5 min read.Updated: 25 Sep 2020, 09:45 AM ISTDan Neil, The Wall Street Journal
Built and priced for only devoted fans, this boxy ‘Heritage Edition’ SUV is limited to only 1,200 units. But it offers little you haven’t seen before, says Dan Neil
IN SOME strange corners of autodom, our test car is regarded as instantly collectible: The 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition ($87,745 MSRP) is a high-spec, all-in riff on the venerable super-ute. Painted black as an anvil, stripped of running boards, glammed with LED lamps front and rear, and shod with bratty, bronze-anodized BBS wheels, Heritage Editions are rarer than Ferraris, with U.S. sales in 2020 reportedly limited to a mere 1,200 units. (Note: Toyota has confirmed another batch for model-year 2021). Buy one and tell your friend.
I’m not sure how to process the knowledge that there might be 1,200 souls out there OCDing on the completeness of their Land Cruiser collection. Seems like a cry for help. I do know that the Land Cruiser 200 series has been a wonder of self-similarity for a long, long time. Currently on its second facelift in 12 years—but who isn’t?—this thing feels exactly as I remember it from about 2008. Collect one, collect them all, right?
How could it not change so much? Who left this relic of a touch screen navi in the center dash? A CD player? For reelz? How is it possible—seriously, even technically feasible—that our tester achieves exactly the same fuel economy (13/17 mpg, city/highway) as the ones I drove way back then?
Oh, right. Still occupying the boiler room is Toyota’s posh and polished, naturally aspirated 5.7-liter DOHC V8, churning at up to 381 hp (at 5,600 rpm) and 401 lb-ft of torque (at 3,600 rpm). These values get sluiced through a multi-modal eight-speed automatic, two-speed transfer case, electrohydraulic limited-slip/locking center differential, with terrain-adaptive logic, before arriving at torque-sensing front and rear differentials. Seen it.
But down-voting the Land Cruiser due to its arrested development misses the point. LC buyers prefer this state of evolution, the sweetly dispositioned woolly mammoth they have come to love. Ponderous in close quarters, sure, and heavy-footed on the highway, the Land Cruiser is also nonetheless strong, warm and fuzzy, and nearly unstoppable. With a fording depth of 27.55 inches and a reported maximum bank angle of 42 degrees, the LC’s capacity for instant heroics provides peace of mind that is a luxury all its own. Hannibal had elephants and look what happened.
But, like other charismatic megafauna of the Petroleum Era—16-cylinder Bugattis, 12-cylinder Bentleys—the V8-powered LC is destined for extinction. It cannot be redesigned, cannot be gene-spliced with more efficient Toyota products without losing its unique gestalt, which to me depends on its radical, retrograde mass: an official 5,715 pounds within comparatively compact length of 194.9 inches. That’s nearly as dense as a Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen. Drink in the thickness.
Why so heavy? Like the G-Wagen, the 200 uses a belts-and-braces structural design, if you will, combining a reinforced steel unit-body with a 10-crossmember ladder frame, undergirded with full-frontal skid plates (8.9 inches ground clearance). Designed to take a pounding off-road, the ironmongery is also the source of these machines’ incomputable refinement on-road, acting like a mass damper at the core of the mechanism—absorbing road harshness, powertrain vibrations, tire noise, and assorted NVH from A-pillars to tailpipes.
Those were carefree days, weren’t they? The Land Cruiser proves it is possible to engineer a hugely capable luxury SUV/armored car that will live forever, if engineers first forsake any notion of reducing vehicle weight or improving mileage/emissions.
My test drive last week included a family trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains, with the truck loaded with two adults, three teens, two dogs, with about 150 pounds of luggage in a roof-mounted Yakima cage. Mostly girls’ clothes. On our outbound trip, our tester’s average observed mileage sank into the 12-mpg range. At that rate the LC can only go about 300 miles between fill-ups. For an adventure vehicle the LC is surprisingly short-legged.
At 80 mph, the fully loaded LC tears a huge, ragged hole in the air. Yet surprisingly little wind noise reaches the cabin. The steady roar of the tire lugs reached my ears as a tranquilizing brown noise. Like the sister-car Lexus GX 460, the LC is plumped with noise-canceling materials, doors seals, and glazing.
Nor should one expect just any three-ton SUV on mud+snow tires to turn and track so obediently, even on paved mountain switchbacks. For a big, tall machine, the LC’s steering response is direct and precise, with medium-heavy effort at the wheel and plenty of leverage. The independent coil-spring suspension contains body roll and other transient forces with supple authority.
With the chassis so nicely laced down, the main source of elasticity in the LC’s ride is its M+S tires. Thus the LC’s distinctly pneumatic road-holding character, like shooting the rapids in a rubber raft with a piano aboard.
Collectible? Meh. One irony of the final-form LC is that it does nothing to recapture the cubistic utility or mechanical purity of the most coveted classic LCs, before they got soft. In fact, much of the enthusiast excitement seems to be in professionally built resto-mods of vintage models. For about the same money as our tester, for example, you could have acquired the 1974 FJ55 station wagon that sold on bringatrailer.com in February. Under the hood was a raunchy 5.7-liter pushrod V8, combined with a four-speed automatic transmission, two-speed transfer case, and manually locking front hubs. Proper.
In the interests of safety and real-world drivability, other mods included an upgrade to four-wheel disc brakes, as well as power steering and air conditioning. This frame-off restoration also included a fully powder-coated chassis, two-tone paint, as well as new glass, rubber, seals and bumpers.
Now that’s heritage done right.
2020 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition
Base Price $87,745
Engine and Powertrain Naturally aspirated 5.7-liter DOHC V8 with variable valve timing; eight-speed automatic transmission; full-time four-wheel drive with electronically locking center differential
Power/Torque 381 hp at 5,600 rpm/401 lb-ft at 3,600 rpm