Toyota 4×4 vehicle guide

Toyota build the widest range of four wheel drive vehicles of any manufacturer (by my account) in the world, which includes Land Cruiser pick-up derivatives (currently 70-series), Land Cruiser station-wagon (currently 200-series), FJ, Land Cruiser Prado (sometimes referred to as the 90-series), Hilux and its derivative, namely the Fortuner and lastly the RAV4. In the US market, there is a range found nowhere else, including the Tacoma, Tundra, Surf, 4Runner and many more. The vehicles reviewed here are those found outside the US. In addition there are the occasional other 4×4 manifestations, such as the Condor.


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In 1933 the automotive division of Toyota Automatic Loom Works was established. The origins of the Toyota Land Cruiser began some five years after the Second World War, when US Army Jeeps were a common sight in Japan. These were the only 4x4s available and at the time there was a need for a vehicle a little larger than the Jeep and one that could be built locally as part of the reconstruction program meant to revitalize Japan’s economy. The US Army and the Police Reserve approached Toyota Motor Corporation with a request to design and produce such a vehicle. Toyota used its experience gained during the war when it produced the light scout AK10. In only five months a Jeep-like prototype named the Toyota Jeep was built. Willys quickly pointed out that this name would be an infringement on its trademark, and in the following year it was given a new name – the Toyota Model B-85. Production commenced in 1953 and a year later, after 298 Model B-85s had been produced, so the name Land Cruiser made its mark on the world. Not surprisingly, it looked very much like an American Jeep. It had a split front windscreen, the only Toyota ever to have one, and was driven by a 6-cylinder 63kW engine and a gearbox that initially had no synchromesh whatsoever, but later was given syncros on the two top ratios only. The 1963, FJ25 model was a short wheelbase machine with a 6-cylinder 236 cubic-inch engine and part time four-wheel drive that could be engaged without stopping. This power plant remained the only engine available until 1968.

land cruiser M25

Exported from Japan in 1967, the 40 series FJ40 (SWB) and the FJ45 (LWB) and their replacements the FJ42 and FJ47, maintained the strictly military appearance of the earlier Land Cruisers while the 40 series maintained the looks of the earlier machines but came with a choice of hard and soft tops. The hard-top version featured a two-piece tailgate and small windows on the side at the rear. The LWB versions were offered with a pick-up, a soft-top, a canvas top and a cab-chassis options. The early 4-speed transmission was replaced by a 3-speed column shift with a 2-speed transfer gearbox. Between 1960 and 1968 few visual changes appeared, but ongoing mechanical improvements took place. The gear change was moved from the column to the floor and the rear axle diff, which had occupied a position in the middle of the axle, was moved to the position it occupies today. The 15-inch wheel rims were replaced with those measuring 16 inches.

land cruiser F

In 1968, the old “135″ petrol engine was replaced by a 3 873cc 6-cylinder unit that produced increased power and torque. In 1969 a station wagon version appeared in the form of the FJ55, the predecessor to the modern 60 series station wagons. This machine was the first four-door Cruiser, and was equipped with improved seating, better ventilation and heating and was far more modern in appearance than its predecessors. This vehicle introduced modern materials to the Land Cruiser such as plastic brake and clutch fluid reservoirs and disposable oil filters.
The 1971 range was improved when the engine was fitted with a twin barrel carburetor and the drive train was given Burfield constant velocity joints. Split wheel rims also made their debut. Tyre sizes went from 7.00 X 16 to 7.50 X 16. In 1972 the 3-speed box was replaced by a 4-speed unit and a heater/demister was fitted.
In 1975 perhaps the most significant range of improvements to the already very popular and top selling Land Cruisers were made. A brand new 6-cylinder power plant, the “2F” was introduced. It was a greatly improved 4230cc that produced 96 kW at 3600 rpm and a torque of 274 Nm at 1800 rpm. This was also the year that the first diesel engine was available to the Land Cruiser. The ‘H’ engine produced 70 kW at 3600 rpm and torque of 216 Nm at 2200 rpm. Diesel equipped vehicles were designated the ‘H’ series, and so the vehicle was known as the HJ45. Hazard warning flashers and inertia reel seat belts were added, and some anti-pollution equipment was plumbed into the engines. Brake lining area was increased and fully floating axles were introduced to all models. During the remainder of the 1970s, ongoing modifications appeared. A tubular spare wheel carrier, revised mirrors, a canvas top option for the LWB model, an 84-litre fuel tank, the ‘B’ series diesel engine, quarter vents and improved seating kept the Land Cruiser up with the times.
In the ‘80s and ‘90s the pickup was the 75-series, only available in a long wheelbase version in South Africa. Its design is old fashioned and rugged, very reliable and spare parts availablity second to none. There are a few station wagon variants of the FJ40 and FJ75 but these are rare and make excellent safari vehicles. Current Land Cruiser is the FJ95 and although similar in appearance is a different vehicle to the FJ75 in many respects. Wheelbase is longer, front springs are coil and the load bed is longer. Clearance and angles have been improved marginally and interior comforts while plain, have been improved. Engines are the 4,2-litre diesel and 4,5-litre petrol. The diesel is just about the only engine on the market not controlled by an engine-management computer.


