Versus the competiton:
Verdict: The rare and exclusive Toyota Land Cruiser is an excellent $50,000 SUV – for which Toyota unfortunately wants $85,000.
Versus the competition: There are many better choices on the market that are more luxurious, more capable, more efficient and less expensive, such as the GMC Yukon Denali, Mercedes-Benz GLS 450 and even the Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit.
You’d be forgiven for forgetting that Toyota sells the Land Cruiser these days. Chances are, with Toyota selling fewer than 2,700 of them in the U.S. in all of 2015, you probably haven’t seen one in the wild. But Toyota’s flagship off-roader is still here, having been transformed from a bare-bones all-terrain vehicle intended as a sort of Japanese military jeep into an eight-seat luxury SUV. It has a highly advanced electronic four-wheel-drive system and a price tag that pits it against Land Rovers and Mercedes-Benzes. The Toyota Land Cruiser received an update for 2016 with new styling, more electronic safety systems and a new automatic transmission (compare the 2015 and 2016 models here). But there are a lot of luxury SUVs these days – is a super-expensive Toyota really worth the money?
The Toyota Land Cruiser got a mild styling refresh for 2016; Toyota updated everything forward of the windshield. LED headlights and running lights are standard, the power dome bulges remain on the hood and the whole look is a bit more modern than before. But from the side, there’s no mistaking this as anything other than an old-school SUV – the overhangs are long, front and rear, and the Toyota Land Cruiser’s profile hasn’t changed much in two decades. Toyota talks up its off-road chops, but the Land Cruiser’s abilities are limited by its styling – approach and departure angles are 32 degrees and 24 degrees, respectively, which isn’t much if you try to take it into the deep woods. Scraping and rubbing are sure to happen, and the Land Cruiser can’t be raised any higher than it already is. An air suspension isn’t an option unless you step up to the Lexus LX 570, the Land Cruiser’s even rarer luxury-label version, which costs a mere $5,010 more. This puts the Toyota at a disadvantage to competitors such as the Land Rover Range Rover, or even to less-expensive SUVs such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit. Both feature fresher styling inside and out.
Powering the “Land Crusher” is Toyota’s silky smooth 5.7-liter V-8 engine, pumping out a healthy but not overpowering 381 horsepower and 401 pounds-feet of torque. New for 2016 is an 8-speed automatic transmission that routes that power through all four wheels. While the engine itself is quiet and torquey, the transmission’s behavior leaves me cold. I’m used to Toyota transmissions being seamless in their power delivery, but the Land Cruiser exhibited several instances of delayed upshifts, clunking noises and harsh downshifts. Perhaps it’s the toughened nature of this transmission optimized for off-road use, but it was not delivering the refinement I’ve experienced in previous Toyotas, especially when it was cold.
For about the same money, a base Range Rover comes with a smaller 340-hp, supercharged V-6 and an eight-speed automatic transmission, while a loaded GMC Yukon Denali comes with an even bigger 420-hp, 6.2-liter V-8, eight-speed auto – and about $15,000 in change. On the plus side, the Cruiser’s towing capacity is rated at a healthy 8,100 pounds, matching that of the brawnier Yukon and besting the Range Rover and the Mercedes-Benz GLS 450.
Handling and steering are unremarkable, with admirable body control thanks to the Land Cruiser’s hydraulic stabilizer bar suspension. It’s not nearly as sophisticated as the Yukon’s Magnetic Ride Control, which does an amazing job of soaking up bumps in the pavement, nor does it have the poshness of the Range Rover’s air suspension. Body roll still is present (there’s no hiding the Land Cruiser’s mass when changing directions), as is a pronounced forward pitch when braking hard, but it is mitigated.
The ride is on the firm side, and the steering doesn’t provide much feedback, but this isn’t a sports car – it feels appropriate to such a big SUV. A highlight of the driving experience is the firm, progressive brakes. They’re a bit grabby at parking lot speeds, but they do an admirable job of hauling down the Toyota Land Cruiser from highway velocity with minimal drama – apart from the nosedive mentioned above.
Fuel economy is a sore spot, with the Land Cruiser rated a dismal 13/18/15 mpg city/highway/combined; my week of driving in both urban and highway settings netted a less-than-thrifty 14 mpg. Combined with the Land Cruiser’s smallish 24-gallon fuel tank, that gives a total range of just over 330 miles. The GMC Yukon does better at 15/21/17 mpg from a larger and more powerful V-8, and the smaller Range Rover with its supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 is even better at 17/23/19 mpg. Thankfully, unlike the supercharged Range Rover, the Land Cruiser survives on regular unleaded gasoline. If you need some fuel economy to go with your go-anywhere SUV, you’ll want to look at a Range Rover Td6 with its 3.0-liter turbo-diesel V-6, which is rated at 22/29/25 mpg. The Mercedes-Benz GLS also can be had with a diesel, but fuel economy ratings are not yet known for the big, new Benz.
