You know that guy from the cover of romance novels? He’s the completely improbable one with the physique of a god and the heart of a poet? Well, he doesn’t exist, but if he were a car, he’d be a 2009 Toyota Land Cruiser. It’s huge and muscled on the outside and soft and nurturing on the inside. Sadly, though, he’s not that bright. As much as I enjoyed our fling, I was just as happy to say goodbye.
When I first got into the Land Cruiser, I was offended by its size. It seats eight and it’s enormous, and I thought it was a lot more room than I needed. But like a pair of baggy jeans, I found myself spreading out and growing into the Land Cruiser. It took some getting used to the Land Cruiser, but I fell for this big brute with a heart of gold. There’s something about driving such a large vehicle that just feels safe and empowering.
Its V-8 engine handled everything from the brutal hills I live on to the near-killer merges on L.A.’s freeway system. It did it all without being noisy or obnoxious. The ride is super smooth, and there’s no roly-poly sensation in the curves. In fact, the Land Cruiser handled it all like a perfect gentleman and looked good doing it.
Then I started noticing the Land Cruiser’s problems such as how driving 5,690 pounds of SUV in my hilly neighborhood sucked up the gas to the tune of 11 mpg; it gets an EPA-estimated 13/18 mpg city/highway. It also has squishy brakes that need a lot of pressure to bring the behemoth to a stop. If I didn’t keep pressing on the brake pedal at stoplights, the Land Cruiser would start creeping forward while idling. This is the kind of guy I’d have to keep an eye on or he’d wander.
The Land Cruiser is an impressively large vehicle, but it’s not overwhelming. Even though its size makes the 18-inch wheels look normal-sized, it’s not unapproachable.
The Land Cruiser sits high off the ground, which made the running boards a must for both me and my kids. The doors are heavy but well balanced, and my little guys didn’t struggle with them at all. I struggled with the SUV’s cargo door, though. Rather than using a power liftgate, the Land Cruiser has a tailgate that lowers and a liftgate that goes up. To access the cargo area, I had to lift the top part and then lower the tailgate. It doesn’t seem like a lot of trouble, but loading items into the cargo area stressed my back because I had to either lift things over the tailgate or stretch to put them into the cargo area. I’m not sure why Toyota is clinging to this design; it’s not the kind of old-fashioned nostalgia that’s endearing.
As with the rest of Toyota’s lineup, the Land Cruiser doesn’t have any sharp edges. The Land Cruiser’s exterior is rounded off, but it manages to avoid looking bulbous. Except for the headlights, all the bulges seem to belong there. I shall refrain from mentioning how this applies to our romance hero.
The Land Cruiser has an attractive face with the huge, wide-set eyes and a chrome grille. Again, it’s large but fittingly so. That seems to be a theme with the Land Cruiser. Everything is improbably big, but it somehow works together. I think limiting the use of chrome on the outside has something to do with it. While the grille is chrome, the door handles and side mirrors are body-colored. A wide chrome strip proclaims Land Cruiser on the back, but it’s proportional and breaks up the large vertical surface of the cargo doors.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Groove-On
What took the shine off of my romance with the Land Cruiser is its poor use of space. In a vehicle this big I expect storage galore. In the front row, there’s only a shallow tray to place loose items. The SUV’s charging point and MP3 jack sit exposed at the base of the center stack; this meant I had cords snaking all over the place and around the gear shifter.
I didn’t like that, but then I was defeated by cupholders. The two in the front were the wrong size for any beverage I brought into the SUV, and I spent a lot of time wiping up spilled latte. The cooled center console box is a nifty idea, but I’m not sure what I’m supposed to put in there. Surely, the pack of baby wipes and the DVD I stuck in there didn’t really benefit from the chill. Thankfully, the cool box can be turned off or on when needed.
There are some bright spots to the Land Cruiser’s interior. The seats are large, soft and covered in rich leather. There’s also warm-looking simulated wood accents on the dash and steering wheel, which also has audio and Bluetooth controls.
The second row is wide and comfy, but the seat belts are shy, to say the least. They have their own little cubbies to hide in, and my kindergartener struggled constantly with getting buckled in. The rear entertainment system not only plays DVDs, but it also has an AV input for a game console. There are two sets of wireless headphones and two jacks for additional headphones. It’s like a completely separate world in the backseat, and older kids and teens will love it. They won’t ever have to talk to their parents in the car again!
The third row is cramped. When I sat back there, my knees were up in my chest. I wouldn’t want to stick anyone who’s past puberty back there. To access the third row, the second-row seats tumble forward, but this isn’t something that young kids can do on their own.
With the third row in place there’s enough room in the cargo area for a modest grocery run. Fortunately, the seats are easy to store; they go up and to the sides of the car. I’d love to see the Land Cruiser have third-row seats that fold into the floor, like in minivans.
IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair
There’s a lot to make you feel safe in the Land Cruiser. Its full-time all-wheel drive helps, as does its curb weight of more than 5,600 pounds.
The Land Cruiser has a ton of safety features such as front- and side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags for all three rows, knee airbags for the driver and front passenger, antilock brakes, traction control and an electronic stability system. The Land Cruiser also has rear parking sensors, which are a huge help in this behemoth.
My sons’ booster seats fit well in the Land Cruiser’s second row. There’s enough room back there to fit three booster seats in one row. A rear-facing infant-safety seat will fit in the second row, but I’d be sure to try it out before buying the Land Cruiser.
While visibility to the front is great, the Land Cruiser’s side and rear visibility isn’t good. The SUV’s side mirrors are large and tilt down when the car is in reverse, which helped me get a better view of what was behind me, but the real peace of mind comes from the backup camera. A backup camera isn’t standard, but it’s available as part of a $3,400 or $7,245 upgrade. For an SUV with a starting MSRP of $64,755, you’d think a backup camera would be standard. Without it, I’d have been backing up blind.
In Diapers: Easy-to-reach Latch connectors make it a breeze to install child-safety seats.
In School: There’s plenty of room for the kids in the carpool, but the seat belts are hard to wrangle for the little ones.
Teens: It’s cool-looking, and there’s a ton of entertainment options. Whatever.