Troopie vs Landie
Dr Livingstone’s lorry, I presume?
Looking for a set of wheels with which to explore Africa? One that looks more at home in the Serengeti than at the salt mines of Sandton? Jaco Kirsten compares the new Land Cruiser Troopie with the iconic Land Rover Defender.
Drive Out is the first local publication that has put the 78 Series Land Cruiser, or Troop Carrier, as the Aussies call it, through its paces. Well, it wasn’t as if the other publications were kicking down Toyota’s door looking for a test unit, because this is a very focussed expedition-type vehicle, one that won’t win any beauty contests.
Few of its probable owners will be interested in pimping it with 35-inch wheels, flashy paint jobs and then jumping it over dunes. No, the likely modifications would be things such as a bull bar, drawer system, dual-battery system and maybe a fridge and recovery equipment.
But how good would it be in the bundu? There was only one way of finding out – we had to benchmark it against the Land Rover Defender Puma. Strictly speaking, the 78 Series competes against the 110 Hardtop, but we were unable to source a new one anywhere. Fortunately, the 110 Station Wagon is mechanically almost identical, so using it for this comparison would suffice.
What is the recipe?
The Troopie is mechanically almost identical to the 76 Series station wagon and uses the same 1HZ diesel engine. The only big difference is the fact that it has a much higher roofline and only two side doors.
One would expect this layout to be quite practical for a couple who wants to remove the rear bench seat to create an enormous load bay. But it might not be practical for people who want to use it as a school-run taxi, courtesy of the fact that the rear passengers have to get in through the front doors.
The 110 Hardtop offers the same opportunity – and limitations.
What lurks underneath the hood?
The Troopie’s normally aspirated 4.2-litre 1HZ diesel engine is the same unit used in the 76 Series station wagon and 79 Series pick-up and develops a so-so 96 kW and 285 Nm. Some might ask if this wouldn’t make it very slow. We drove the Troopie for two days in Gauteng peak-hour and highway traffic and it never felt as if it was a mobile traffic island.
Granted, the engine is at its happiest at about 110km/h, but it will easily chug along at 120 km/h. It’s just that the engine’s pitch makes you wonder why Toyota didn’t add a sixth gear.
The Defender uses a 2.4-litre turbodiesel that was originally used in the Ford Transit panel van and which is probably as reliable as any turbodiesel can be. It develops a mediocre 90 kW, but the torque of 360Nm makes up for it, especially at Gauteng’s altitude, where a turbocharged engine loses less power than a normally aspirated one.
The Defender’s six-speed gearbox trumps the Cruiser’s five, although the shifts are noticeably slower and more cumbersome than that of its Japanese rival. In the Defender you always felt like you were driving a truck of some sorts. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing – as most Defender owners will tell you. It’s just, well, different.
How do the interiors compare?
To call the Troopie Spartan would be putting it mildly. Like Aldri van Jaarsveld*, the co-tester, said, “Hey, it looks like they forgot to put in a cup holder and sommer screwed one in afterwards!”
Describing it as functional is also being diplomatic. It is so bare, it doesn’t even have a radio. The metal ribs on the roof’s interior are exposed and you feel as if you’re sitting in an early-90s bakkie. Until you realise that this vehicle is this old!
There are no electric windows. Is it for reliability? No, more likely to save money. I mean, how often do you hear of electric windows giving problems nowadays? Even the plastic mat in the back is cheap and nasty. In a car that costs R450 800.
The Defender, on the other hand, is actually quite well appointed. Goodness, I never thought I’d be able to say that of a Defender. It sports electric windows and a CD player/radio – whilst costing only R406 995.
The only thing on the inside where the Troopie holds the upper hand is ergonomics – because we all know how peculiar the seating position in a Defender is. Defender owners would disagree, but the Troopie requires no sacrifice to sit inside it comfortably. Well, apart from having to pay a lot more for it.
How do their 4×4 abilities compare?
Both vehicles use solid axles front and back, as well as the obligatory high- and low-range gears. The Toyota uses coil springs at the front and leaf springs at the back. The Landy has coils all round and that gives it better wheel articulation and the ability to do deliberate rock crawling.
