Why the Toyota Land Cruiser Endures

The 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser drips with nostalgia. Like using an old-fashioned safety razor, you really have to want the experience and seek it out, nicks and all. 

From the stocky looks to its cumbersome driving character, the Land Cruiser is like driving an SUV from a decade ago, which it is. Toyota last redesigned the Land Cruiser for 2008, and a new generation isn’t expected to go on sale in the United States until 2022. 

Rumors persist we’ll see the new model soon, which will launch in overseas markets first. Until then, we must be content with the Land Cruiser as it is. Rather than view this as a bad thing, it’s better to enjoy the challenge of driving something so capable and with so much presence. Is the Land Cruiser dated? Sure. But the good far outweighs the bad. 

I tested an $89,239-Heritage Edition, which adds bronze-colored 18-inch aluminum BBS wheels, script Land Cruiser badges and bronze interior trim. The head- and foglights have darkened surrounds, which aren’t really noticeable, and the Yakima MegaWarrior roof carrier, which is very noticeable. It’s only available in the five-seat configuration; no third row. You opt for the Heritage Edition if you really like this look, and it’s only $2,330 more than the standard model. Upon reflection, I’d probably go for a Heritage model if buying a new Land Cruiser. The smart play, however, is to buy one a few years old and let someone else take the depreciation hit, while you hold onto an SUV that has strong resale value.

The lumbering 5.7-liter V8 underscores the old-school aesthetic. The ratings are prodigious, 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque, but the Heritage Edition weighs 5,715 pounds. It takes a minute to get going, and the eight-speed automatic transmission is a methodical shifter. The brakes are touchy. There’s a lot of pedal travel followed by a lot of stopping power. The cliche of being on your toes applies. The suspension is expectedly bouncy, which is reinforced when you jam on the brakes. I didn’t do any off-roading, but the chassis tuning is amazing for comfortably floating over pock-marked roads in metro Detroit. The steering is numb, offering little communication, but turning these meaty off-road tires is still a workout. If you want a better daily driver, the Lexus LX 570 (same underpinnings, different styling, available adaptive air suspension) is the way to go.

There’s nothing overtly retro about the Land Cruiser’s design. The circular shapes of the headlights, the flares of the fenders, the contoured hood, the off-road tires — they all create an identity — though it’s not out of line with looks of say, the Toyota Highlander. The Land Cruiser requires you to embrace the little things, take them together and reflect on the past. Then you see it. The design, the image, the very idea of the Land Cruiser is why you buy a nearly $90,000-Toyota SUV. In addition to the driving character, the LX’s interior is a bit nicer and you get a well-respected, if ubiquitous luxury badge. On the other hand, think of the Lexus SUVs. Which one is the LX? Counter that with two words: Land Cruiser.

The moniker has been synonymous with rugged capability for nearly 70 years. Sales volume, not so much. While 10 million Land Cruisers have been sold around the world over its long history and the SUV was an early standard bearer for Toyota in the United States, the company has sold just 614 of them this year through the first quarter in America. The Heritage Edition is limited, though you can spec one out on Toyota’s website, no problem, and it appears to be still available. Numbers don’t tell the tale of the Land Cruiser. There’s plenty of large SUVs with off-road chops that are cheaper, more richly appointed and/or better to drive. You buy the Land Cruiser because you seek it out, you want to feel something and nothing else will do. Someday, there will be a better Land Cruiser, but this final generation, flaws and all, will be remembered fondly. Nostalgia is indeed powerful. 

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