Toyota Land Cruiser potted history:

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This can get a little confusing: The 76 station-wagon is the five-seat, five door wagon with a wheelbase of 2730 mm and is primarily designed as a people mover. The 78 wagon, a five seat (SA spec) three door high roof wagon with a wheelbase of 2980 mm primarily designed as a multiple people carrier and ideal for conversion (ambulance, overlander etc.) and lastly the 79-series, a two door load-carrying pickup with a wheelbase of 3180 mm. All three have live axles front and back, coil springs on the front and leaf springs on the back. Since 2007 these models have the widened front end developed to enable the fitting of Toyota’s first V8: the 4.5-litre, turbo-diesel, as fitted to the Land Cruiser 200. (not available in SA). All models share part-time four-wheel drive with auto and manual front hubs and front and rear diff-locks (standard in SA) give it a major advantage when things get sticky. The rear diff lock’s protection plate is inadequate and should be replaced before venturing into the really rough stuff. Interior is as drab and boring, (saved by a measure by the new dash) as in any vehicle, but in some way its lack of frills is appealing. Ventilation is much improved, there is a rev counter and gone it the hideous farm-pick-up steering wheel.

76 Station-Wagon

land cruiser 76

In 1985 a medium wheelbase version of the FJ pick-up was introduced in Asia and North Africa, but only found its way to South Africa in 2007 in the form of the 76-series wagon.  The 76’s ride is far easier on the back than the 79  pick-up so a suspension upgrade is more of a luxury than a must-have. Engine options are the familiar 4,2-litre diesel and nothing else, so it’s a bit underpowered. A solution is a low pressure turbo-charger. On the down side this is a four seater, not five: the centre section on the back seat is so hard it’s barely suitable for the family pet. Interior is not spacious and I found it a little cramped, and I am not a large-built individual. Early models (pre-airbags) came with the time-worn dashboard that had oodles of character and was very practical, but not particularly safe. Early 2010 a new interior was introduced with twin airbags and a more modern but still utilitarian feel. Thank goodness the steering-wheel, was changed to a very nice sporty look and feel, a vast improvement from what was an eyesore.Already stealing many Land Rover Defender customers tired of reliability and service issues, the 70 has a slab-slided, characterful exterior and is as rugged and reliable as it gets. In 2008 I made a direct comparison with the other great overland people carrier, the Land Rover Defender, with text and video. Click here to take a look.

78-Troop Carrier

Toyota land cruiser troop carrier

Toyota Land Cruiser 78-series ‘Troopy’

Called the Troopie in Australia, this is a five-seat, three door wagon which out of the showroom is about as dull and uninteresting as a 4×4 can get, but, given a makeover by a good 4×4 equipment specialist, it promises to be one of the most exciting introductions for the overland enthusiast to enter the market in years. It has been around for more than a decade, but here in South Africa, it’s new. During 2011 I am building one such vehicle and will be selling limited numbers. It’s the realization of a dream – to put all my knowledge into a vehicle, without restraint of any kind, and then to offer the vehicle as a branded conversion. (for more info, click here). For specifications of the 78, I suggest this link.


