Toyota Land Cruiser review
The Toyota Land Cruiser is the ideal car for when the going gets tough, and is cheaper than its rivals, too
The Toyota Land Cruiser is a very capable and reliable 4x4, but in spite of its legendary strengths, most drivers will find it simply too agricultural compared to contemporary rivals like the Land Rover Discovery.
If you need genuine off-road ability, it’s still a great choice, and the latest updates make it marginally better than before. However, for everyone else, the changes don’t go far enough for the car to compete with the wide range of luxurious SUVs and crossover models now available. Almost without exception, those rivals offer a degree of refinement and on-road dynamism that the Land Cruiser was never intended to match – but you wouldn’t pick any of them over the Toyota for a trek through the African bush.
The Toyota Land Cruiser comes from a military background, much like the WWII US Jeep. The original Toyota BJ off-roader was created during the Korean War in 1951, and from 1954 the model became known as the Land Cruiser – Toyota already had an eye on the British Land Rover, which had launched to considerable acclaim in 1948.
Over the decades the Land Cruiser has grown in size and luxury, but it remains, first and foremost, a genuine off-road vehicle. Indeed, while other luxury and lifestyle 4x4s have adopted car-like engineering in pursuit of efficiency and refinement, the Land Cruiser has stuck to its guns by retaining a separate beefy ladder chassis of the type that’s now rarely seen outside the commercial vehicle sector.
The latest Land Cruiser is the ninth generation, and was introduced in the UK in 2008. A facelifted version with its distinctive front end arrived in early 2014.
Buyers have a fairly simple choice to make in showrooms. There’s only a single diesel engine option, but you can pick between six-speed automatic or manual transmissions. There are also three and five-door bodystyles – the latter with the option of a third row of seats, making the car a full seven-seater.
In addition, Toyota offers three trim levels: Active, Icon and Invincible. Active models are most easily recognised by their black grille trim, black side steps and six-spoke, 17-inch alloy wheels. The Icon and Invincible both feature full chrome grilles and side steps, and ride on 18-inch multi-spoke wheels.
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Equipment is generous across the range, with even the Active featuring cruise control, a rear view camera and a Bluetooth-enabled touchscreen multimedia system. Invincible spec brings a raft of luxury items, as well as various electronic drive control systems designed to make progress off-road as straightforward and safe as driving on tarmac.
Engines, performance and drive
On the road, the Land Cruiser feels like the tall, heavy car that it is. There's a fair amount of lean through corners and the steering could do with being a bit sharper, although you soon get used to it – and frankly, this isn’t a car that was designed to be hurried. Comfort is generally good, but the car fidgets and thumps around on rough surfaces and doesn’t glide up the road in the same way a Land Rover Discovery does.
It's worth mentioning, though, that the Toyota comes into its own when you venture off the tarmac. It’s a genuinely hardcore off-roader in a category that has become a little confused by the arrival of lifestyle ‘crossover’ models such as the Mercedes GLE and the Audi Q7.
For improved traction over rugged terrain, the Land Cruiser benefits from a low-ratio gearbox and lockable centre differential. Plus, thanks to Toyota’s legendary reliability, you can depend on this 4x4 not only to take you into the wilderness, but also to get you back out of it.
There's just one engine in the Land Cruiser line-up: a new 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel with 174bhp. Specify it with the automatic transmission, and it serves up 450Nm of torque, while it delivers 420Nm if you go for the six-speed manual box.
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The engine replaced the old 3.0-litre V6 in the middle of 2015, and while it does a good job of lugging around the heavy 4x4, it never feels particularly brisk. Acceleration from 0-62mph takes 12.1 seconds in the six-speed manual model or 12.7 seconds in the automatic. Top speed is 109mph, so unlike most of its crossover-style competitors, the Land Cruiser is unlikely to be found hogging the outside lane of motorways.