The Troopie, which has part-time four-wheel drive, has mechanical diff locks at the front and back, and that is superior in serious off-road conditions. Due to its leaf springs at the back, the Troopie’s wheel articulation isn’t as good as the Defender’s, so the odd wheel does end up hanging in the air, making a diff lock even more important.
The Landy has full-time four-wheel drive and you can lock the centre differential. Thereafter you have to rely on electronics to keep wheel spin in check and to ensure that power is diverted to the wheels with traction. I am not a big fan of electronic traction control, mainly because it creates too much unnecessary wheel spin. But the Defender’s excellent wheel articulation means that the electronics rarely have to intervene.
Its other electronic trick is the fact that the engine management system will prevent the vehicle from stalling, maintaining an idle speed over rough terrain. The Cruiser cannot do this, although the choke to left of the steering column can be used as a hand throttle to achieve something similar, albeit in a much more crude way.
When you encounter obstacles in the Cruiser, you simply lock the differentials and put foot. With the Landy you don’t have to lock or unlock anything (apart from the centre diff that can be kept locked off-road). Both systems have pros and cons. I prefer mechanical diff locks and most serious off-roaders use them. Wheel spin is limited and it has no electronics that can play up. The downside is that you have to switch them on and off manually. Try cornering with a locked front differential.
The Defender’s system does mean slightly more wheel spin and a change in driving style if you’re not used to electronic traction control systems: This means keeping the throttle at a steady opening, even when the wheels lose traction. Lifting your foot off the pedal will confuse the electronics. With a constant throttle, it works perfectly, provided you have made the mind shift.
How do they drive?
On tar, the Cruiser was surprisingly good. Look, it’s no BMW M3, but at 120 km/h on the freeway you never felt like you were trying to walk a tightrope between two skyscrapers on a windy day. The Defender, on the other hand, has pronounced body roll above 100 km/h. The soft coil springs that make it so good off-road are to blame here.
In the city, the Troopie was a lot easier to drive, because of better ergonomics and better handling. On paper, the Defender is about 150 kg lighter than the Troopie, but it never felt like it. But neither of them is agile, and three-point turns in parking lots inevitably become five-point adventures.
On the open road, the Cruiser holds the aces with two 90-litre fuel tanks, compared to the Defenders 75-litre capacity. That means that the Toyota can swallow 105 litres more diesel and in remote places this can make quite a big difference.
If I have to pick one of the two for a day’s tar driving, the Troopie would be my first choice. I’ll choose it even for dirt roads. But it’s when you reach the really rough terrain where the Defender’s plusher suspension with excellent wheel articulation is appreciated.
Aldri van Jaarsveld is a Defender owner who likes to explore Southern Africa. Originally from Cape Town, he works in the advertising industry in Gauteng.
Troopie: It looks as awkward as a cool box in a deep freeze. It has no creature comforts at all. It also won’t break any land-speed records, but it will get you wherever you plan to go. It’s solid, rough and tough. The leaf springs are hard, but that helps to curtail body roll when changing lanes. I like the extra fuel tank, the mechanical diff locks and the agricultural feeling. However, it is hard to get to the rear seats and I’m not convinced about the Marie Biscuit tyres and that steep price…
Defender: The Landy’s silhouette is legendary. In town, the Puma was a pleasure to drive, especially with the six-speed gearbox. It did display a lot of body roll during lane changes, thanks to the coil springs, although the ride is relatively comfortable.
I liked the ABS brakes, the improved interior, the better ventilation system, the gearbox and engine. But you can still see the road through the gaps in the door panels and I’m not crazy about the electronic traction control – mechanical diff locks front and rear would’ve been much better.
Mechanically, the Troopie is a brilliant overlanding vehicle. But I wonder if it wouldn’t make more sense to pay R20 000 more and buy the 76 Series station wagon (R470 600), because you then get a more practical four-door layout with the same proven mechanical underpinnings as the Troopie. Then you also look at the 110 Station Wagon’s R406 995 and you wonder if the Cruiser 76 Series station wagon really is R63 605 better than the Defender.
Drive Out says:
The Troopie is aimed at those who want to get away from it all – but it’s doubtful if it can do a better job than the 76 Series station wagon.