Offered with the same 1HZS diesel, there is also a petrol option, sadly not available in other 70-series vehicles. Gone is the extremely robust but thirsty 4,5-litre petrol engine for a modern 4.0 V6. Like all V6’s it produces its best power and torque at quite high revs, but it pushes this pickup along at quite a pace, and is much quieter and more refined than the straight six it replaced.It has the same new dash of the 76 and 78. This is about as rough and robust as a vehicle can get. If you are not loaning yours out to the farm workers, plan on changing the springs and shocks – the standard ride on a rough track is nothing short of back-braking torture, designed to break the driver long before itself.

toyota land cruiser 78

Land Cruiser Double-Cab


DSCN1656 toyota land cruiser double cab

One of the most effective and attractive adaptations of the 79 pick-up is a double-cab conversion done my Meano conversions in Krugersdorp (Gauteng, SA) They can take any 70-series Cruiser pick-up and build a double cab variant that looks, if you squint a bit, that it might have come out of the Toyota factory itself. The double-cab makes an absolutely splendid expedition vehicle. Build quality is good and the conversion is robust and well thought out, produced with a number of canopy variants for just about any need. The petrol is the better choice as the 4,2-diesel soon becomes tired with the extra weight and unless the vehicle spends the bulk of its time in the bush, it’s probably the better choice. Toyota have never built a double-cab variant of the 70-series pickup.

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LAND CRUISER station-wagons including the 55, 60, 80, 100, 105 and 200 series

I am unable to establish exactly when the first Land Cruiser station-wagon was released but it may have been in 1965. The vehicle shared the chassis of the pick-up but the body was completely different, designed to carry people more than heavy loads. This was the FJ55. In 1980 the FJ55 (Series-55) was replaced by the series 60. In tune with the growing leisure market in 4x4s, the FJ60 came equipped with luxuries like power steering, cloth seat trim and air-conditioning. There were petrol and diesel engines.

Land Cruiser FJ50 Stationwagon

Land Cruiser FJ50 Stationwagon

Land Cruiser FJ60 Stationwagon

Land Cruiser FJ60 Stationwagon

The FJ60 is still found working for its keep all over the Third World and have for many years been the most popular choice of many aid organisations. The leaf springs are softer than those found on pick-ups so passengers get a rougher ride when the going gets rough which can be exhausting as passengers are thrown about, but these springs give a superior ride on the tar. Heavy steering is power assisted and luxury items such as air conditioning are fitted to many models.


In 1990 a totally new station wagon entered the market; The FJ80. Land Cruiser fans may tell you, ‘This was Toyota’s finest hour’. Totally redesigned, it is the first Land Cruiser with all-round coil spring suspension. The 80-series was a major improvement in every sense, a fast and comfortable vehicle with improved off-road ability and an outstanding towing vehicle. In the rough the FJ80 is supremely confident and on-road, at speed it is exceptionally stable with steering feel superior to many. Fuel consumption of the petrol version is quite acceptable up to 120kph from which point it soars rapidly. But load the petrol version, and it is a guzzler of note. On the down side there are no jacking points for a high-lift jack and the spare wheel stowage under the load bay is a frustration and can create difficulties during rough-country travel. The FJ80 is built with various types of transmission, from the more familiar part-time four-wheel drive on the GX to full-time four-wheel drive with a lockable centre differential on the VX. With some VX models the spare wheel is stowed on the back door. Like the petrol, the 4,2 diesel is fine up to 120kph after which fuel consumption quickly becomes unacceptably high. By far the best engine options are the 4,2 twin valve turbo and multi-valve turbo found on later VX models. Both are outstanding performers: powerful, reliable and not overly thirsty.

Some say, the 80-series was created in, 'Toyota's finest hour'. It is an outstanding workhorse, overlander and people carrier.

Some say, the 80-series was created in, ‘Toyota’s finest hour’. It is an outstanding workhorse, overlander and people carrier.


