I recently had the chance to drive a new 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser, which is a bit of an anomaly in the Toyota lineup. I say this because the Land Cruiser’s starting price is around $86,000 with shipping, which makes it the most expensive new Toyota model ever, and dramatically more expensive than Toyota’s other vehicles — namely, popular crossovers like the RAV4 and Highlander. So what’s the deal with the $85,000 ultra-luxury Toyota SUV?
Before I get into the driving experience, let’s discuss the back story. The Land Cruiser first came out decades go, and it was initially a utilitarian truck that looked a lot like a Jeep. Over time, it was refined to keep up with consumer tastes, and then refined a little more, and then refined a little more, and now we have the current Land Cruiser: an $85,000 luxury SUV that competes with Mercedes-Benz and Lexus, despite its Toyota badge.
Of course, when I say "competes," I don’t really mean "competes," as Toyota moves about 3,000 of these things a year — far less than the Lexus LX 570, the Land Cruiser’s luxurious twin, which sells 4,000 to 6,000 units a year pretty consistently. Both cars are dramatically outsold by the Mercedes-Benz GLS, which sold 32,000 units last year, and the Range Rover, which sold 17,000 units last year, which is no surprise: the Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover brand names are much stronger than "Toyota Land Cruiser." So who, exactly, is buying this thing?
The answer is: people who want an ultra-durable SUV. While most normal luxury SUVs are designed for typical use in your suburb, hauling children and the occasional towing, the Land Cruiser is in it for the long haul. It’s got a massive V8 because that’s designed to run forever. It still uses a body-on-frame design and features a host of off-road goodies. The simple truth is that the Land Cruiser is intended to last for decades, well past the warranty period, without the need for major repairs or problems. It’s the antithesis of modern SUVs and cars, which are often leased and replaced every few years. Not the Land Cruiser. The Land Cruiser will last forever.
In terms of driving experience, that leads to some drawbacks. Namely, the fact that the Land Cruiser is laughably outdated in some ways, like the fact that it has a traditional "pull" parking brake handle (with a leather shift boot that includes a zipper), while every other car in this segment has moved on to electronic parking brakes. The same goes for the interior buttons and switches, the door locks and a wide range of other Land Cruiser stuff, including the thirsty, old-school, naturally aspirated engine: this truck is a dinosaur.
But it’s a dinosaur that works. The Land Cruiser will operate forever, and that’s the primary appeal: it can go anywhere and it can do anything. I drove it on the pavement, and it’s fine — when you’re going around a corner, handling is surprisingly composed and body roll is limited. When you’re accelerating, the big V8 really shoves the thing down the road. And when you’re just cruising along, the interior is surprisingly nice and comfortable, providing a relaxing, comforting ride.
But while all of these things are good, they’re nowhere near as good as the Range Rover, which is faster, nicer on the inside and loaded with better tech — not to mention the head-turning styling and great brand name. The same is true for the Lincoln Navigator, which is more practical, more handsome, much nicer inside and, again, features far better technology. The Land Cruiser isn’t as good as its luxury SUV rivals.
But then again, the Land Cruiser lives in a different world from those cars. Nobody would buy a Range Rover with the idea of handing it down to an infant child in 16 years when they start driving. Nobody gets a Lincoln Navigator with the idea that they’ll see 300,000 miles on the odometer, someday, tick off like it was nothing. For that stuff, you need a Land Cruiser.
And so, the Land Cruiser isn’t the best luxury SUV, and it’s absurdly expensive when you consider the competition. But for people who would never consider the competition — about 250 people a month, as it turns out — the Land Cruiser lives on as the dinosaur that just won’t die. No matter how hard you try to kill it.