The Land Cruiser has been sold in North America for over sixty years. It and the Toyopet Crown were the automaker’s first two models here. Despite the fact that Toyota sold only one of its Land Cruisers in its first year in America, it was soon the only model offered here until 1965. Toyota Motor Company has grown slightly since that time but the Land Cruiser has remained in its model line-up that whole time.
Over the years the Land Cruiser has morphed from a small simple utility vehicle into a much larger vehicle available in various lengths and configurations. In North America, long wheelbase models with bigger engines thrived. Eventually, the Land Cruiser became more opulent and expensive, forcing Toyota to introduce smaller, less expensive, off-road capable utility models.
Today the Land Cruiser is sort of an odd duck that really warrants a closer look.
The problem with the Land Cruiser is that at first glance there is nothing special about it. It actually looks rather dull. In the world of large three-row SUVs, it’s a large three-row SUV. Furthermore, on paper it does not excel at any one thing. The Cadillac Escalade has more power, the Infiniti QX80 has more towing and payload capacity, the Range Rover has a better ride, and any Mercedes-Benz has way more bling-bling glamour – think huge illuminated star badges.
Then there is the price. When compared with a loaded Tahoe or Expedition its $87,000 price doesn’t do the Land Cruiser any favors. One needs to look to loaded luxury models in this category, such as the Mercedes-Benz GLS 550, to surpass that price. In the end, all of those large SUVs are very similar and in many cases the badge pushes the price. Land Cruiser legacy or not, this is a Toyota and it looks like one, too.
But it is a Land Cruiser. A name that has no equal in quality and reliability, right? It therefore must be special, right? Is it a one-off model produced by hand? Is it made of specialty bespoke parts? Is it filled with the greatest gadgets? Does it have the latest technology?
The steel Land Cruiser body sits atop a modified and strengthened Tundra frame. Its 381-horsepower and 401-torques 5.7-liter aluminum DOHC V8 engine is shared with the Sequoia. Its new eight-speed transmission is also available on other models in Toyota’s fleet. The full-time two-speed system with the Torsen center locking center differential is used in other Toyota and Lexus products, too.
One would think that the Land Cruiser’s legendary off-road features would be unique, but they really are not. The Multi-terrain Select system is available on the 4Runner Trail. The ingenious hydraulic Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System that adjusts sway bar resistance on the road and allows for more wheel articulation off-road has been around for over ten years. Other systems, such as Toyota’s CRAWL Control, Active Traction control (A-TRAC), Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) are nothing new, either. Even the shocks are conventional and non-adjustable.
There are two off-road features that are exclusive to the Land Cruiser. First is the Off-Road Turn Assist. On dirt roads, the system applies slight brake pressure to the inside rear wheel and drags it, thereby reducing the turning radius. Chances that even hard-core overlanders will use this are slim, but it’s cool and no one else offers it. The second one is a tire pressure sensor in the spare tire, which ensures its in proper condition should it be needed.
All of this makes the Land Cruiser an amazingly capable off-road vehicle. Nine-inch ground clearance, 32-degree approach and 24-degree departure angles, and a 27.5-inch fording depth further contribute to this. But it could be even better. Missing is the locking rear differential that is optional on the 4Runner and the Tacoma. Finally, the properly and perfectly sized eighteen-inch wheels are wrapped in .
Inside, the front seats are large and very comfortable. They adjust in many ways, just like most cars, and they’re heated and ventilated. But unlike many sub-$90k cars there is no massage feature, the side bolsters do not inflate, and the bottom cushion does not extend.
Toyota rightfully retained a full middle-row bench for three passengers. It’s wide, spacious, and there are copious amounts of space in all directions. The bench is split 40:20:40, with all parts neatly sliding, folding and tumbling forward to increase cargo space. The outboard seats slide and tilt for access to the third row, and are heated.
The third row itself seats three and is split 50:50 and would be adult comfortable if not a bit short on leg room. The two seats unusually, but typically for Land Cruisers, fold and anchor to the sidewalls. No, they don’t fold neatly into the floor, but don’t fool yourself into believing that the seats that do just magically disappear. Short of seat removal, there is always a compromise and this is simply a different solution to the problem.
With the third row seats in position, there is still room for duffle bags, backpacks, and other bags. The split hatch and tailgate is a true rarity these days, which is a shame. The tailgate provides seating space when tailgating, and opening only the hatch prevents small things from falling out of the cargo it. It’s especially handy when parked on inclines.
The infotainment system looks and performs like it is a few years old. But other than one’s expectation of what a nav system in a luxury vehicle should look like, there is nothing wrong with it. It does not have latest tech such as Apple CarPlay. It’s the same story for the rear entertainment center, which is standard, but nothing that hasn’t been available on any minivan for the last five years. Being devoid of latest gadgets means that there are no dumb features such as mood lighting or gesture controls, either.
Certainly none of this means that the Land Cruiser is unpleasant – just the opposite in fact. A high seating position and large windows means that the visibility is great. The interior materials are of high quality and generally everything is easy to use. Where automakers go crazy with shifters these days, here Toyota also didn’t fix what wasn’t broken – the LC has properly gated PRND selector and an old school mechanical hand brake.
Completing the interior is a little electrical cooler under the center armrest which I’d rather see be replaced with a larger storage bin. In all, there are two 12V sockets, one 120vAC socket, an HDMI input, and one, only one, USB port. In the tailgate is an actual toolkit, one like I haven’t seen in a new vehicle in over twenty years, and a proper first-aid kit with its own storage bin.
With the Land Cruiser, utility is the name of the game. Along with huge interior cargo space, the Land Cruiser has an 8,100 pound towing capacity. The hitch is standard. The stability control system is designed to reduce trailer sway but there is no adjustable trailer brake controller. There is a roof rack with cross bars and enough space for the largest of cargo boxes. Down below are fixed running boards which can be used to access the stuff on that roof.
Out on the road, the ride is smooth and quiet, and no one would know that there is a stick axle in the rear. What makes the Land Cruiser a favorite the world over is that that it remains comfortable even after many hours of driving, which is not always typical for an off-road capable vehicle. Power delivery is linear and the transmission is smooth. It is slow on paper but it’s never really short on power. The steering is slow, like on all proper 4x4s, and requires more than the typical amount of effort. Like all 4×4 Toyotas, the LC is not immune from a slight body dive when braking
Despite its pedestrian looks, there is one thing that makes the Land Cruiser special and unique – peace of mind. World over, the Land Cruiser is known as being one of the most reliable and dependable vehicles on the market. It is perhaps why this rig seems old school, and perhaps why it doesn’t have the latest, possibly unproven, technology. In the world where glitz and glamour dominate, the Land Cruiser is reserved but confident. It is a perfect match for customers who are willing to pay for quality while also preferring subtlety.
Disclaimer: I own a 4Runner and I love it, so I asked Toyota if I can borrow their bigger 4×4 for a weekend. They agreed as long as I didn’t end up in Australia. All images copyright Kamil Kaluski/Redusernab 2017.