Toyota recently lent me a 2018 Land Cruiser to drive around for a week. Since I own a 1999 Land Cruiser and my friend Brandon owns a 1997 Land Cruiser, we decided to get the trio together for a quick comparison of the last three generations of the greatest four-by-fours ever to be sold in the U.S.
Here we’ll run through each one and touch on engines, off-road tech and cool features that set them apart from the crowd.
1997 Lexus LX450 – ’80 Series’
The 80 was introduced to the US market for the 1991 model year and sold through 1997. You’ll notice this one wears a Lexus badge. That’s because this is technically an LX450 — Lexus’s version of the Land Cruiser, which was sold for the 1996 and 1997 model years.
The U.S.-market 80 Series employed a 4.5-liter inline 6-cylinder engine making 215 horsepower and mated to a 4-speed automatic. It was during the 80 Series’ model run that the Land Cruiser would gain, for the first time, driver and passenger airbags and anti-lock brakes. The 80 Series still never offered cupholders or heated seats. One noteworthy feature of the 80 is its sliding rear side windows.
In terms of off-road stuff, this was the last Land Cruiser to be sold in the U.S. with a solid front axle, a design favored by off-roaders for its durability and added articulation, but criticized for its poor on-road driving manners. The 80 Series, along with every Land Cruiser that’s followed it, offered full-time 4-wheel drive with selectable low range and a button to activate the locking center differential. The 80 was also offered with optional locking front and rear differentials. Around 10 to 20 percent of 80 Series models sold in the U.S. came with front and rear lockers, and these examples now command a heavy premium on the used market.
1999 Toyota Land Cruiser – ‘100 Series’
The 100 Series was introduced in the U.S. for 1998, and it was sold all the way through 2007. The 100 Series introduced independent front suspension to the Land Cruiser, which dramatically improved on-road driving dynamics. Theoretically, the adoption of IFS served to hinder the Land Cruiser’s rough and tumble off-roady-ness, as it allows for less articulation, and theoretically lacks the durability of a heavier-duty solid axle. In practice, though, the 100 Series is a massive improvement over its predecessor. The 100 Series Land Cruiser was also the first Land Cruiser to be offered with a V8, introducing the venerable 4.7-liter engine that also saw use in the 4Runner, Tundra, Sequoia and Lexus GX470. The engine made 228 hp and was paired to a 4-speed automatic from 1998 to 2002, and made 235 hp sent through a 5-speed automatic from 2003 to 2007.
Off-road features on the 100 Series are still relatively primitive. A locking center differential was standard. The 1998 and 1999 models were also offered with an optional locking rear differential, while 2000-2007 models came with Toyota’s A-TRAC system, which utilizes the traction control system to pulse the front and rear wheels, mimicking a locked differential when necessary.
The 100 offered a few unique features. A fully-independent rear HVAC system was optional for the third row. Mind you, second-row occupants must rely on the cooling and heating preferences of the driver and front passenger, but for whatever reason, Toyota deemed third-row passengers worthy of an entirely separate system. The presence of the HVAC unit results in the 100 having an asymmetrical rear ceiling. The 100 also offered power venting third-row windows, which are great for airing out the vehicle and cooling it down in warm weather. Finally, the 100 had unique trapezoidal shaped vents in the d-pillars. These serve to release the pressure inside the cabin any time a door is slammed. That feature is included in nearly all vehicles, but it’s not usually a design feature like this.
2018 Toyota Land Cruiser – ‘200 Series’
The 200 series Land Cruiser came to the U.S. for the 2008 model year and has since been updated twice: once for 2013, and again for 2016. The example I had to play with for a week was a 2018 model with around 6,000 miles on the odometer. While the 80 and 100 Series included in this comparison are both worth between $8,000 and $12,000, this 200 Series has an MSRP of $85,000. The Land Cruiser lineup has been further simplified here in the US in recent years, and this 2018 model offers only one option: dual rear-seat entertainment screens mounted to the backs of the driver and passenger seats, for $2,000. The 200 is powered by a potent 5.7-liter V8 making 381 hp, and it’s way faster than any vehicle this large should be. From 2008 to 2015, the Land Cruiser came with a 6-speed automatic, while the 2016 update introduced a new 8-speed.
In terms of off-road features, the 200 offers a lot. A-TRAC, as introduced on the 100 Series, is included, as is a locking center differential, but the 200 has never been offered with a rear locker in the U.S. Additional features include crawl control, which is like off-road cruise control, as well as downhill assist and a multi-terrain select mode, which allows the driver to optimize the vehicle to different terrains. Every 200 Series Land Cruiser also comes with Toyota’s "KDSS," or "Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System," which can disconnect the vehicle’s sway bars when it detects uneven terrain, allowing for greater articulation. Finally, the 200 has a unique off-road turn assist mode, that pulses the inner brake to cut down on the vehicle’s turning radius ever so slightly while making tight turns off-road.
On the market today, each of these three vehicles is in a different phase of its life. The 80 Series is seeing their values rise as of late, with vintage SUVs becoming more desirable with every passing day — and nice examples can now fetch upwards of $20,000. The 100 Series is the value play: you can pick one up for around $8,000. Chances are it’ll have around 200,000 miles on the odometer, but given that these vehicles will exceed 300,000 with only routine maintenance, not to mention their extreme capability, a used 100 Series is one of the best values on the market. Find a nice one and keep it nice, and a few years down the road you might even be in a position to sell it for more than you paid.
The 200 Series is a bit trickier. For most people, $85,000 is hard to justify for a vehicle as dated inside as a brand-new Land Cruiser. On the used market, where early examples have begun to dip below $30,000, this proposition becomes a bit more palpable. Altogether, though, as it’s packaged currently, the current-generation Land Cruiser has limited appeal, and Toyota knows this, as it only sells around 3,000 each year on average. Still, the Land Cruiser is an automotive staple, and any generation will get you just about anywhere.
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. On Instagram, he is the @MountainWestCarSpotter.