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4wd of the Year – International

A question that occupies endless campfire debates, battled in multiple languages and locations around the globe – what is the best overland vehicle in the world?  Most legitimate options are born from military platforms, specifications that closely mirror the requirements of the overland traveler:  Durability, reliability, technical terrain capability, payload, etc. Models tested and considered include the Defender, 70 Series Land Cruiser, G-Wagen, Patrol and J8.  Each have their own unique attributes, but only one can win our 2011 international 4wd of the Year award, which goes to the Toyota Land Cruiser 78 Troop Carrier GXL 4.5L V8 Diesel.

There are so many factors to consider when purchasing a vehicle for international travel, the range including price and a myriad of other factors.  None should be excluded and ultimately a person will buy what checks the correct boxes for them or just looks good sitting in their driveway. However, with only one position available at the top slot, our evaluation must shift from budget and beauty to more critical factors.  When we consider what is most important in an overland vehicle, the attributes of reliability, durability, payload, capability, service infrastructure and range all need critical review.  All of the top selections have durable drivetrains and good technical terrain performance, but few have the global service infrastructure and support of Toyota.  When we include the fact that a Toyota vehicle warranty is valid anywhere in the world a Toyota dealership is, which is 146 countries on all six navigable continents, the choice comes into sharper focus.

We have banged around in 70 series trucks on six continent and dozens of countries, including winning the rugged Outback Challenge with one in 2006, so their benefits and weaknesses have been laid bare to our team.  In reality, the weaknesses are few, mostly related to higher speed stability and limit handling, the chassis showing the 25 year old design.  Roll center and frequency tuning are most notable, compounded by the narrow track.  These limitations are mostly a concern at the higher speeds encountered on first-world mega highways, and why drive a 78 on the interstate when more interesting (and slower) routes are available.  The 4.5L V8 is strong and pulls hard to redline, complimented nicely by the stout 5-speed.  I remember driving a 76 with the V8 through villages in France in third gear, with no real reason to upshift or downshift from speeds of 5km to 40km per hour. The one downside to the drivetrain is poor economy, delivering 17-19L per 100km in most conditions.  I only encountered better than 14L/100km when cruising at 80-90km per hour.  The smaller diesels offered in competitors trucks will give better economy and range.

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Summary:

The 78 is not perfect at anything; in fact, it is only the best at one thing- reliability.  Other offerings have better performance (Jeep), better comfort (G-Wagon), stronger axles (Patrol) or better economy (Defender), but no one vehicle combines all these attributes with such perfection as the 78, which is why it is our 2011 overland vehicle of the year – any continent, any country, any road, anywhere. . .
 

Pros:
  • Class-leading reliability
  • Global dealer support, global warranty support
  • 1,000 kg payload
  • Strong and reliable 4.5L V8 turbo diesel
  • Class-leading interior volume

 

Cons:
  • Mid to high-speed handling limited
  • Poor braking performance and modulation
  • Poor fuel economy affects range
  • High theft value can impact security

 

 Editor notes:

 

  1. -We have access to all manufacturers for test and long-term test vehicles.  Toyota provided no special access or remuneration.  We have also toured many of the manufacturing plants, including the Toyota Auto Body plant in Japan
  2. -We have personally owned or extensively tested all models mentioned.  We currently have a Land Rover D110, Toyota HZJ78 and LJ78, J8 and G-Wagen in our fleet. We are the only civilian organization to have access to all of these vehicles in one location and certainly the only organization with long-term testing of all units.

 

Runner-up: Mercedes

Geländewagen PUR

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The G-Wagen is the choice of special operations forces around the globe, including the U.S. Navy Seals, and for good reason.  These vehicles are strong, reliable and offer exceptional technical terrain performance.  In civilian trim, they can be equipped to any level of desired luxury and refinement, providing lower driver fatigue and greater refinement. The G-Wagen goes toe-to-toe with the 78 with regards to durability and even has an advantage in technical terrain performance, but falls behind in reliability and service infrastructure.  Personally, there are things I like better about the G-Wagen, especially in 461 Worker trim with the 270 CDi turbo diesel (currently available with 3.0 Euro5 motor).  Limited availability (try to buy one), recent reliability issues and limited service infrastructure causes the 461 to trail just behind the Land Cruiser as our ultimate pick.
 

Pros:
  • Fantastic engine and transmission
  • Synchronized low-range
  • Excellent technical terrain performance

 

Cons:
  • 461 Worker is limited to volume purchase or military orders
  • Twice the price of a Land Cruiser 78 *depending on trim. For example, the Edition30 PUR is $120,000 USD with VAT. The 78 can be purchased for approx. $65,000 USD in several markets.
  • Recent issues with wiring harness, turbo and limp mode faults

 

Editor’s Notes:

 

  • -We currently own a G-Wagon
  • – We have long-term tested the 461 in Africa
  • Corrections:  Correction to current motor offering. Additional information added on price differential

Don’t agree with our conclusions? Want to know more about our evaluation team?  Find out here: Testing and Evaluation Team Experience (link)

Scott is the publisher and co-founder of Expedition Portal and Overland Journal. His travels by 4WD and adventure motorcycle span all seven continents and include three circumnavigations of the globe. He lives in Prescott, Arizona