The Toyota Land Cruiser is capable, but its rugged nature is better suited to Africa than the UK

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Although the Toyota Land Cruiser name stretches back to the mid-1960s – more than five million have been sold since then – the true father of the modern model was born in 1985 with the ‘Light Duty Series’. It was the first Land Cruiser to combine the roles of serious off-roader with all-purpose family holdall. This is the fourth-gen Light Duty Series.

The way Toyota views the Land Cruiser can be summed up by the fact that most people who saw us driving the latest model for this test thought it was either a facelift or the outgoing model, or failed to flag up any difference at all. But while many concepts of the old car have been carried over, this latest Land Cruiser is, in fact, almost entirely new.

The Land Cruiser has an enviable reputation in areas where reliability is a life or death concern

Still, its specification reads like an off-roader recipe someone might have cooked up 20 or 30 years ago: a thumping great four-cylinder diesel engine, a live rear axle and, would you believe it, the same body-on-frame thinking that’s existed since long before the car was invented.

Nor has Toyota gone down this path to give the Land Cruiser a competitive price – it’s not a cheap off-roader, priced along similar lines to the Land Rover Discovery

Toyota has given up on petrol power for its large 4x4s. This model only comes with the single 2.8-litre diesel engine, and in three trim levels, Active, Icon and Invincible.

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Of course, this car is not to be confused with the bigger, and now defunct, 4.5-litre V8 diesel-powered Land Cruiser. Formerly the Land Cruiser Amazon, it’s now simply badged Land Cruiser V8 but the only way to get one now is by searching the used car forecourts or classifieds.



Toyota Land Cruiser rear

Keen to evolve the Toyota Land Cruiser at what appears to be glacial pace, this latest model is close to the last one in dimensions. The wheelbase remains unchanged, while the overall length increases by just 45mm and the width by a mere 10mm. 

This is a car designed for a purpose, although with some failings. The large door mirrors, for example, are easy to clout when you’re off-roading, but most of the time they add to already outstanding all-round visibility.

The rear wiper is upside down - hinging from the top - and only clears a small portion of the screen

The enormous front grille means fellow motorists are unlikely to doubt what’s coming up behind them, It provides a strong identity but is hardly pretty. Hidden within that grille is a ‘Multi-view monitor system’ – a nose-mounted camera that aids exits from junctions. Front and rear parking sensors are standard on all but the entry-level model, and in any case, they’re not as important here as they would be on cars with poorer visibility.

The spare wheel is slung temptingly in plain view below the car, although the tailgate must be open before it can be released.

And that tailgate is side-hinged, which makes loading heavy items very difficult in confined spaces. However, the rear glass lifts conventionally. Running boards along side of car are standard on all models and are surprisingly useful when climbing aboard such a high vehicle.

As mentioned, Toyota has remained faithful to the antediluvian ladder chassis construction method and a live rear axle located by four links. 


Toyota Land Cruiser interior

Compare the driving environment of the Toyota Land Cruiser with those of the Land Rovers, Audis, Volvos and BMWs available for similar money and it’s hard to stifle a gasp at Toyota’s audacity.

Where you might expect a smartly designed, fully integrated and clearly laid-out dashboard, you’ll find an approach that, by comparison, seems agricultural.

Want to know how complex this car is? The main and navigation handbooks runs to more than 1200 pages…

We’d quibble less if this were merely form making way for function, but much of the switchgear is scattered, sited apparently anywhere it can fit. The instruments are ugly and the blend of wood, leather and plastic is rather uncomfortable.

Aft of the dash, however, things improve markedly. The driving position is first class and all-round visibility is exceptional. Better still, it’s a cabin that really works; the reclining middle-row seats offer excellent head and legroom and fold flat, although they don’t disappear into the floor.

More impressive still are third-row seats that emerge from and return to the boot floor at the press of a button. Anyone who has broken fingernails or drawn blood trying to raise the rearmost seats of any seven-seater will immediately see the sense in it. And there’s reasonable boot space, even when all the seats are in place.

Toyota has thought hard not simply about how to fit people into the Land Cruiser, but also how they will use it thereafter. It has huge stowage areas from the glovebox to the doorbins, and a cavernous cooler between the seats. There’s a cupholder for every occupant and luggage rails in the boot (although the boot cover is needlessly fiddly). Top-spec cars even have a drop-down DVD screen to keep those in the back amused.

As for the key highlights per each trim, the entry-level Active model, which is the only trim available in 3-door guise, equips the Land Cruiser with 17in alloy wheels, a reversing camera, electrically heated and folding wing mirrors and privacy glass on the outside as standard, while inside there is cruise control, keyless entry and start, and Toyota's Touch 2 infotainment system complete with Bluetooth and USB connectivity. 

Upgrade to Icon and you will find sat nav, a 17-speaker JBL audio system, wi-fi connectivity, tri-zone climate control, power-folding rear seats, 18in alloys, parking sensors and LED headlights included, while the range-topping Invincible model includes Toyota's safety technology, a 360-degree view camera, rear mounted TV screen and an electrically adjustable driver's seat and steering wheel.


Toyota Land Cruiser side profile

There will be some people who, as with other areas of the Toyota Land Cruiser’s endeavour, will love the way it delivers its performance. They will spot an honesty in its gruff power delivery, a lack of pretence, a sense that this is a car making no attempt at all to be something that it is not.

