Paula Lester puts the latest Toyota Land Cruiser through its paces in Iceland
More than 1,000 years after the Vikings first landed on British shores, then headed north to settle in Iceland, we’re embark- ing on our own raiding party. However, this time, we’re swapping longships for the latest version of Toyota’s equally ruggedly efficient four-wheel drive (4WD), the Land Cruiser.
After a comfortable night at Alda Hotel in downtown Reykjavík the island’s capital is dominated by Swiss-chalet- style, corrugated-iron-clad buildings and is home to just 120,000 Icelanders we’re paired with our vehicles for a three-day ‘Iceland Raid’.
The revamped Toyota Land Cruiser Invincible 2.8D–4D which has a new ‘thermally efficient’ turbo diesel engine, more torque but lower CO2 emissions, better fuel economy and a six-speed automatic gear box might not be as good- looking as its main competition, the Land Rover Discovery, but our contingent of seasoned motoring journalists and not- so-expert lifestyle writers is here to find out whether the chunky Japanese workhorse makes up for in performance what it lacks in aesthetics.
Iceland, which boasts thous- ands of miles of tarmac-free roads, is definitely the place to do it. With more 60 years’ experience in developing tough 4WDs the Land Cruiser’s roots go back to 1951 when Toyota developed the JeepBJ for military use we’re here to assess claims that this is ‘one of the most technically advanced and easy to use 4WD vehicles in the world’.
As well as a revised version of the front independent double wishbone and rear four-link rigid suspension, with larger shock absorbers for a smoother ride, this model features a switch- able height control, which, when combined with generous ground clearance and an ability to drive through 28in-deep water, backs up the manufacturer’s assertion that this a ‘go-anywhere’ vehicle.
Indeed, the automatic model that we test-drive even offers a ‘multi terrain select system’ with five modes (mud and sand, loose rock, mogul, rock and dirt and rock) that automatically adjusts the vehicle’s throttle, braking and traction-control systems to suit conditions.
This, along with the choice of five settings in ‘crawl control’, which automatically controls the engine and brakes to maintain a set speed and is accessed by a big dial in the middle of the console panel, just under the screen that helpfully alerts you if you’re about to drive into a boulder means that, at times, we really are on automatic pilot.
The first day involves a mam- moth drive around the south- western coast and the myriad natural tourist attractions that punctuate this otherworldly, volcanically active terrain.
We visit tectonic plates (where the North American plate meets the Eurasian plate), the stark black rock pillars on the Reykjanes peninsula, the geothermal mud pools and steam vents accompanied by the egg-like aroma of sulphur at Gunnuhver and drive for miles over black, often featureless, lava fields.
As a gamekeeper’s wife, I’ve spent a lot of time driving 4WDs in muddy, slippery, icy conditions, so, as we zip along the mainly asphalted roads, I reckon I’ve got this all-terrain-driving thing pretty much sorted. But, as the daylight fades and we lose sight of the convoy in front, we’re flagged down by one of the Toyota team, who tells me, unsmilingly, that I’m holding things up. Chastened, I put my foot to the floor, but can hardly wait to text my husband, who thinks I drive too fast.
When we eventually arrive at the pretty Hotel Grímsborgir at Þingvallavegur in the Golden Circle, close to Gullfoss Water- fall, Geysir and Thingvellir National Park, the same rep- resentative approaches. Oh, God, what have I done now? However, this time, he’s all smiles and slaps me on the back. He’s just realised that we’re part of the British contingent and declares I’m ‘doing well, especially as you’re driving on the wrong side of the road’. The cheek!
Next day, it’s my co-driver, Warren Chrismas (yes, really) from the Press Association’s turn and we get to see what the car can really do as it takes a steep climb up the mountainside in its stride and then plunges through endless potholes and vast puddles as we cross the Moon-like black-sand desert of Rotarsandur.
As we forge across the bleak yet beautiful landscape that looks as if a giant has ran- domly tossed huge rocks across it, it’s difficult to comprehend that we’re driving along a designated ‘F road’ that’s showing on the integrated satnav.
Then, in the shadow of the tuya volcano, Hlöðufell, we navigate the ‘technical track’, designed to show-off the Toyota’s fancy ‘kinetic dynamic suspension system’, which optimises the front and rear anti-roll bars and increases wheel articulation the vertical distance an individual wheel can move while the others remain in contact with ground.
It sounds complicated, but it works. As our vehicle negotiates a seemingly impossible rocky section of road, the one in front articulates itself up and over the obstacle, just like a caterpillar, with the front and back suspension working independently and, at times, only two wheels on the ground.
Frankly, Warren and I don’t have a clue what we’re doing, but, when switched into the right mode, the vehicle practically drives itself and we can vouch for the fact that the Land Cruiser’s ‘user-friendly functions make tricky places passable where even the most skilful drivers might struggle’.
After lunch in a ski chalet and a ride in a monster eight-wheel truck up Europe’s second-larg- est glacier, Langjökull, and into the manmade tunnels that stretch 2,624ft into the glistening ice, we discover that the Land Cruiser is as adept in water as it’s on land.
In the eerie twilight and now in ‘crawl control’, our convoy crosses the glacial river with ease. Soon, we’re pulling up at Hotel Húsafell at Stórarjóður for dinner of grilled Icelandic lamb with dates and potato pavé with a rhubarb and turnip sauce.
On the final day, we tour the gravelled roads that dissect the dramatic West Fjords, which stretch like jagged fingers into the icy waters of the Denmark Strait, before dropping our Land Cruisers back at Keflavík airport. During lunch at Vitinn, a seafood restaurant at Sandgerði, we sample dried shark and lamb’s-head pâté with a shot of Brennivín, Iceland’s signature distilled beverage, before our flight. An extraordinary place and an extraordinary vehicle: it might just have converted me to the comfort of driving an automatic 4WD.
Very ice indeed
• Iceland is a three-hour flight from London via Iceland Air or British Airways
• Despite its name, Iceland is greener and lusher than ice-bound Greenland
• Most visitors join coach parties to attractions such as the Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle and, in midwinter, spend a night out of town to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)
• In June and July, the island can bask in a full 24 hours of sunshine
Alda Hotel (00 354 553 9366; http://aldahotel.is)
Hotel Grímsborgir (00 354 555 7878; http://grimsborgir. com)
Langjökull (00 354 578 2550; http://intotheglacier.is)
Hotel Húsafell (00 354 435 1551; http://hotelhusafell.com) Vitinn (00 354 423 7755; http://vitinn.is/) www.visiticeland.com
On the road
Price From £35,895 (for the three-door, five-seater) to £54,895 (for the five-door, seven-seater)
Road Fund Licence £490 in the first year, then £265 Combined fuel consumption 38.2mpg
0–62mph 12.1 seconds (man- ual), 12.7 seconds (automatic)
Top speed 109mph