By Jim Powell – MPG Automotive Journalist
There are few SUV’s in the world that conjure up as many legends as the Toyota Land Cruiser. The Wiley’s Jeep has its place in history and inspired the Japanese to develop 4×4 vehicles post-WWII. The Land Cruiser has crossed every continent on the globe and taken people on adventures for 60+ years. In fact, today a vintage Toyota Land Cruiser can bring a higher price than even the 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition that starts at $87,645 before DPH fees. Many restored Land Cruisers are selling for more than $100k these days. The Land Cruiser has become a symbol both of journeys to distant trails and reliabletransportation back home again.
The Land Cruiser started in 1951 as the Toyota BJ, a small 4WD military vehicle. After scaling the top of Mt. Fuji, the BJ became the Land Cruiser in 1954. The redesigned 20-Series was one of the first Toyota exports to the United States in 1958. A larger wagon-style model followed in the late-1960s, putting the Land Cruiser into the driveways of Americans seeking family adventures. Even if the driver only dreams of venturing off the byways, many still choose a vehicle like the Land Cruiser to traverse the streets of suburbia.To commemorate one of Toyota’s first off-roading models, Toyota spruced up its flagship SUV and released the 2020 Land Cruiser Heritage Edition.
The interior is big, comfortable, and miles away from the vinyl seats and rubber floor mats of 1958. Some of the charm from the past 8 generations is carried over in the side-folding 3rd-row seats. The 2020 Land Cruiser Heritage Edition, with an increase in cargo room due to the deletion of the 3rd row, comes dressed in a choice of Midnight Black Metallic or Blizzard Pearl exterior colors. It also includes a black-accented grille and bronze-colored BBS 18 x 8.0-inch forged aluminum wheels. Highlighted is also a vintage Land Cruiser exterior badge replicating the historic script font of older models. The body panels are a carry-over from the current generation Land Cruiser but the interior gets a few upgrades.
We took a family vacation of over 2,000 miles in a 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser HE from Southern California to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, with temperatures down to -10 degrees Fahrenheit. We faced snowstorms, winds, and artic conditions and the Land Cruiser ran flawlessly through mountains of snow and ice. This is one environment in which the Land Cruiser excels.
As for the driving characteristics, the Land Cruiser is not a precise road machine. The Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) hydraulically and automatically adjusts the stabilizer bars to enhance on-road and off-road wheel articulation, but this system cannot overcome the sheer weight on the open road.The articulation of the double-wishbone independent front suspension and the four-link coil-spring rear suspension with solid axle movement means the body leans in high-speed turns but steps over the roughest of trails, sand, rocks, and hillsides.
Like its 4×4 mountain-climbing distant ancestor, the Land Cruiser is still a full-size, body-on-frame utility vehicle. Land Cruiser has evolved with stronger frames, larger bodies (112.2 inches Overall Length; 74.0 inches Overall Height), and new luxurious appointments. It is still a heavy all-purpose four-door weighing in around 5,900 lbs., and is still much more than a pig with lipstick. It remains a full-capability luxury utility vehicle.
The brakes are large and powerful enough to cause the nose to dive under hard stops. However, the Land Cruiser never feels out of control and uses a host of computer-assisted stability controls. And due to the live rear axle, the Land Cruiser can pull a trailer up to 8,100 pounds with their standardtowing receiver hitch and wiring harness with four- and seven-pin connectors.
Off-road, this big SUV is much more agile and sure-footed. I have successfully driven Toyota’s proven traction control systems on all kinds of terrain with their Torsen™ limited-slip with locking center differential, Crawl Control with Off-Road Turn Assist, and Multi-Terrain Select. I have tested this electronic wizardry across the snow, ice, rocks, and streams of the Colorado Rocky Mountain Continental Divide several times.
Amenities include vented leather front seats with automatic bun-warmers and coolers. The heated steering wheel and four-zone automatic climate control with 28 cabin air vents were also a welcome luxury, especially on our winter trip. The Smart Key keyless entry and push-button start all worked but were a challenge with snow gloves. The Heritage Edition removes a small cooler in the center console of the front seats but it was not needed on this road trip.
The 9-inch touchscreen infotainment system is several generations outdated. An SUV of this price range should include Apple CarPlay™ and Android Auto™. The Qi wireless phone charging is a nice touch, as well as thefirst-rate Toyota Safety Connect (with three years of complimentary service). It uses the driver’s phone to provide Automatic Collision Notification, Stolen Vehicle Location, Emergency Assistance Button (SOS), and GPS-enhanced Roadside Assistance.
The safety features are also comprehensive and worked well–even with the occasional snow and grime-plastered over the sensors. All Land Cruiser models include the Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS-P) which incorporates radar and camera sensors for protecting pedestrians, other vehicles, or your own occupants. The Pre-Collision System only misread one car on a curvy mountain road by warning me of potential danger. The automatic braking was flawless. The TSS-P system also includes Blind Spot Monitor, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Alert, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and Automatic High Beams.It even has a sway warning system that calculates when the driver needs a break.
Toyota still powers the Land Cruiser with its venerable 381-horsepower 5.7-liter DOHC V8 engine. The stout 401 lb.-ft. of torque brought this brute up to speed with a revised 8-speed automatic with intelligence (ECT-i). The full-time 4WD system uses a 2-speed transfer case with an electronic control selecting high- or low-range.
The EPA estimated mileage is 13/17/14 city/highway/combined and I was able to achieve 16.4 mpgwhile traversing 10,000-foot elevations with only 2,000 miles on the odometer. Even with a Land Cruiser that is fully broken in, making long trips can be an expensive experience. The gearing is low enough that fuel mileage is increased by 1.5 mpg if driving 65 mph versus 75 mph. However, fuel economy is not the goal of this vehicle. The Land Cruiser maintains its legendary status as a true all-terrain vehicle that never missed a beat.
One might consider the model that does not delete the running boards and chrome lower bodyside moldings (standard on Land Cruisers), and sacrifice the Yakima Megawarrior roof rack, the darkened chrometrim, and the vintage badging. The Heritage Edition model’s entry height without the running board is almost impossible for persons under 5’6” tall and the huge roof rack restricts use of some parking garages. After all, most will not be hitting the Kilimanjaro Trail for safaris.However, I have to admit the unique Land Cruiser Heritage Edition BBS bronze-colored wheels are pretty cool.