The 100-series was launched in mid 1998, a development of the 80, retaining the solid axles on coil springs on the GX models (Also called the 105-series) but independent front suspension on the VX and V8. The GX is aimed at the off-roader who demands the very best in off-road performance. To this end the GX, in some countries including South Africa, is fitted with front and rear axle diff locks coupled to full-time four-wheel. The Cruiser-100 is a big vehicle in every sense but the balance of on-road comfort coupled with loadability and off-road performance is excellent, but for some drawbacks. Clearance between the axles is not enough and the spare wheel stowage under the load bay means that it protrudes into the path of even medium middle-track humps. If you are going to take this vehicle through challenging off-road conditions, this has to be remedied by either a heavy-duty suspension system or removing the spare wheel to an external carrier.
Engine options let down the GX because the familiar 4,5-litre 6-cylinder petrol is too heavy on fuel for an effective expedition vehicle and the 1HZ, 4,2-litre normally aspirated diesel can be underpowered to the point where cruising can be frustrating, particularly on mountainous roads. The 105-series with the 4.2 turbo-diesel as fitted to the VX would be a close-to-perfect 4×4 wagon but this configuration was never built anywhere. For anyone considering fitting an after-market turbo to the 1HZ, be aware that major engine failures are common problems and only a low pressure turbo-charger is advisable. Normal turbo-charging blows holes in the top of the pistons. I personally drive one of these and am, at the time of writing, fitting one such turbo-charger. My report on its performance will be on my website,

Land Cruiser 105 series has solid axles, front and back, unlike the 100 series with its independent front suspension.

Land Cruiser 105 series has solid axles, front and back, unlike the 100 series with its independent front suspension.

With uprated suspension, the 105 makes one of the best all round 4x4s ever built – comfortable on the long haul, but as tough as nails in the rough. I have owned two and love them. The 76-wagon is the current equivalent, although not nearly as good.

The 100, VX and V8 challenge the 4×4 limousine market but remain true off-roaders, given a little work needed to stiffen the suspension because air suspension doesn’t work very well under the loads needed for outback travel. The V8 is superbly refined, the fuel consumption is similar to the GX’s 4,5 petrol and the 4,2 liter turbo-diesel of the VX is an outstanding all rounder. Beyond this there is the V8 Lexus, refined to the point where off-road and load carrying performance is mediocre.


The Land Cruiser 200 series was launched mid 2007. It has the familiar V8 of the 100 series and an all new 4,5 V8 D4D diesel. This engine is a superb example of what the modern car-maker can do with diesel. Almost as smooth as the silky V8 petrol, as frugal as the 4.2 straight-six; but provides effortless power. I drag raced light-to-light a Range Rover Sport and easily out-ran it. (It wasn’t the supercharged RR!) But that unfortunately is where my praise for the 200 slows to a crawl. As usual, the VX is the top-spec model. The GX or lower spec version is a much better all-rounder. The VX is just too lavish and too electronic for overland travel, although I am sure it can handle it. The international press and buyer’s main criticisms of the 200 are its mediocre load carrying performance and also because I don’t think the 200 is as good as its predecessor. The 200 GX version is not like the 105, with solid axles, but it does have far less electronics and a ride that is better in the rough and easier to modify because it has springs and shocks and no electronics governing its suspension.  It is unlikely that a solid axle 200 will be built, given that the 76-series wagon has unworthily stepped into the 105’s shoes.
For overland travel expect to move the spare wheel from under the rear bumper and lift the suspension. But if you just want a really large vehicle with a better than average combined on and off road performance, the 200 is hard to beat.

Land Cruiser 200

Land Cruiser 200

Toyota's concept Mega Cruiser

Toyota’s concept Mega Cruiser

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The first generation Prado was a station-wagon development using a Land Cruiser pick-up styled cab very similar to the current Land Cruiser-70 wagon, first launched in the mid ‘80s. The first Prado to reach South Africa was the second generation and best known Prado, arriving in 1997. The Prado is a medium-sized luxury station-wagon with permanent four-wheel drive transmission with lockable centre and rear differentials, independent front coil spring suspension and a solid rear axle on coils. There were two engine options, a 3,4-litre V6 petrol and 3-litre 4-cylinder diesel. This model Prado is not well suited to heavy loads and vehicles built before about May 1998 had rear suspension problems that resulted in easy bottoming of the rear axle, even without a load. This was corrected to some degree on later models. Well cared for Prados easily reach 400 000kms before major work is needed, proof of a well-built workhorse.