The engine also feels quite rough compared to the smoother six-cylinder diesels you get in off-roaders from Land Rover, Mercedes and BMW. They of course have been developed with more focus on the ‘lifestyle’ element of the SUV market, while the Land Cruiser is still primarily conceived as a luxurious and effective off-road workhorse for markets around the globe.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Big cars come with big running costs, and the Toyota Land Cruiser is no exception. The new downsized diesel is a big improvement on the engine it replaces, claiming reasonable 38.1mpg fuel economy. But the truth is, you’re unlikely to match the official figures in day-to-day driving – 25mpg seems more realistic – plus there’s no escaping the 194g/km CO2 emissions. They mean hefty road tax bills, as well as steep Benefit in Kind tax costs for company users – although the Toyota is better in this respect than some of its bigger-engined SUV rivals.
A large off-roader is going to be expensive to run no matter what badge it’s wearing, and the Land Cruiser has the added advantage of being cheaper to drive out of the showroom than those from many of the premium brands.
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It comes well equipped as standard, too, so you won’t feel as though you’re missing out on luxury goodies. The top-of-the-range Invincible model includes keyless go and a 360-degree camera, as well as adaptive suspension, crawl control and cross-traffic alert. There’s also a DVD player for the kids, a terrain monitoring set-up and a 17-speaker hard-drive music system. Even if you go for the entry-level Active, you get cruise control, an infotainment touchscreen and a rear view camera.
Insurance premiums for the Land Cruiser won’t exactly be cheap. Although there’s only one engine choice, the big 4x4 is ranked from insurance groups 35 to 41, depending on trim level.
Thanks to its reputation for bombproof reliability, the Toyota holds on to its price well: our experts predict a strong residual value of 52 per cent over a theoretical three-year/30,000-mile ownership cycle. Bear in mind that the five-door, seven-seater Land Cruiser will retain much more of its value than the three-door, five-seat version. The latter is much less useful as a family car, and used demand reflects this. Either way, the second-hand market will be less enamoured of a low-spec Land Cruiser, while models with an automatic transmission will be valued more highly, too. These are all things to remember in the showroom if you want to maximise your returns come resale time.
Interior, design and technology
Few cars can match the Toyota Land Cruiser for road presence. It’s marginally shorter than the Land Rover Discovery, but it’s taller, and while the distinctive step in the Land Rover’s roofline is a neat design touch, the Land Cruiser is pure 4x4, thanks to its ‘two-box’ design and tall ride height.
Bulging wheelarches, chunky roof rails and running boards – essential to help smaller occupants get on board – only add to the rugged look, while the 2014 facelift added full LED lamps front and rear. These include super-bright daytime running lights, and when you combine them with the huge five-bar chrome grille, the Toyota looks imposing – although you’d struggle to call it pretty.
Inside, the Land Cruiser delivers the kind of old-school luxury you’d expect from a Lexus LS 600h. Top-spec Invincible models get plush leather, while wood trim on the wheel and dash is designed to give an upmarket touch, although this looks a bit dated.
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Thankfully, the beige leather is optional, and it’s best avoided if you plan on heading off-road as it’ll show dirt very easily.
The dash looks a bit messy; there are two air vents on top of the centre console, a bank of buttons and dials for the climate control below the standard sat-nav screen, and a big rotary selector, levers and buttons that operate the off-road modes.
In the back is another set of climate controls for the rear seats, while the Invincible gets a Blu-Ray entertainment system as standard, complete with a drop-down screen in the roof.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
The entry-level Land Cruiser Active features the Toyota Touch 2 multimedia system, which allows you to stream music from your smartphone via Bluetooth or a USB connection. Sat-nav integration is an optional extra, although it’s standard on the Icon model, as is a JBL premium sound system. The range-topping Invincible adds DVD entertainment for rear passengers.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Inside, the Land Cruiser isn’t quite as roomy as you might hope, as its old-school proportions and hefty 4x4 engineering restrict interior space a little.