Comfort certainly is not in short supply in the Land Cruiser. It’s not a big step up into the large, comfortable leather seats, and once you’re there, the view out in all directions is commanding. The low belt line and high seating position evoke the feeling of a Land Rover LR4. There’s plenty of width and headroom for front-seat occupants, but styling is a little plain – there isn’t much that’s visually interesting inside the Land Cruiser, especially when compared with the artful interiors found on its premium competitors. Materials quality is high, but at these prices, it really should be luxurious as well.
Backseat room is problematic, due to a complete lack of toe room. There’s average legroom in the second row, but the mechanisms for the front seats mean you can’t slide your feet underneath them at all, which makes for an uncomfortable experience. The third row is suitable for children or for adults over short distances; the position of the seats so close to the floor means you’re sitting with your knees up around your chest. That third row seating folds up in a unique and old-school way, separating in the middle and folding up against the sides of the cargo area instead of storing in the cargo floor like in most modern three-row SUVs. This impedes total cargo room, as the seats never truly disappear. The second row also does not fold flat, requiring the seats to be tumbled forward and tethered to the B-pillars to get them up and out of the way. The third-row seating can be removed completely, but then you’re forced to figure out a place to safely stow them.
While the seating configuration is quite a throwback, the updated multimedia system is not. A new 9-inch touch-screen is bright, large and mounted nice and high in the dash. It’s easy to read and use while driving, thanks to this position and the latest Toyota Entune system, which includes standard navigation. For family-minded shoppers, the system features two 11.9-inch screens on the front seatbacks for the second-row entertainment system. Controls for most other systems are similarly easy to find and use, such as the climate controls, but the four-wheel-drive system controls are arranged rather haphazardly along the center console and dash. Some of the safety feature switches also are hard to find and use; they are located low and to the left of the steering wheel. Neither Apple CarPlay nor Android Auto is offered in the Land Cruiser, but a 14-speaker JBL audio system is standard. It doesn’t sound as clear or strong, however, as some competing systems.
The Toyota Land Cruiser’s size means it can carry a lot of goods, but as mentioned earlier, the cargo area is compromised by the way in which the third-row seats fold and the lack of a power liftgate, even at this price. The tailgate is a two-piece affair, and it’s pretty easy to use, but shorter buyers may have a stretch to reach the opened upper portion. The cargo area features 16.1 cubic feet of room behind the third row, 43 cubic feet with the third row stowed and 81.7 cubic feet in total with the second row folded and the rear seats removed completely. This is a bit more than the smaller, five-seat Range Rover, which features 32.1 cubic feet behind its backseat and maxes out at 71.7 cubic feet. The GMC Yukon Denali has more room thanks to its greater width – 15.3 cubic feet behind the third row, 51.7 behind the second and 94.7 with all seats stowed. The Mercedes-Benz GLS also is larger than the Land Cruiser, with 16.0 cubic feet behind the third row, 49.4 behind the second row and 93.8 maximum. And unlike the Land Cruiser, the Mercedes-Benz and GMC achieve these maximum measurements with their seats in the vehicles, no need to remove anything.
Several new electronic safety systems for 2016 bring the Toyota Land Cruiser onto a more competitive footing with its rivals. The Land Cruiser has not been crash-tested by the National Highway Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but if it ever is, the results will be here. A host of new collision mitigation systems have been added as standard equipment, such as forward pre-collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control. A new blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert also are standard, as is a backup camera. See all of the Land Cruiser’s safety features here.
The nice part about a Land Cruiser is that the exorbitant price buys you a truck that’s fully loaded – there are no factory options. The only thing you can specify that will add cost to the bottom line is Blizzard Pearl white paint for $395. My test vehicle included some dealer accessories including all-weather floor mats, rear-seat wireless headphones and a cargo net, which brought the price up from the standard $84,820 to an as-tested $85,199 including delivery. That’s a whole lot of coin for any kind of vehicle from a mass-market brand.
To match the Toyota Land Cruiser’s off-road chops, one might opt for the Land Rover Range Rover. It’s smaller than the Toyota Land Cruiser and has less power, but it’s decidedly more upscale inside and comes with an air suspension and enough electronically controlled four-wheel ability to get through spaces that the Land Cruiser can’t. It’s even priced similarly, starting at $85,945, but for that money you get a far more attractive, modern vehicle. If you’d like something with a body type that flies under the radar like the Toyota Land Cruiser but still trumps it in luxury and on-road manners, the GMC Yukon Denali is a relative bargain. Starting at $69,520, it features a magnetic adaptive suspension that does a fantastic job of soaking up road imperfections, has a lot more passenger room and gets better fuel economy. If you’d like something from a luxury brand, the Mercedes-Benz GLS has been redesigned for 2017. Featuring a turbocharged diesel V-6 as a base engine, it also offers a turbo V-6 gas engine or naturally aspirated V-8 as an option. It’s almost as big as the Yukon inside but has better road manners than the Toyota. One downside – options are pricey, and tend to bump the price of a GLS 450 well above the $69,625 starting price. Compare all four models here.