Second generation Prado 3.0 GX

Second generation Prado 3.0 GX

The 2002 model, the third generation Prado was launched with more than just a styling update. It is an altogether more modern vehicle being quieter, smoother and more refined. It features a host of traction, stability and safety systems which has also improved its off-road ability over the older model. Engine power of the diesel is a little down over its chief rival the Pajero, on-road performance is on a par and off-road beats it by a small margin. Its steering is a little vague at speed and it would do well with stiffer rear springs. Suspension upgrades do wonders for Prados taken into the rough. The standard mag rims are 17”which is a disadvantage if outback travel is intended. The Prado can be regarded as a true Land Cruiser as it is heavily built and rugged, although it doesn’t look like it at first glance. One weakness is its tailgate hinges which seem inadequate for the weight of the spare wheel, and they are known to break. The Prado remains one of the very best compromises between family station-wagon and tough off-roader.

Third generation Prado 3.0 VX. Also called the 102-series.

Third generation Prado 3.0 VX. Also called the 102-series.

The 2009 Prado has moved the Prado firmly into electronic territory with the introduction of ride height control and stability control. Also, the 3.0D4D

is uprated and while considerably better that the diesel it replaces, falls short of performance delivered by its chief rival; the Discovery-4. The stability control is astonishing when coupled to a trailer, Prado’s handling is truly brilliant. Interior is plusher, with cameras monitoring parking operations and a on-board mapping screen, which although easy to use on a nice big screen, the map software is close to useless as delivered to vehicles in South Africa. (you’re still going to want to use your TomTom).

Forth generation Prado. Also called the 150-series.

Forth generation Prado. Also called the 150-series.

For lovers of 4×4 and off-road, the TX is by far the better choice and I understand that while early models had no rear diff lock, rear diff lock is soon to become standard. The TV version is adapted for overland use by AutoGraph.

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When launched in 2007, Fortuner brought some good news and some better news. The good news was that is had no traction control, no on-board navigation system, no hill-descent control, no fancy 17” mag rims and no associated high price tag. The better news was that the Fortuner had permanent four-wheel drive with lockable centre differential, locked four-wheel drive, it had good old 16” wheel rims, good ground clearance and petrol and diesel models are both powerful and lively and not thirsty: All the ingredients that make up an effective off-road family wagon.

I rate Fortuner as one of the best-value 4x4 wagons available today.

I rate Fortuner as one of the best-value 4×4 wagons available today.

The Fortuner’s front end looks like a stylised Hilux and that is exactly what it is. As part of their IMV (International Multi-purpose Vehicle) project it is, to put it crudely, a Hilux station-wagon. But this statement could be misleading, for I assure you, this is no pick-up. While the Fortuner uses the Hilux’s front end, the rear end, including the chassis and suspension is completely different.
On-road both petrol and diesel models ride well, The moment I passed 120kph, I realised that this is no remodelled pick-up. It’s sure-footed, comfortable, has a firmish ride but handles corrugations with exemplary manners. Off-road the Fortuner has a gearbox and transfer box that are among the smoothest in the business and the auto-version even has a low-gear lockup. This is a function of the auto transmission that prevents it from moving into a higher gear when going down steep slopes.
Clearance is quite good, and quite adequate for some fairly challenging off-road driving. The suspension is on the firm side, which means off-road occupants are not thrown about overly much, unlike the Hilux. It will bottom its front suspension reasonably easily so an aggressive off-road driving style will be quickly felt. The only other criticism is the small fuel tank. There is nowhere to fit a larger one unless the spare wheel is relocated by replacing the rear bumper with a bumper wheel carrier, all expensive and weighty.

It might look like a trend street-car, but Fortuner has low range gearing, good clearance and very good off road performance.

It might look like a trend street-car, but Fortuner has low range gearing, good clearance and very good off road performance.

There have been isolated reports of roll-over accidents with Fortuner, and as usual in cases like these, one complaint on an Internet forum can lead to unreasonable press and public questioning of the vehicle’s safety. Having researched the issue in detail, my conclusion is that Fortuner may have less degree of intolerance for overloading and incorrect tyre pressures than is usual, and there are inconsistencies in the shock absorbers fitted. There could even have been a manufacturing fault which only occurred on some vehicles. I say this because I thoroughly tested three Fortuners on three occassions and loved it, every time. At no time did I feel its stability to be even slightly questionable.

