The Australian car industry is set to break its all-time sales record this year and it's SUVs that have led the charge. A whopping 25 per cent more buyers have opted for these recreational vehicles compared with last year and all four sub-segments - small, medium, large and upper-large - recorded healthy growth.
Last week I spent time behind the wheel of one of the bigger four-wheel-drives on the market, the Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series. By the end of the year Toyota will have sold more than 10,000 of these big wagons, which will make it one of the top 30 selling models in Australia - not a bad result for a vehicle that starts at more than $75,000.
The car provided for testing was the 2012 special-edition Altitude that would cost around $95,000 to drive out of the dealership.
It is based on the entry-level GXL but comes with a host of additional features such as 18-inch alloy wheels, a black leather-accented interior, cooler box in the centre console and power-operated driver and front passenger seats.
This is on top of standard features such as a 6.1-inch touch screen with satellite navigation, Bluetooth phone and music streaming, reversing camera, climate-control air-conditioning and keyless entry.
When climbing into the Altitude (or any 200 Series LandCruiser for that matter) for the first time it is easy to be a little overawed by its size. It is a bloody big vehicle.
While I confess to being a fan of small cars, it only took me a few days to feel very comfortable behind the wheel of the big Toyota. You quickly start to enjoy the overview you have of all the traffic around you from your high seating position and it's nice to be able to get into the driver's seat without bumping shoulders with your passenger or having to compete for precious elbow room on the centre console.
There is seating for eight people, though the two fold-down rear seats are really only suitable for children, or adults who don't mind being a little snug on short trips.
With the two back seats folded there is enough space to swallow the weekly shopping or luggage of even the biggest families and the second-row seats can be folded down for longer items. The split tailgate allows for easy loading and the bottom portion makes a pretty good seat.
The 200 Series is powered by a twin-turbo V8 diesel engine, matched to an automatic transmission. Around the suburbs, when the 4.5-litre engine is required to do little more than tick over, it is uses less than 10.0L/100km of diesel, a better result than many smaller SUVS and passenger cars.
It is a combination that is capable of doing a power of work, whether towing a big boat or caravan or tackling the toughest terrain.
The LandCruiser is not cheap but it is a good value proposition compared with its competitors. It is also comfortable, handles well on the road and is extremely capable off the bitumen.
Engine: 4.5-litre V8 twin-turbo diesel
Transmission: Six-speed auto with sequential shift
Towing capacity: 3500kg
Model 3.0 V6 TDI 4xMotion
Engine V6 turbo-diesel with start/stop
Transmission Eight-speed auto with sequential shift
Drive Four-wheel-drive with low range
Towing capacity 3500kg
Fuel capacity 100 litres
RANGE ROVER SPORT
Model 3.0 SDV6
Engine 3.0 V6 twin-turbo diesel
Transmission Six-speed auto with sequential shift
Drive Full-time 4WD with multiterrain select
Towing capacity 3500kg
Fuel capacity 90 litres
Model 3.0 Ti Turbo Diesel
Engine 3.0 intercooled turbo-diesel
Transmission Five-speed automatic
Drive Four-wheel-drive with low range capability
Towing capacity 2500kg
Thirst 11.8L/100km Steve L to provide figure
Fuel capacity 125 litres