 4 910 mm, the LC76 is shorter than it looks, and not much longer than the Fortuner. Much of the Cruiser’s bulk is dedicated to its large bonnet area, which measures roughly 1550mm from the front bumper to the inside firewall. At the rear, the boot area measures 1085mm deep. What’s left is just 2275mm of dedicated cabin space and not much legroom for rear-seated passengers. Plus, the 2nd row seat is of the bench-type variety, so the backrest can’t be split in two.

On the upside, the Cruiser 76 features large, light-filling windows and a high roofline; both qualities impart a sense of roominess and give a terrific view of the terrain around you. Couple this last feature with the vehicle’s boxy, clean-cut proportions, and you’ll find the Cruiser to be incredibly easy to navigate off-road.

An obvious oversight is the Cruiser’s lack of 12 V plug points – you get two up front, but nothing in the rear or cargo area. Boot volume, however, is commendable – with 854-litres on offer. In addition, the Cruiser’s broad, long roofline and gutter mounted system makes it ideal for the fitment of a large roofrack. For example, Front Runner’s LC76 roofrack offers up to 3.1 square meters of extra packing room.

As is to be expected, the LC76 is near unstoppable off-road, particularly over rocky terrain. And it’s not just the Cruiser’s impressive clearance measurements – or the fact that it’s equipped with front and rear diff-locks – that make it so impressive; the true magic lies in the LC76’s terrific new 4.5-litre V8 diesel engine.

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