The sport utility vehicle category is full of SUVs from companies trying to appeal to people who want a big, safe vehicle and likely are never going to need four-wheel drive, let alone drive in rough off-road conditions. But just about every SUV on the market has AWD or is a 4×4 with optional drive configurations for mud, rocky terrain and more. So the real differences between many of the vehicles in the SUV class ends up being luxury, and just as pickup trucks have gone from inexpensive utilitarian vehicles of the 70s and 80s to luxurious, well-appointed cars with a truck bed behind, so have SUVs evolved from a hybrid truck/car into big, luxurious vehicles.
Hollywood tells the story too: In the 40s and 50s, it was always a sedan that rich, important people were driven around in, with an escort of other vehicles in the same 4-door category. By the 90’s, however, imposing black SUVs with shaded windows were the vehicle of choice and today a luxury SUV is more comfortable than most limousines.
Which explains the 2017 Toyota Land Cruiser with its almost $90,000 sticker price. But, to be fair and honest, it’s quite a comfortable ride, as you would expect.
First and foremost, though, it’s big. Big and heavy: its curb weight is 5815 pounds. That’s almost three tons of car. With a beast that heavy you can bet that it has quite an engine to get it rolling, and it does indeed have a 5.7L V8 32-valve engine with 381 horsepower and 401 pound/feet of torque powering its full time four wheel drive. And the gas mileage you’d expect with a massive engine of this nature: 13/18 EPA: I saw about 16.0 miles/gallon in real-life driving.
The interior of the vehicle is extremely well appointed:
Basically, if you can think of a safety, performance or luxury feature, the Land Cruiser has you covered. The JBL Audio powered Entune Connect entertainment system featured 14 speakers throughout the vehicle and had fantastic sound. In fact, the stereo system was so good that at one point my teen daughter sat in the car for a few hours doing homework and listening to her favorite music at volume. That’s a good audio system!
There were some strange design decisions in the car nonetheless, including a split fold-up third row seat that was unlike anything I’ve seen in any other vehicle I’ve driven:
Still not sure of the logic of this design versus the far more common third row that folds flat in larger SUVs and trucks. Of course if the rear axle is too far back that would interfere with the space needed for the storage requirements, a likely explanation. If I owned this vehicle, however, I’d want to completely pop the third row seats out and store them in my garage (or, perhaps, have my driver do so!)
There’s more than a bit of truck soul in the Land Cruiser, however, as also revealed by the design of the back gate:
You don’t see that lower door opening as a shelf on most non-truck vehicles. Still, it does give you a big opening without requiring too much clearance behind the vehicle. Look closely below the liftgate, however, and you’ll see that the bumped has a, well, bump. That’s because it hides a quite tough hitch assembly:
Nice to have when needed, and one trusts that a 5.8L engine is more than enough for a boat or small trailer.
Interestingly, I noticed a design mistake with the dashboard controls, as illustrated in the split photo below:
Look closely on the left and you’ll see the legend “Hold (*) to Reset”. That’s from a different generation of steering wheel control, however: the Land Cruiser’s control actually doesn’t have that circular button in the middle of a control cluster, but instead has the up-down control “Enter” button, as shown. For a car with this premium pricetag it was surprising to find that the Toyota engineers cut corners by not updating the dashboard user interface. To be fair, though, most drivers will figure this hiccup out soon enough.
Overall, the dashboard was elegant and full of information. Lots and lots of controls, as shown:
One thing I also really liked was the neatly stitched together video view that made me feel I had a drone floating 20-feet above the vehicle when in reverse. As you can see, the front, back and cameras integrated into the side mirrors added up t a flawless and quite neat bird’s eye view:
Still don’t quite get why you need yellow, blue and red lines to denote the approximate dimensions of your car while in reverse, but given the weird, distorted views of other vehicles trying to accomplish this same surround view, props to Toyota for really nailing this one. Very well done!
Did I mention the screens and luxury of the back seat experience? My daughter and her friends quite appreciated having me as The Driver, as you can imagine:
More impressively, the center controls for the rear seats offer a rather startling number of options:
Yes, each passenger can plug in their own phone and separately adjust wireless headphone volume, along with an HDMI input and, on the lower left, a 12V power adapter. No 110V outlet, however, a small missing piece that would have been quite easy to include while assembling the vehicle in Aichi, Japan.
And. finally, while this may look it’s all about luxury — and it is — there are also a lot of safety and 4-wheel drive features included with the 2017 Toyota Land Cruiser, as shown in these controls:
The lower row of buttons are the economy/power switch, the VSC switch and the center differential lock/unlock switch. The lower right knob is the multi-terrain select mode selector / crawl control speed mode dial. Above it are turn assist and crawl control switches and above that is the four-wheel drive control switch. Got all that?
While luxurious and unquestionably quite comfortable, though, it was surprising that it wasn’t very enjoyable to drive. Without going into “power” mode, the SUV was a bit gutless off the line, even with its beast of a V8 engine. Weighing in at almost three tons, it’s just a heck of a lot of weight to get moving from a stop, and surprising given its pricetag. And then there’s the fuel efficiency. You definitely need to be able to afford lots of gas when you’re averaging 15-16mpg. Still, comfortable as heck and oh, that sound system.
AS DRIVEN: 2017 Toyota Land Cruiser 4WD SUV V8, blue onyx pearl with beige interior. Add-ons: terra semi-aniline leather interior, paint protection, cargo net, carpet floor, wheel locks, wireless headphones, 7-pin to 4-pin towing adapter, glass breakage sensor and emergency assistance kit: $86,722.oo MSRP.
Disclaimer: Toyota loaned me the 2017 Land Cruiser for a week in return for this writeup.