Take a look at the photograph on this page. What do you see? You see two über SUVs, parked nose to tail. You see a rugged, arid landscape, with the setting sun casting light on the hills in the distance. What you don’t see, because of the scale of the SUVs within the overall photo, is that these things are almost 40 feet in combined length, including the gap between them in the photo. Forty feet, for heaven’s sake! You could seriously hurt yourself if you jumped off a 40-foot height. What I’m trying to say is that normal points of reference don’t apply here; you think you’ve got your mind around one set of dimensions, and another one comes along and smacks you in the face.
These vehicles are unashamedly and overwhelmingly about size, make no mistake – they’re not mucking about when it comes to sheer dimensions and engine capacity. If you let them loose, which one delivers the knock-out punch? I stood back and watched the fun (actually I participated with much gusto, but you get the idea).
You lookin’ at me, punk?
Let’s begin with the Oriental contender first. The current Land Cruiser isn’t that old a design, but in the company of the GL, it looks dated. In fact, it looked dated when it was launched, but that didn’t stop it from becoming as popular as its predecessor. The LC was never about cutting-edge design, anyway – it set out to be a tough, utilitarian vehicle, and it achieves that goal admirably. You look at the LC and you think ‘My god, this thing could hurt me’; there’s nothing subtle about its vast bulk, its acres of sheet metal and its massive face. You won’t find any sharp lines or dinky creases on this Goliath; the LC is all about rounded edges (very big ones, some the size of a Nano) and maximum visual impact. It’s a large, blunt weapon, and it makes no bones about that fact. It works very well, too, in a curious way – you shouldn’t really like it, but you can’t but help appreciate the sheer brazenness of its excess. As Srini had said about a different Toyota in the previous issue – ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ This design has worked for Toyota for years now, and it’s not likely to change any time soon.
The GL500 is the polar opposite of its Japanese counterpart. To the LC’s curves and soft edges, the German throws in sharp lines and creases; where the LC brandishes a baseball bat, the GL discreetly carries a Walther PPK in its inner pocket. There’s absolutely no doubt that the GL is as gargantuan as the LC (it’s actually a little longer); it’s just that it manages to disguise its size in a very sophisticated way. It looks crisp and fresh (ignore the images of lettuce that come to mind), and it’s a design that will look contemporary even a few years hence. You won’t find the GL out on the sand dunes near Dubai (although I’m sure it’s capable of roughing it), which is the LC’s natural environment; the Mercedes looks much more at home drawing up to the portico of a swanky club or office.
Land Cruiser: 3/5
Get in the car
The story continues in a similar vein once you step inside the cabins. Everything in the LC is super-sized, in keeping with its life philosophy. Each door handle is enormous; the central touchscreen display is almost like a plasma TV; the buttons on the aircon, touchscreen display and steering wheel are huge. All this reinforces the LC’s primary purpose of utilitarianism – in places where it’s freezing cold, and people wear thick gloves, it doesn’t pay to have controls and buttons the size of Tic-Tacs. Even King Kong wouldn’t have a problem operating these buttons, they’re that big. The mini-fridge, between the front seats, is fantastic – it cools in minutes and keeps things that way, which is an absolute must when you’re bashing about in the desert. The LC seats seven in reasonable comfort, and its black leather seats are very comfortable indeed; only the people in the third row might feel a bit constricted, because of the LC’s high floor. Black is the predominant colour here, and although it’s all quite tasteful and the materials are of very high quality, all that blackness takes away from a sense of space; also, like the exterior, the cabin too feels dated.
The GL picks beige as its primary interior palette, and this immediately makes the cabin feel roomier, and a touch more classy. The wood and chrome inserts here stand out better, and although the controls aren’t as large as in the LC, they’re nicer to look at and to touch. The seats are made of the finest leather, but they’re stiffer than those in the LC, and I found myself more comfortable in the big Toyota over a longer distance. The third row of seats is more ergonomic than in the LC, because of the lower floor, and in general the GL’s cabin looks like it’s giving you more value for the money you’ve spent on it. It’s a close one, because the LC’s cabin is both functional and fairly luxurious, but in this particular stratosphere, where perceptible luxury is everything, the GL wins the round.
Land Cruiser: 3.5/5
Step on it...
… and when you do, hold on tight. Both vehicles have stonking great V8s in their cavernous engine bays, with the LC getting a 4.4-litre diesel engine with 282 bhp and a staggering 66 kgm of torque. Need to tear down that shed in your backyard? A strong piece of rope and an LC are all you need. This engine, the first common-rail diesel that Toyota developed, is among the quietest and most refined V8s of any sort you’re likely to find, and it has a torque curve that’s flatter than a flatlining ECG machine.
It’s not rapid, however – even with two turbos, hauling close to three tonnes isn’t a joke, so a 0-100 kph run will take 12.13 seconds. The six-speed auto ’box and a full-time 4WD system with limited slip differential handle all the torque, and a vast array of electronic safety doodads prevent things from getting out of hand – get its enormous behind even slightly out of whack and warning beeps fill the cabin as the nannies slap your wrist. Despite its bulk, the LC is extremely easy to drive, the engine willing to play along in almost any sort of traffic (or no-traffic) situation, and the sense of drama you feel, sitting high up and surveying all before you, adds to the driving experience significantly.