Still, it’s easy to find a comfortable driving position, as there’s plenty of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel, plus visibility is good and you get lots of storage space for odds and ends around the cabin.
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The Toyota is available as a three or five-door, and naturally the three-door is less family friendly; it’s more aimed at business users who need to carry equipment to locations off the beaten track. The three-door is also only available in entry-level Active trim, and misses out on leather seats. However, it still comes with cruise control, keyless go, a rear view camera, air-con and Bluetooth.
The mid-range Icon trim adds useful practical touches like Downhill and Hill Start Assist, all-round parking sensors and rain-sensing windscreen wipers, while the top-spec Invincible model is equipped with Crawl Control and Multi-Terrain driving modes, as well as blind spot monitoring and 360-degree cameras.
The three-door Land Cruiser is a useful 445mm shorter than the five-door, which measures 4,780mm from nose to tail. Both models are 1,890mm wide. The Land Rover Discovery is 4,829mm long, so there’s not a lot in it.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The Land Cruiser comes with five or seven seats, and in higher-spec models, there’s an electric folding mechanism on the rearmost row. This means unfolding the seats for extra passengers or folding them away for additional boot space takes seconds and can be done at the press of a button, which is a nice touch. There is plenty of space in the middle row of seats thanks to a large footwell, impressive legroom and a high roof.
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You can slide the middle row forward to free up extra space for passengers sitting behind. In fact, the two rearmost seats provide sufficient room for adults, for short journeys at least.
Boot capacity stands at 620 litres when the Land Cruiser is in five-seat mode, but with the rear seats in place the capacity is reduced to around that of a Fiat 500 – so while the big Toyota can carry seven people, it won’t be able to transport much of their luggage at the same time.
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With all the rear seats folded down, the load space increases to a mighty maximum of 1,943 litres.
You need lots of space to swing open the side-hinged tailgate, which makes loading in tight car parks awkward, although the separate-opening glass can prove handy here. The rear suspension can be lowered to boost access, but there’s only a 5cm difference between its highest and lowest settings, meaning only a 2.5cm drop from normal.
Reliability and Safety
Euro NCAP hasn't yet crash tested the latest Land Cruiser, but it's reasonable to assume it would perform well due to its stiff body and the fact there are seven airbags fitted as standard.
The roster of safety kit also includes electronic stability control and – on the mid-range Icon and above – hill start and downhill assist, plus a blind-spot monitor. There are specific off-road settings for the electronic stability control, too, plus other electronics to display the car’s body angle, steering direction and power distribution to keep you on the right track.
In addition, the Invincible has lane assist and a rear cross traffic monitor – handy when reversing such a large car. Plus, you can upgrade to the Safety Pack, which adds adaptive cruise control and a pre-crash safety system for £1,360.
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In spite of numerous high-profile recalls in recent years, Toyota has an exemplary reliability record, and the Land Cruiser shouldn’t let you down in even the most extreme conditions. The car has been developed to take serious abuse in harsh environments around the world; this is the trade-off buyers make for refinement that can’t always match its more lifestyle-orientated rivals.
If something does go wrong, you can expect first-class service from your local Toyota garage – the network came second only to Lexus’ out of 30-odd brands in the dealer chart of our Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey.
Not enough owners responded for the Land Cruiser to rank individually in the survey, but Toyota finished eighth overall in the manufacturers’ chart with a ranking of third in the reliability category.
Toyota offers a generous five-year/100,000-mile warranty, which compares favourably to the three-year/60,000-mile packages provided by many rivals. On top of that, buyers can extend the cover.
With such rugged build quality and a beefy drivetrain, the Land Cruiser shouldn’t cost a lot to maintain. Toyota has a basic fixed price menu for servicing, and it works out at £199 for intermediate and £269 for full check-ups, although these prices don’t necessarily include all the items like fluids, filters or belts required at any given mileage.