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Model year 2017 changes:
Editors' note, August 20, 2017: This review was written based on an evaluation of the 2016 Toyota Land Cruiser. See the changes (or complete lack thereof) for the 2017 model year above.
"That Toyota costs how much?!"
Toyota has built a reputation in the States for having affordable, reliable passenger cars. It's quite the conversation starter when you roll up in a 'Yota that starts at $83,825.
In other parts of the world, the Land Cruiser is lauded for its capability mixed with Toyota's history of building rock-solid SUVs. It's the preferred dune crusher in the Middle East, where oil flows precipitate into cash flows that make the Land Cruiser's MSRP seem like a pittance.
But it's not like the money isn't well spent. This Toyota's high cost of admission gives you a fully loaded utility vehicle that spares no expense on the utility side, despite the fact that many of its owners may never put a foot in the dirt. It's basically Japan's Range Rover, and taken in that context, it's actually a pretty good value.
For the 2016 model year, Toyota threw the Land Cruiser a wealth of aesthetic upgrades. The front and rear fasciae are all new, with bright LED lighting front and back. With a big, strong grille and a hefty chrome strip straddling the taillights, this vehicle exudes physical heft -- as it should, with a curb weight nearing 6,000 pounds.
But, on the whole, it's a handsome beast. It manages to look both new and old at the same time, the latter giving you a sense of reliability and ruggedness. Of course, it looks great parked outside of Saks, too, but hopefully owners will actually take this thing off-road on occasion.
The interior is a bit less premium feeling than, say, a Cadillac Escalade or a Land Rover Range Rover, but it's no less useful and comfortable. The leather feels expensive, while certain heavy-use parts like the door handles and 4WD controls feel chunky and durable. It's an interesting mix of capable and cushy, which describes the whole Land Cruiser experience in a nutshell. You feel less likely to break or sully something expensive than you do in the competition.
The Land Cruiser comes in a single specification, so its base price is also its fully loaded price, barring a few small additions such as rubber floor mats ($250) and a pair of wireless headphones for the second-row entertainment system ($80). Despite this, you still get blank buttons on several panels, which is annoying at this price point.
The standard third row has enough room to keep my svelte six-foot frame comfortable for about an hour. After that, leg cramps start to kick in. The seats fold up and to the side with a couple of simple latch pulls and some assistance from built-in struts. While it may be easy to move them, their stowed position means cargo capacity isn't all it could be.
If you've spent time in any other modern Toyota, the Land Cruiser's giant, 9.0-inch touchscreen will be quite familiar. Even if not, Toyota's Entune wins points for being relatively snappy, easy to navigate and quick to boot up. Pairing my iPhone took about 45 seconds. Once it's paired, I was able to bring even more applications into the vehicle by way of Entune Apps. And while I was saddened by Toyota's typical lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, I found Siri Eyes Free to be a helpful addition in keeping my eyes on the road.
The infotainment system is attached to a 14-speaker JBL Synthesis sound system, and it's probably the best I've heard from any Toyota, perhaps even besting the optional Mark Levinson systems found in Lexus models. Sounds were crisp and distortion-free almost all the way to full volume.
Sadly, with only one USB port, you won't be charging too many phones. While the second row lacks a USB port, it does have a 12-volt outlet, an HDMI input for the rear-seat entertainment system and two 3.5mm audio jacks.
The weirdest tech omission by far -- well beyond having just one USB port -- is the lack of a one-touch turn signal. Nearly every modern vehicle will flash its blinker three or more times with a light tap of the turn signal stalk. Not the Land Cruiser, though. It's about the simplest thing ever, but it's not here.
This Brobdingnagian body-on-frame bruiser boots up with an airy roar that's reminiscent of Toyota's Tundra -- as it should be, because the two share the same 381 horsepower, 401 pound-feet of torque 5.7-liter V-8. Climb on up to the driver's seat (if you're short, it really is a climb), and you're gifted with a perfect view of the road ahead, thanks to tall glass and a high seating position.
Even in normal, daily use, the Land Cruiser feels unstoppable. It's not particularly quick (and the power setting on the center console is more for off-road necessity), but steering is light enough to be fine for your average driver, and the suspension will soak up railroad tracks, unpaved portions of asphalt and potholes with absolute ease.
Despite its size, it's no more difficult to manage than your average crossover -- until you need to stop in a hurry, that is. Braking quickly will send the chin to the ground and the arse to the sky, which is...unsettling, especially the first time it happens. Thankfully, above 70 mph or so, you become keenly aware of your massive momentum and will find yourself intentionally giving others more space so that your panic brake doesn't turn into the forward flip you feel it might.
Approach and departure angles are suitable for some decent crawling, though, and its massive-sidewall tires are great for keeping the wheels safe. The standard-issue tires have decent enough tread for dry-weather off-roading, but they are not suitable for wetter, muddier conditions.
I didn't engage in any double-black-diamond off-roading, but the trouble I did get into wasn't anything the Land Cruiser couldn't fix on its own. I couldn't find anything that the four-wheel-drive system's high range couldn't tackle, although I did briefly experiment with low range, which was easy to engage and disengage -- no awkward shifting required, as it's an entirely digital affair. Crawl mode works well on descents where you want to ensure your speed is managed, although it's a bit loud as it works.
When shifting into low range, you can use the Land Cruiser's wealth of exterior cameras to help navigate nearby terrain. I liked that it uses delayed camera signals to give me an approximation of what is under the vehicle, and the inclinometer was is great addition, and will be helpful for anyone who does serious off-roading.
Standard on the Land Cruiser is Toyota's Safety Sense P, which includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking, automatic high beams and lane departure warning. The last two systems, as well as adaptive cruise, worked just fine for me, no different than a Camry with similar equipment.
Leave it up to Toyota to make a value play at $84,000. While the competition urges you to shell out for fancy equipment even as you get up into the upper echelons of SUV pricing, Toyota offers just one trim level with everything.
For similar powertrains and equipment, what stands at $84,000 with Toyota turns into a shade over $84,000 with the Cadillac Escalade, $91,000 with the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class and a staggering $104,000 with a Range Rover. Ditch the Rover's V-8, and that drops down to about $92,000 for a V-6 HSE. So, the Toyota has got the value angle going for it.
Where it falters, though, is fuel economy. While I did manage to achieve the EPA's estimated fuel economy of 13 mpg city and 18 mpg highway, it's not the best of the bunch. Both V-6 (17/23) and V-8 (14/19) Range Rovers out-thrift the LC, as does the 15-city, 21-highway Escalade. And that's despite having the least amount of power and torque of any vehicle mentioned, save for the V-6 Range Rover.
However, the Land Cruiser gains some ground, thanks to its 8,100-pound towing rating, no special packages required. It out-tows all its competitors with the exception of the Mercedes, which matches its rating. As for payload, the Land Cruiser is once again at the bottom, with its 1,320-pound rating losing out to the competition by 100 pounds or more.
That said, the Land Cruiser is likely to be the most reliable of any vehicle in its segment. Land Cruiser owners have always praised their vehicles for living like cockroaches, subsisting on basic maintenance for hundreds of thousands of miles. Compare that to, say, a Range Rover, which, based on my time working in a garage, is about as reliable as a sundial in a cave.
When it comes down to it, the Land Cruiser is an incredibly capable SUV with plenty of on-road manners, and enough gadgetry to keep passengers occupied on longer trips. It'll run until the heat death of the universe, and while fuel economy isn't all that great, it's still a better value that most, if not all of its competitors.