19 January 1996

TWO GOOD WAYS TO SPEND A COOL

£40,000 (OR S0)

Every make has its top line model, and they dont come any higher than a HSE Range Rover and Toyota Landcruiser VX. Potential National Lottery winners Andrew Pearce and

Andrew Faulkner try

life above stairs for a week

OH, to be rich. Not excessively stinking rich, you understand, but well enough padded to write a cheque for around £40,000 without the bank manager going very quiet indeed.

For thats what it takes to buy these two. Against the Range Rovers eye-watering £45,550 the £39,549 Landcruiser seems almost a bargain, and now that it comes with petrol power the two are more in competition. So are these twin monoliths worth the money, or are they just expensive toys for inflated egos?

Engines and transmissions

Big cars need big engines. Toyota has recently slipped a 4.5-litre straight six under the VXs commodious bonnet, where its two overhead cams and 24 valves assemble 202hp and 266lb ft torque. Land Rover prefers to stick with a V8, which in 4.6-litre HSE form disposes 225hp and 277lb ft. As both cars claim to weigh in at 2.22t, the performance edge should go to the Range Rover: Factory claims are 9.3sec vs 12.4sec for the 0-60 sprint, and a 125mph top whack against 106mph. By 4×4 standards, neither is what you might call slow.

Out and about the difference is less clear. The Range Rover is a little faster if you use the gearboxs Sport mode and all of the copious throttle travel, but in normal motoring the Toyota has the more urgent feel to it, thanks to more linear throttle response and a torquier-feeling, more musical motor. While the HSEs V8 is self-effacing to a fault and practically silent until wound up, the Toyotas silky growling always lets you know that things are happening.

Both cars drive all their wheels full-time through a four-speed autobox. Both offer a push-button Sport or Power option which delays upshifts and takes kickdown changes lower into the box, a facility worth using where overtaking space is tight or you fancy a little fun. The Landcruisers is the simpler box of the two, adding just an awkwardly-placed Power button and thumb-push third gear selector to the usual P-R-N-D-2-1 arrangement.

Land Rover puts the Sport button where its easier to find and then goes one better. Where Toyota uses a separate range lever, the Range Rover combines high and low ranges in one H-shaped quadrant and offers a fully manual option in low range. Theres nothing to choose between the cars on shift quality; both are electronically controlled and both manage low-throttle upshifts smoothly, but the Landcruiser takes longer to sort itself out during kickdown.

Motorway loping speed is whatever you dial into the cars cruise controls, both of which are worked from the steering wheel. The Landcruisers barn-like front tapers its top speed sooner, generates more wind noise than the slimmer, slipperier Range Rover, and roar from its massive tyres is marginally more noticeable – but the Range Rover suffers from more bump-thump. So while neither car is noisy, the Solihull product noses ahead on long-run relaxation.

Both cars can tow 3.5t and are not short of power or gears for the job. But dont expect to save the planet; both sink unleaded at a wonderfully politically incorrect 16-17mpg.

Outside and in

Visually the Landcruiser is as subtle as a sledgehammer. Standing four-square on massive tyres, its bulk and billowing curves are brash weightlifter material; you expect to see a man with a suede coat and mobile phone stepping down from it. The bowler-and-brolly Range Rover is smaller in every dimension and infinitely more discrete, despite bearing an uncomfortable likeness to a London cab from some angles.

Interiors are (naturally) wood and leather. Soft shades and textures invite the driver into the Landcruiser, whereas harder, techno-edged greys and black marked out the test HSE. Both vehicles are well put together – and at the price they had better be – with Land Rovers panel gaps at last equalling Toyotas. Switchgear is a pleasure to use in both cases, but the Orientals doors close a little more sweetly and surprisingly, its cabin leather breathes a classier scent.

Space is used differently. Toyota has much more of it to play with and chooses to put acres of room behind a 50/50 split rear seat, where are found two forward-facing chairs which take passenger number to seven. Theres no load area blind – bad for security – but the VXs open-plan boot is both bigger and more usable than the cluttered HSEs.

Wily Land Rover gives rear occupants significantly more legroom, but then denies them forward vision by installing very broad front chairs. The HSEs 60/30 split seat is functionally more handy, folds very simply and takes occupant numbers to five. And, at last, the spare has migrated under the floor, where it stays cleaner than the VXs exterior equivalent.

When it comes to keeping the driver amused, an HSE-spec Range Rover delivers an avalanche of electronic trickery. Setting aside the thorny question of whether the driver (or the car) actually needs it, the gadgetry is a wonder to behold.

From memory seats to an automatic anti-glare mirror; from the message centres 150 communications to the automatic heating system, from the dip-on-selecting-reverse mirrors to the ride height control, this car has everything you can think of and plenty you didnt think you needed.

Over the bumps, round the corners

Both cars use beam axles, coil sprung on the Landcruiser and air sprung on the HSE. The latter is carried over from the long-wheelbase Classic Range Rover and does all sorts of tricks, like settling down automatically to cut drag at higher speeds and rising at the push of a button to skirt rough stuff. Yet the ride it delivers over rippled tarmac is less serene than air implies. Big axles are still evidently at work, rock and sway can disquieten passengers and the car sometimes gets quite flustered by road-edge corrugations.

The Landcruiser travels more stiffly on its coils, jiggling along side roads and sometimes shuddering after bigger holes. Yet passengers get a marginally better time in it as body movement is less. In absolute terms neither car is uncomfortable; its just a matter of degree.

Both are completely happy to be rushed along a twisty road. The Toyotas bulk shrinks, it switches direction adroitly and feels generally planted on the surface, though front end grip is limiting. The Range Rover shows equal poise, significantly better grip and its handling is more neutral, but revised front geometry has not killed all straight line wander. Consequently the Landcruiser is an easier drive on poor surfaces.

On the rough

To pick a winner here we asked Camel Trophy competitors Bob and Joe Ives to join in. Snow had left the sticky clays and sharp drops of their Hampshire ground in prime condition, so £85,000-worth of machinery could try some very unlikely places.

Helping the Landcruisers permanent 4WD are no less than three diff locks; a viscous centre unit plus individual front/rear devices. The Range Rover scorns such convention by substituting electronic traction control wizardry on the rear axle. Again carried forward from the long-wheelbase Classic, the system reverses ABS action by braking a spinning rear wheel; torque is thus transferred across the axle to the tyre with more grip.

The Range Rover is ideal for those who neither know nor care which lever to move or knob to turn. Just shift across the H-gate and let the electronics take over; the traction control warning buzzer burps, a pump whines and clatters behind the dash and it all happens by itself. Whizzo stuff which makes the driver almost redundant at times.

Ultimately however, the Landcruiser should offer the most grip as full diff locking lets all its wheels scrabble at once: Devoid of a front lock, the Range Rover only drives a maximum of three wheels. In some circumstances – like pulling a trailer on slick grass – that might just tip the scales to the VX.

But the Solihull wonder counters with a gearbox which can be locked in any low range ratio. Just press the Sport button to gain a critical advantage on climbs where the Landcruiser may change down and spin.

The verdict: Normally its simple to pick a winner. Not this time: In both cases the outlay of a very large wedge buys strength, invulnerability from weather or terrain and a terrific feeling of well-being. The Landcruiser delivers the most space and even more King-of-the-Road feeling; the Range Rover blitzes it with technology but could use a better ride and more straight-line stability. Neither car knows how to serve you badly, and that alone makes them worth the "dosh". As is so often the case these days, the choice – for those lucky enough to make it – will probably come down to image as much as function.