We first sampled the updated 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser abroad, but our chance to take a view on it here in Britain just so happened to come in the week in which the cruellest winter weather for several years blew in.
Thus one ‘beast from the east’ met another (the car we know as the Land Cruiser, known as the Colorado previously and the Prado elsewhere in the world, is built primarily in Japan). And one made pretty short work of the other. You can probably guess which conquered which.
The Land Cruiser has a reputation for wilderness-taming robustness, unstoppable reliability and 4x4 capability that exceeds even that of Land Rover and Jeep. It’s not bought to survive the sand dunes of the Middle East, the prairies of South America or the Australian outback because it’s been designed ‘reductively’ or it’s available on a killer PCP deal. It's popular because it just keeps on going, come what may.
What has Toyota added to the 2018 Land Cruiser?
This generation of the Land Cruiser has been going since 2009, but has just had the latest in a series of small redesigns inside and out. I won’t call it a styling update; that’d be an insult. The Land Cruiser’s headlights and grille have been raised to better keep them out of the way of anything that might block or damage them. It has squarer front wings that make judging its extremities easier and a reprofiled bonnet so that you can better see large, pointy objects that are about to disappear under its wheels. Its front bumper has been reshaped, too, in order to make for the best possible approach angle. At no point, I'd like to think, have this car’s designers given much more than a passing thought to how ‘nice’ it looks.
As we reported last time around, the Land Cruiser’s body-on-frame construction survives (although it's been stiffened), and while the engine has been revised with a new turbo and a few other changes, it’s still a 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel with an unspectacular-sounding 174bhp.
The car’s suspended by double wishbones up front and by a rigid axle secured by four links on each side at the rear. As standard, it comes with fixed-height steel coil springs, but top-of-the-line Invincible cars get adaptive dampers, an interlinked automatic roll stabilisation system and self-levelling air suspension for the rear wheels.
In terms of four-wheel drive hardware, there’s plenty going on, as you might imagine: a low-range transfer case, a torque sensing and lockable centre differential, a new lockable rear differential (fitted to top-line cars as standard) and a new Terrain Response-style off-road traction and stability control system called Multi Terrain Select.
Our test car came on Dunlop Grandtrek SUV tyres and had 215mm of ground clearance, 700mm of wading depth and a 31deg approach angle. So, all-corner air suspension or not, you can see why little might stop it.
What's the Toyota Land Cruiser like inside?
While attempts have been made to freshen and update this car’s interior to make it more refined and luxurious, and generally keep it broadly competitive with other SUVs you might spend £50,000 on, they’re of qualified success. And limited in scope, too – for good reasons. These are the kinds of revisions you expect of a car maker that knows its subject’s market positioning is about as secure as it could be and doesn’t think much needs fixing.
And so while Toyota’s interior updates have added a reshaped dashboard and a new instrument panel to the Invincible spec model, as well as a new centre console covered in shiny knobs and buttons for the various off-road modes, they haven’t exactly turned the Land Cruiser into a rival for an Audi Q7. Think of this car, instead, as a car of Land Rover Defender-level mud-plugging abilities, with the sort of interior comfort, quality and habitability you’d very happily accept and embrace in your everyday driver. The car’s heated and ventilated leather seats are soft and snug, and give you a great view out. Its fittings look and feel solid, and fairly expensive – but most of all, they’re plainly ready to last.
Further rearwards, the car now has sliding second-row seats and a third row that collapses properly into the boot floor rather than fold away upwards to take up boot space. It’s not a particularly roomy seven-seater by large SUV standards, but then it’s not a desperately large SUV.
Only the base-level, three-door Utility model has the choice between a manual or automatic gearbox; the rest of the range is exclusively served by the automatic. The Active model gains an 8.0in Touchscreen, DAB radio, dual-zone air conditioning, reversing camera and rear parking sensors. Power-adjustable seats, front parking sensors, adaptive cruise control and collision detection systems are added with the Icon model. The 5-mode drive select system, adaptive suspension and JBL sound system are reserved for the top-spec Invincible.
Driving the Toyota Land Cruiser
On the road, it’s certainly a smoother and more refined SUV than it used to be. Toyota’s efforts at putting manners on the car’s suspension and creating a calmer, less commercial-feeling ride quality consisted of fitting bigger dampers front and rear, reinforced suspension links and new bushings, as well as delivering longer-stroke wheel travel at the rear in particular. They have been successful. The Land Cruiser now feels fairly supple at low speeds and on the motorway, and while its body takes a long time to settle when the road surface is changing topography, it only moves around in a slow, gentle, low-amplitude, barely noticable sort of a way.
The car’s handling and body control remain of the sort you'd expect of a traditional SUV, rather than what you might of a 21st-century, 21in-wheeled, lowish-rise luxury sports SUV. You probably get twice as much body roll around a typical corner as you would in a road-biased alternative and perhaps two-thirds as much lateral grip – albeit delivered with plenty of stability, through fairly slow-geared, hydraulically assisted steering, and backed up by a decent electronic stability control system. But, of course, you are getting that in a genuine dual-purpose vehicle in which an unplanned excursion into a muddy field wouldn’t be touching the sides of what it’s actually designed to do. You don't find many new cars for which a designer or engineer might celebrate a raised centre of gravity; in this one, if such a change kept any major mechanicals further from harm as a result of grounding or offroading damage, you get the feeling they just might.
The Land Cruiser's on-road performance level is relatively low but, again, that's by the standards of cars whose engines probably couldn’t survive 10 days in the Atacama – running on ‘diesel’ that’s at least 40% alpaca sweat, and breathing more sand and dust than air – without going wrong.
So sure, on the road the Land Cruiser does feel slow; but it doesn’t feel like a failing. However, when people describe this as Toyota’s answer to the Range Rover, they are not only confusing their Land Cruisers (there’s a bigger one, formerly known to Brits as the Amazon, which is no longer sold here) but should perhaps be reminded that the last time a diesel Range Rover had this little power was the thick end of 20 years ago. The luxury 4x4 game’s moved on a bit since.
Not that a Land Cruiser driver would mind being reminded of that much, given how ruggedly invulnerable you feel at the wheel of this car. Credit to Toyota, also, for quietening down the engine considerably and better-sealing its interior from wind noise in this revised Land Cruiser. The engine retains a crochetty four-cylinder diesel growl, but it’s now hardly any noisier than plenty of other four-cylinder diesel SUVs are.
How does the Toyota Land Cruiser fare against other seven-seat SUVs?
This is a functional car – albeit a perfectly comfortable and pleasant one. If mounting the kerb at school kicking out time is the closest you get to off-roading, though, your needs would definitely be better served by a more typical modern SUV that’ll have better fuel economy and be easier to usher around the office car park.
That said, the Land Cruiser is certainly a likeable enough car to persuade you to develop a need for it. And if you really like the idea of owning one, Toyota has expanded the Land Cruiser model range to include a new entry-level 'Utility' trim level that, I’d wager, makes the car more affordable than you’d think.
Can’t justify a fully-loaded seven-seater? Then how about a three-door manual, on steel wheels, for less than £33,000? That’s the price of a mid-range BMW X1. And, apart from anything else, doesn’t it sound like the perfect one-fingered salute to everything that’s objectionable about the SUV-obsessed modern car market?