While I found the Fortuner an outstanding performer on gravel, owners should earnestly heed the warning: overloading, poorly loaded trailers and under-maintained tyre pressures may make Fortuner unpredictable on gravel surfaces. Because, like the Hilux, Fortuner is under-shocked, if this doesn’t work, change the shock absorbers for something much firmer.
The 2009 face-lift introduced improved climate control, cruise-control, stability control, a larger tank and 17” wheel rims. The 3.0 D4D engine is my engine of choice although the petrol is also fantastic. I cannot express how impressed I am with the Fortuner and it is without doubt the very best of the lower-priced 4×4 wagons.

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Once called ‘The Workhorse of Africa’ the Hilux 4×4 first made its appearance in 1979, 10 years after the first 4×2 Hilux was introduced. This vehicle shared many body components with the one-ton Stout. In 1984 the body was redesigned and with it South Africa’s first double-cab configuration met with immediate success. The country’s 4×4 leisure market got what it wanted: A true loadable workhorse that could carry passengers too.

The first 4x4 Hilux was based on the 1-ton Scout

The first 4×4 Hilux was based on the 1-ton Scout

In 1989 the Hilux became the first diesel 4×4 pick-up on the market and in 1991 the well known Raider models were introduced. In 1998 the Hilux changed what I believe to be fundamental to its success in Africa – the suspension layout. The old model Hilux has simple and very robust leaf spring axle mountings. The solid axles and massive ground clearance are what made it such a formidable off-roader. If you are considering purchasing a vehicle in this class and expect it to work hard in difficult conditions then you cannot do better than the old Hilux. Renowned for reliability, it was built with a 2.2 or 2.4-litre 4-cylinder petrol and a 2.4-litre diesel engines.

When the Hilux 4x4 first arrived it competed with vehicles such as the Land Rover series-3, which it outperformed in most off road situations, was lighter, more reliable but just as uncomfortable

When the Hilux 4×4 first arrived it competed with vehicles such as the Land Rover series-3, which it outperformed in most off road situations, was lighter, more reliable but just as uncomfortable

The general criticism was that the Hilux’s suspension has always been too harsh but could be put down to the fact that the vehicle was designed to carry a load under adverse conditions. In the case of the old Hilux the suspension was not compromised to a great extent and the occupants paid for it by having to endure a back-breaking ride in the rough. Although the Hilux is tough it does not like to be overloaded and can be broken if this is done. In pre-1985 versions the battery support bracket is prone to failure and, although this was improved with later models, it often fails in vehicles used in off-road conditions. A most worthwhile modification to the old Hilux to improve the ride and its off-road performance is Old Man Emu suspension.

The first major mechanical and styling change came with the launch of an all new Hilux in 1998. Its introduction brought fear and dread to die-hard Hilux lovers because real off-roaders know that nothing compares to solid axles when you’re off-road. It is true that solid axles offer many advantages off-road and a few disadvantages on-road but the new Hilux is clear proof that only in the most difficult conditions is a well set up independent front suspension a disadvantage worth noting.

This was the first Hilux to independent front suspension.

This was the first Hilux to independent front suspension.

There is no doubt that the 2nd generation Hilux’s popularity did not wain one bit and it remained one of the best in its class, although it was at about this time that the well-worn phrase, ‘The Workhorse of Africa’, seemed no longer apt. The engine line-up improved the Hilux’s appeal, especially the 2,7-litre fuel injected petrol that has good acceleration and is easy to drive off-road. The 3-litre diesel, is not unlike the earlier model 2400 petrol in difficult conditions as it is a little underpowered. For a while Toyota built a turbo-charged version of this engine but it was a disaster in terms of reliability and they all overheated. It was quickly withdrawn from production. The introduction of the KZTE turbo-diesel managed to set the trend for high performance diesel-turbo pick-ups and it took some years for its competitors to catch up.

In 2005 the third generation Hilux was introduced. Its chassis is a combination of Prado front and Hilux back. The ride on the road is by far the most refined of all the pick-ups, with only the Triton coming close. Its ride off-road, on rough tracks and the kind of terrain that throws the vehicle around a bit, the Hilux is not as comfortable as most of its competitors. The suspension feels very soft, sometimes too soft and a set of firm gas shock absorbers would probably improve it a great deal. Clearance is also not as good as its predecessor. The V6 is the best engine in its class: A comparison with similar Ford or Nissan engines makes them feel quite old fashioned, and the 3.0 D4D turbo diesel is stunning in its versatility and flexibility. Toyota’s engines, which were not so long ago out-performed by many rivals, are brilliant. Late 2008 there came a face lift but one has to look hard to tell the difference. With it, versions equipped with a well-refined auto gearbox became available in both petrol and diesel double-cabs. This I think is the smoothest of all the double-cab auto derivatives.


