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cruise control

IF I told you that I recently indulged in a spot of mid-week mud-larking, then where would you picture me?&nbsp; The wilds of Scotland? The Yorkshire Dales? Well, not quite. This time I was in the EJ Churchill Sporting Ground near High Wycombe. When I emerge from my car, it sounds like I&rsquo;ve arrived at the frontline of some war-torn outpost. Gunfire is crackling through the woods and clays, shot to smithereens, are falling like hail from the sky. <br /><br />This is a very rugged scene so close to London, and the reason we were here was that Toyota wanted us to sample the extra-sticky ascents, descents and rivers for ourselves in their latest 2010 issue Land Cruiser. We set off to the nearby estate in the 3.0 litre, four-cylinder diesel and I think the first words I uttered were: &ldquo;What&rsquo;s happened to the steering? This is the lightest steering I&rsquo;ve ever come across in what is possibly one of the heaviest cars I&rsquo;ve ever driven&rdquo;.&nbsp; Electronic wizardry has made light work of handling this motor, but that didn&rsquo;t prevent me from bonding with it.<br /><br />In the passenger seat on my left sat a Yorkshireman, an off-road expert brought in to oversee proceedings on the muddy frontline. Not a man to mince his words, I asked him what he uses up on the farm in North Yorkshire.&nbsp; &ldquo;A Land Rover Defender, and one of these,&rdquo; he responded.&nbsp; Naturally he&rsquo;d say one of these but actually, his Cruiser is several years old and yes, paid for with his own money. &ldquo;Nothing else will compete up there, mid-winter, snow blowing across the moors and as inhospitable as you like,&rdquo; he said. <br /><br />The 2010 model Land Cruiser is far from good looking, which isn&rsquo;t to say that it is exactly ugly. It leans to the utilitarian end rather than the Chelsea Tractor end of the spectrum. It seats seven, in a two plus three plus two setting and there is tonnes of room inside. Headroom is also in abundance as are storage bins including, in the centre, one that is chilled for drinks. Amazingly, given the extremely slithery conditions, I had to use no buttons whatsoever to ensure that the car moved forwards, rather than sideways: the Land Cruiser just got on with it. There was no need to boot it up the vertiginous hill ahead &ndash; never a good idea in a 4x4 anyway. <br /><br />Crawl Control uses the engine and brakes to carry you over the more challenging routes at a speed selected by the driver, even in reverse gear. The box here is a five-speed automatic &ndash; a really good match to the keen power of the engine. Pheasants and partridge are scattering everywhere as we approach a deep-looking river but oddly I see no tracks out of it on the other side. Am I to expect the ghosts of Land Cruisers past lying on the river bed? We&rsquo;re now in the river and I&rsquo;m told to turn right, along it. It&rsquo;s quite deep, well above the sills and showing signs of getting deeper.<br /><br />&ldquo;Stay left by the reeds, the trout pools are very deep in the centre,&rdquo; I&rsquo;m told, as the car leans heavily to the right, its occupants leaning heavily to the left, almost horizontally.&nbsp; <br /><br /><strong>MURKY DEPTHS</strong><br />We drive some distance along the river and I&rsquo;m fully expecting ducks to glide past at eye-level any minute, but this is not to be as our exit from the murky depths is ahead. The car falters not once as we climb out and then tackle a heavily-rutted, steep incline with a few large rocks thrown in to scramble over.&nbsp; <br /><br />Pretty much everything that could be thrown at the car has been. And both on- and off-road performance was equally impressive. Toyota&rsquo;s nearest competitor for this beast is the recently launched Discovery 4, also phenomenally capable but with the added bling factor making it more popular with the Chelsea set. The Land Cruiser is a workhorse which will shy at little and will be spotted more often getting its teeth into tough terrain than meandering around the Westfield shopping centre&rsquo;s car park.<br /><br /><strong>THE VERDICT</strong><br />DESIGN<br />PERFORMANCE<br />PRACTICALITY<br />VALUE FOR MONEY<br /><br />THE FACTS: <br />TOYOTA LAND CRUISER<br /><br />PRICE: &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; &pound;44,795 <br />0-100mph:&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 11.7secs<br />TOP SPEED:&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 109mph <br />CO2 g/km:&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 214g/km<br />MPG Combined:&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 34.9