It is a view with which we have a certain sympathy. If you live in the Australian outback or the African bush, there can be few sounds more reassuring than that of an engine which may not have multi-cylinder smoothness but which would need a thermonuclear device inserted into its sump to put it off its stride.

The emphasis is on durability, not straight line speed

In these less challenging climes, however, the Cruiser’s grumbling, growling motor comes up somewhat short of the mark expected of cars in this class. It doesn’t matter whether your measure is qualitative or quantitative; the painful truth is that its European rivals leave it for dead. It lacks both power and smoothness and therefore delivers performance that is broadly unsatisfactory.

But the Cruiser’s case is helped somewhat by its transmission. It’s actually a pleasantly smooth gearbox and the Cruiser’s reserves of torque, coupled with its modest top speed, means the ratio spread actually covers the performance requirements quite well. 

Toyota says the unit incorporates artificial intelligence that learns driving styles and adjusts its strategies according to terrain. Our one quibble is that if you’re suddenly in a hurry (a condition best avoided in this car), it can be slow and hesitant in delivering the right ratio at the right time.

Stopping distances may be longer than those of a conventional car, but given the Land Cruiser’s weight it stops adequately in all conditions. The pedal is also excellently weighted and progressive.


Toyota Land Cruiser rear cornering

It pays to spend some time in the Toyota Land Cruiser, because the quick trip around the block that you might be offered by way of a test drive is unlikely to endear its chassis to you. The steering is less incisive than we’d like, body control is sloppy if you leave the suspension in comfort mode and the ride quality as lumpy as you’d expect given the archaic construction and rear suspension philosophy.

But as the miles go by, it slowly dawns that there is some pleasure to be derived from its loose-limbed gait. Even by SUV standards, the Cruiser has not a sporting bone in its body, but once you’ve learned that it will go where you point it, the steering, despite a lack of directness, actually offers quite good feel.

Why are the damper and traction control buttons located out of sight under the steering wheel?

It’s true that it’s hard to see British buyers ever choosing to deploy an off-roader costing this much over the kind of terrain the Land Cruiser can cover. But this is a car designed not for these shores, where most owners consider parking on the school playing fields to be serious off-roading, but some of the most challenging and dangerous environments on earth. 

But its real strength off road, and where it has some relevance even to British buyers, is not where it will go so much as how it will get there. Such is the army of technology put at your disposal that the Cruiser can reduce the entire art of off-road driving to sitting and steering. It will take care of absolutely everything else itself. 

To those who’d quite like to do even a little recreational off-roading but have feared running out of talent and into a tree, nothing makes the process easier than this Land Cruiser – not even a Land Rover Discovery.


Toyota Land Cruiser

Toyota Land Cruisers last so long and are so strong that many outlive their owners, and we expect nothing less from this generation, despite the cranium-crushing technology it contains. So if you like the idea but not the price and hope to pick up a dirt-cheap one in a year’s time, forget it. Residuals are and will remain enviably strong.

It’s an expensive car to run, though. We still recorded a mere 23.9mpg average on test, meaning that owners will be lucky to see a genuine 30mpg in normal use. The official average of 34.9mpg is pie in the sky.

It might be expensive to tax and fuel, but breakdowns should be few and far between

But you cannot complain about its equipment levels. Indeed, in the top-spec grade it would be quicker by far to list those items it lacks.

But if you fancy going for a cheaper version, keep a close eye on how many goodies you’ll lose as a result; buy an Active and even those third-row seats are optional, while the speaker count reduces from 17 to just nine, the navigation disappears (as does the 360-degree monitor to aid parking) and the seats revert to cloth from leather.



Toyota Land Cruiser rear quarter

Don’t blame Toyota for making the Land Cruiser this way. The UK is a tiny market for such a car, so the fact that it doesn’t feel at home here should not be a surprise. Toyota has merely stuck to the formula that has replaced the Land Rover as the off-roader of choice from Africa to Australia.

But we must view the Land Cruiser from where we are and the truth is that unless you’re a farmer or a die-hard off-roader, others you can buy for the same money make more sense.

The Land Cruiser makes perfect sense for the wilds of Africa, less so for British towns

The on-road driving characteristic is best described as lazy – there’s not a jot of sporting intent. And it’s four-cylinder engine just doesn’t cut it against more sophisticated six-cylinder rivals from Land Rover, BMW and Audi, or even the four-cylinder offering found in the latest Volvo XC90.

But while we can understand the lack of on-road dynamism due to the Land Cruiser’s clear off-road bias, what we find it more difficult to fathom is the lack of interior style, quality and usability – especially from the driver’s point of view. Yes, it’s quite practical, but that side opening rear door can become a real pain. We’d suggest you avoid the Active model, too, unless you really don’t want any luxury features.

Compared with the likes of the Discovery, the Land Cruiser is off the pace in so many different areas that it is difficult to recommend it here. Were you reading this test in sub-Saharan Africa, the verdict would doubtless be rather different. So don’t mistake us: the Land Cruiser is not a bad car, merely a good one for somewhere else.


Toyota Land Cruiser 2013-2017 First drives