Hilux has always been a trend-setter in this market and an example to other manufacturers who have been for years trying to keep up. In many cases, particularly with engines, they have, but chassis, not. Hilux remains even today probably the hardiest and break-proof pickups worldwide. With the current line of D4D engines, as good as any mid sized diesels built today, Hilux remains a difficult act to follow.

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The only reason why the RAV-4 remains part of this list is that it was the very first ‘soft-roader’ to appear. Interestingly, it was originally built as a concept car, but little did they know, Toyota had introduced a whole new type of street-wise 4×4. While the first RAV-4 had no low gearing, it had good clearance and performed brilliantly in sand and dune country, better than almost all the 4×4 heavies in sandy terrain. Available in both a two and four-door version, the only change to the original design was a cosmetic upgrade in mid 1998.

First generation RAV4 in SWB

First generation RAV4 in SWB

In 2000 the second generation RAV-4 which lacked all the original models off-road ability, was launched. Gone is the ground clearance and crisp handling. All further revisions have taken it more and more on road until now it is nothing more than a 4WD Corolla and it isn’t even cute anymore.

Second generation Rav4 was a disappointment.

Second generation Rav4 was a disappointment.


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The Condor wasn't a success and withdrawn from production not long after it was launched.

The Condor wasn’t a success and withdrawn from production not long after it was launched.

The Condor is a light-duty station-wagon off-roader and has proved itself to be competent off-road as well as a reasonably comfortable long distance cruiser. Available with 2,4 petrol and 3.0 diesel engines, the transmission is full-time 4WD, centre diff-lock and a low range transfer gearbox. The chassis is a high-strength ladder frame and suspension is front independent torsion bars and on the rear, leaf springs and a live axle. While the Condor cannot be regarded as a serious off-roader many are being used successfully for extended safaris. Its weakness is that it is not a particularly stable vehicle and so, from a safety point of view, not ideally suited to the wearing of a loaded roof-rack. Failures of front drive shafts were reported but these were determined to be caused by drivers using sharp brake activation during wheel spin, to simulate the actions of a differential lock. Condor production ceased in 2005.



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toyota land cruiser FJ


Based on the Prado chassis, the FJ Cruiser is an odd mix of the fabulous and the impractical. It’s a great drive, on the road. And off it, it’s every bit as good. I love this car! Fun, fast, easy to drive, and in the rough, over rocks and on the trail, it is not just competent, it’s brilliant. And, what is so good, it’s good even without spending another dime on it. Perhaps a set of off-road tyres would be advisable, but that is all. And if that isn’t enough, add some larger wheels, lift it a bit and it’s an outstanding off-roader. I had one of these for a full day and loved every second. But would I buy one?

Maybe. While I loved it for a day, would I love it for a couple of years?

Firstly, I have a family. I wouldn’t put my dog in the back of an FJ. I would be cruel. It’s not just cramped back there; it’s claustrophobic. It may be the world’s only four-door, two seater vehicle. (the rear doors are opened from the inside once the front doors are open) The rear seats are there for something to put the shopping on. And not surprisingly, rearward vision is not good at all, and the odd shape makes parking in a tight spot a bit tricky. There is not lots of space in the back for an outback trip, although this can easily be corrected with a roo-rack. But for two people, for the weekend trail and the occasional overland trip, it could do very well indeed. The ride is excellent, on tar and rough track, the steering a little vague (like the Prado) but its not a deal breaker, and the dashboard and interior is spartan to the point where the lack of features is attractive. The flashes of painted steel are just enough to make a statement without looking cheap. No carpets, which I like very much, because the sound insulation is good, and they are easy to clean. For me, it’s the ideal solution for a dual purpose vehicle such as this.

Secondly the engine. Because the 4.0 petrol V6 engine is the only option, the FJ Cruiser is a going to be a bit pricey to run. A D4D version, I am sure, would sell very well. But it’s unlikely to happen, given that this vehicle was developed for the US market, and has been given to smaller markets like Australia and South Africa, where it has not really taken off. And I believe this is the reason why.