One of my earliest automotive memories is inspecting a preowned 4Runner Limited with my parents at a Toyota dealership back in 1998. It had a leather interior. It had the gold package. And, like all 4Runners ever, the window in the rear hatch could be rolled down — just like those in each of the doors.
I was thinking about this the other day, and I realized that Toyota has employed some really unique rear "hatch" designs over the years, from current-day models all the way back to the original 40 Series Land Cruiser. Let’s discuss some of them below.
Roll-Down Rear Window — 4Runner; Sequoia; Tundra; 55-Series Land Cruiser
Back to that roll-down rear window. This is great for hauling long items, loading things into the rear cargo area in a tight space or just venting the vehicle on a hot day, and this feature isn’t found only on the 4Runner. The first Toyota product to feature a roll-down rear window was the FJ55-Series Land Cruiser, commonly referred to as the "Wagon" or the "Iron Pig." Both the Sequoia and the Tundra have this feature as well. This is especially unique in the Tundra, which is the only pickup truck currently on the market to offer a roll-down rear window, making for a rather unique appearance when the window is in its down position.
Split Rear Tailgate — 60-Series; 80-Series; 100-Series; 200-Series Land Cruiser
Since the 60-Series was introduced in 1980, the Land Cruiser has long featured a unique split rear hatch. Unlike traditional hatches, the Land Cruiser’s hatch opens in two pieces — the glass opens upward, while the bottom hatch opens downward, like the tailgate on a pickup truck. This may seem like a minute detail, but it actually offers a lot of extra utility. The Land Cruiser’s lower tailgate can act as a seat, a table or a workbench, among other things. It also creates a flat load floor and serves to extend the vehicle’s overall cargo capacity in a pinch. Folding down the tailgate in my own Land Cruiser also means the cargo floor is now long enough for me to sleep in.
The tailgate also serves a purpose in the up position as well. I can haul mountain bikes a short distance by hanging their front fork over the tailgate, much like people do with pickup trucks — and, similar to the roll-down rear window, it makes the cargo area accessible in tight quarters. The split rear tailgate is perhaps the Land Cruiser’s most underrated feature.
Separate Rear Glass — Highlander
The most mainstream product on this list, the Highlander features rear glass that can be opened separately from the rear hatch itself, allowing for easier access to the cargo area and for the transportation of larger, longer objects like lumber and small trees. This used to be quite common, but as many automakers have eliminated this (presumably costly) feature with recent redesigns, it’s nice to see the Highlander holding on to it.
Bi-Fold — 40-Series Land Cruiser
For this one, we have to go way back, but it’s perhaps the most interesting design on this list. Starting with the earliest models, original 40-Series Land Cruisers offered a unique corrugated top. You can quickly tell corrugated top models from later models by three different things. First, well, they used corrugated metal. Second, they had much smaller windows than later models, lacking the unique curved corner windows that many have come to associate with the 40-Series. And finally, corrugated tops came with a unique, bi-fold rear hatch design. The door was hinged horizontally at the top and in the middle. It opened upward with the middle hinge folding inward, accordion style.
Side-Hinged Swing Out and Separate Rear Glass — FJ Cruiser; Lexus GX
The Lexus GX and the Toyota FJ Cruiser both have a side-hinged, swing-out rear hatch with glass that can be opened separately from the rest of the panel (except for on the first-generation GX). This is a unique design not often seen in the United States, but it is popular in other markets where the GX is sold as the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado.
Chris O’Neill grew up in the Rust Belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He worked in the auto industry for awhile, helping Germans design cars for Americans. Follow him on Instagram: @MountainWestCarSpotter.
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