We’re already fans of Toyota’s Land Cruiser – especially the low-spec Utility model that came to market last year. The more modest trimmings made what is a fantastic off-roader more off-roadable, as by removing the jewels and luxury furnishings you were no longer driving a car that was fifty grand, but one that could be had for less than forty. Well, here we have a version that costs less than thirty – and it’s a van.
As you’d expect, the interior of the commercial version is a step more basic than that in the Utility. You’ve got solid build quality and good materials, as you’d expect from Toyota, and a basic, no-frills design. The interior is no-nonsense, but still has an element of character about it. The various controls are simple and pleasing to command, and the materials feel like they’d last a lifetime. There’s something refreshing and charming about being in a vehicle that is unapologetically work-biased and simply not fazed by the creature comforts and toys that many competitors with a truck bed bring to the fore.
You get a radio that reaches into the air to pluck out AM and FM signals, and begrudgingly allows you to connect your phone via Bluetooth – nigh on negating whether it’s smart or not. The system is simple to use, and the other controls on the dashboard are all good old-fashioned dials, switches and buttons which make it ideal for the working life.
Behind the driver, almost immediately, is a caged bulkhead. This has a door in it to make it easier when reaching into the cargo space which replaces the rear seats. Being the three-door short wheelbase model, that cargo space is a sizeable 1,574-litres. The surface is a bit scratchy and isn’t the grippiest finish, so things will slide about to an extent, particularly if you’re lightly packed, but it seems tough and should last for ages.
The two remaining seats are sturdy cloth-cloaked numbers that are both supportive and plush enough to sink into on longer journeys. The manual adjustments give you plenty of room for manoeuvre and therefore drivers of all shapes and sizes can reliably find comfort – which is ideal as the Land Cruiser is likely to be in the hands of a fleet. Nowadays it’s easy for functional interiors to feel basic and dated, whereas there’s a balance struck here that avoids that. Whilst the radio and gadgets aren’t cutting edge, they are at least new rather than their counterpart from a decade ago that serve the same purposes.
Let’s start with a bit of an aside, here. In the light commercial vehicle class, the Land Cruiser is predominantly up against pick-up trucks, so it is relevant how it performs in comparison.
When you’re driving a pick-up without any load in it, you’ve essentially got a compromised ride as the stiff rear springs have to be ready to shoulder the best part of a tonne. Here in the Land Cruiser, the springs don’t have so much of a responsibility and the weight of the payload is shared more so between the two axles. The Land Cruiser has more weight within the wheelbase, too, and this means it’s spritely and unerringly comfortable on the road. This agility is certainly helped by a responsive 175bhp turbodiesel unit, with the full quota of 310lbf.ft available as low down as 1,200rpm.
Aiding the acceleration in the agility stakes is a positive steering feel through the rack and pinion set-up that is enjoyably agricultural as much as it is easy to use. You can have fun working the wheel on a B-road, but it is also usefully manoeuvrable in residential climes and cities with a turning circle of 10-metres – the VW Golf, by comparison, almost two metres more. Add in a total length a fraction under 4.4-metres long and less than 1.9-metres wide, the Land Cruiser feels relatively small and the grooves on the bonnet make it easy to place both on and off-road. There’s also a useful display on the driver info screen that highlights steering angle – which will come in handy if you take the Land Cruiser into its natural habitat.
There’s a moan from the engine under acceleration that is somewhat industrial, but the peppiness of the motor means the Land Cruiser soon settles back into what is a pleasantly sedate cruise. Wind and road noise are surprisingly limited, with the main culprit for noise pollution being the caged bulkhead. This, though, only makes itself known when potholes or speedbumps come into play, so whilst it happens more often than you’d like (blame Brexit) it isn’t anything worthy of real concern. It isn’t a loud rattle but unladen there is an echo – filling the loadspace will diminish this, although depending what you pack there could of course be rattling tools and parts to contend with. We found the radio loud enough to drown out any interruptions anyway.
Whilst fuel economy isn’t overwhelming – the 2.8-litre four-cylinder supping a gallon of diesel over the course of 37.6 miles. But the fact that the fuel tank is huge, holding 87 litres, means that you’d be reasonable to expect over 600 miles to a tank, even if you were averaging closer to 30mpg.
We found the Land Cruiser to be incredibly versatile, and for something that is formidable off-road and designed to haul gear it’s unbelievably good on the road. Most surprising of all, it isn’t just good – it’s a great laugh to drive.
We’re fans of the Land Cruiser in all of its guises, and in particular the down-to-earth Utility spec and this commercial version retains everything we loved about the civilian workhorse. It comfortably ticks all of the boxes it needs to – and more to boot – but doesn’t do anything that compromises the brief with which it was built.
It will do the hard graft, the towing, the haulage and traverse terrains far less than desirable, all without flinching in the same way that earnt the nameplate its hardy reputation. But it does so with great value and such composure and comfort that its tricky to praise it highly enough. So easily, the commercial version could’ve felt cheap, basic and unappealing in situations where it isn’t viewed as a tool. But this Land Cruiser is every bit as polished as the plain clothed siblings that’ll probably spend most of their service on a commute. Yes, it would be nicer with DAB radio, parking sensors and a camera, heated seats and all of the other garnish – but none of that is required on a work site. Importantly, it keeps the price of the truck down, and brings the entry into the Land Cruiser range down with it – to a base figure of £26,636. The intervals for servicing are reasonable, with whichever arrives first out of 12 months and 10,000 miles.
You’ll be better served with a one-tonne pick-up if your work requires a higher payload and towing capacity, but the Land Cruiser will be able to go places that no pick-up on the market can reach off the shelf. It’s also more comfortable that just about all of them in day-to-day life when it comes to the way it handles the road.
It’s not a vehicle that is going to change the light commercial vehicle sector, but for the niche that was crying out for something like it, simply put, it hits the nail on the head.