When you floor the loud pedal on the GL500, you hear the typical ‘distant thunder’ rumble that a 5.4-litre, 388 bhp, 54 kgm petrol V8 produces – along with the sound of the world’s oil-fields being dried up (seriously – the GL gave us just over 5 kpl). This is the same engine that goes into the S-Class as well, but in the GL it sounds much more aggressive. Performance, as you might expect, is eye-opening – if you ever feel the need to do standing starts in a massive seven-seater, the GL500 will oblige with a 0-100 kph run in 6.9 seconds, which is quicker than, say, the BMW 330i sedan, and a top speed in excess of 220 kph. The seven-speed auto box works flawlessly, both in traffic and out on the highway, and you have the confidence of knowing that a touch of the accelerator is all it takes for the GL to rocket away from, well, whatever it is you’re rocketing away from. This car is one of those rarities in the automobile world; it’s a (ultra luxe) people-carrier that’s actually fun to drive. All that remains is for M-B India to offer us something like the GL550, with a V8 diesel – the GL will then have an ideal mix of outright performance and a measure of fuel economy. As things stand, though, the GL500 is an absolute hoot to drive.
Land Cruiser: 4/5
Can you handle it?
You normally wouldn’t expect something like the LC to handle very well, but you’d be wrong. For something this big, the Toyota handles astonishingly well – high-speed lane changes are effortless, hard braking doesn’t unsettle it and (gasp!), if you fling it into a corner, it’ll go through with aplomb. Take it off road and it’s even more impressive; it feels like it’ll eat the end of the world for breakfast, sucking smaller SUVs into its grille while it’s at it. As a go-anywhere vehicle, the only word to describe it is ‘crushing’. Throw in its luxury interiors and it’s hard to find anything that comes close.
The GL is equally astonishing on tarmac, handling more like a sedan when you power into corners, and it really makes you want to push it as far as you dare. This is the most fun I’ve ever had driving a vehicle this big, and I’m normally not a fan of SUVs of this size. With its adjustable ride height and suspension settings (the LC has these too), as well as its 4WD with selectable ratios, the GL is no slouch off road, but it doesn’t have anywhere near the same effortlessness of the LC in the dirt; the Toyota will have its number when the going gets really rough.
Land Cruiser: 4.5/5
So tell me already
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed doing this road test, I have to say. The thundering LC is unlike any other vehicle on the planet, and it’s impossible not to be impressed by its size, its amazing capabilities and the way it also gives you a luxurious cabin experience. The GL is just as big, has impeccably turned out interiors, fantastic handling and off-road cred of its own. This is quite a tough one to call, but despite the LC’s commendable attributes, it’s the GL that has to win. It’s better looking and has more class, its interiors make you feel more special, it will handle most off-road conditions with ease and it weighs in (literally) at about Rs 7 lakh less than the LC. It would help, though, if you purchased a petrol pump along with it.
Price: Rs 79.40 LAKH
Displacement: 5461cc, V8, petrol
Max Power: 388 bhp@6000 rpm
Max Torque: 54.04 kgm@2800-4800 rpm
Specific output: 71.04 bhp/litre
Power to weight: 158.3 bhp/tonne
Torque to weight: 22.05 kgm/tonne
Transmission: 7-speed auto
Type: Rack and pinion with
Turning radius: 6.05 m
Front: Double-wishbone, torsion bar
Rear: Double-wishbone, four-link, torsion bar
Front: Ventilated discs
Rear: Ventilated discs
ABS: Standard with EBD, ESP and TC
(F/R): 275/50 R20
L/W/H (mm): 5099/1920/1840
Wheelbase: 3075 mm
Track (F/R): 1645/1648 mm
Kerb weight: 2505 kg
Boot volume: 300-2300 litres
Tank capacity: 96 litres
0-60 kph: 2.97 secs
0-100 kph: 6.91 secs
80-120 kph: 4.6 secs
100-140 kph: 6.1 secs
Top speed: 223 kph (achieved)
0-100 kph-0: 11.9 secs
Overall: 6.2 kpl
TOYOTA LAND CRUISER VX
Price: Rs 84.97 to 86.51 LAKH
Displacement: 4461cc, V8, turbo diesel
Max Power: 282 bhp@3600 rpm
Max Torque: 66.3 kgm@1600-2800 rpm
Specific output: 63.2 bhp/litre
Power to weight: 105.1 bhp/tonne
Torque to weight: 24.3 kgm/tonne
Transmission: 6-speed auto
Type: Rack and pinion with power assist
Turning radius: 5.9 m
Front: Double wishbones, anti-roll bar
Rear: Four-link with coil springs,
Front: Ventilated discs
Rear: Ventilated discs
ABS: Standard with brake assist,
ESP and TC
(F/R): 285/60 R18
L/W/H (mm): 4950/1970/1910
Wheelbase: 2850 mm
Track (F/R): 1640/1635 mm
Kerb weight: 2720 kg
Boot volume: 259-1267 litres
Tank capacity: 93 litres
0-60 kph: 5.47 secs
0-100 kph: 12.13 secs
80-120 kph: 8.1 secs
100-140 kph: 10.3 secs
Top speed: 154.7 kph (achieved)
0-100 kph-0: 21.1 secs
Overall: 9.7 kpl