I’ve written quite a few car reviews here on this site, from sports cars to minivans, plug-in hybrids to gas hungry pickup trucks. During that entire time, however, there have never really been any constraints that kept me home. Until the coronavirus. All of a sudden we’re supposed to stay home to keep safe and to help our community wrestle with this virus that can be carried asymptomatically (how many people knew what that word meant six months ago?) and inadvertently transmitted to at-risk populations. Definitely no bueno in a lot of ways, and upsetting too when I’ve always enjoyed being part of our modern, mobile society.
Auto manufacturers felt the same challenge and the entire media car loan program ground to a halt in March of 2020. But we’re collectively getting a handle on it (in some ways) and when my kids and I decided we would take a few weeks off mid-summer and head to our cabin at the Lake of the Ozarks in mid-Missouri, I thought I’d ask a few car companies if they had a vehicle I could road trip. Toyota came through with flying colors, offering up a pristine 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser:
To some extent, the Land Cruiser reminds me of the daft old film Tarzan’s New York Adventure, because there’s a 4-wheel drive beast lurking inside the refined and sophisticated interior of this almost $90,000 sport utility vehicle. But calling it an SUV brings up images of a little Subaru, and this is bigger, more luxurious and definitely better appointed than a Forester or Outback. Honestly, with a change of medallion, the Land Cruiser could easily be part of Toyota’s luxury Lexus lineup. Which meant it was a really comfortable vehicle for a long road trip (580 miles Denver to Kansas City for an overnight pit stop, then another 130 from KC to our cabin).
Except when I first received the vehicle and drove around town to get comfortable with its size, I was aghast to see that it was delivering about 9.6 mpg in city driving. In fact, the EPA rating for this particular vehicle is 13 city / 17 highway for a combined 14 mpg. With 700-odd miles each way to the Lake, I calculated at 9.6mpg and $3.00/gallon for gas that I’d be paying more than if I just flew. I realized that there were a few errors in this calculation, however, not the least of which is that I actually got 16.6 mpg average (still not great, but less daunting than 9.6mpg!) and that gasoline, particularly outside of Colorado, was closer to $2.00/gallon. Still, the math’s interesting: 700 miles @ 16.6 mpg = 42.1 gallons. At $2/gallon that’s $84.00 in fuel costs each way. Jump into a little Toyota Prius-C with its delightful 48.8mpg, just for comparison sake, and that same drive would cost $28.00! I’m not normally obsessed with fuel efficiency, though it’s an important factor when evaluating a vehicle, but imagine my original math of 700 miles @ 9mpg and $3.00 gasoline. That calculates out to an alarming $233.33 in fuel costs each way.
Still, stopping at gas stations was obviously an important part of the journey so I couldn’t help but have a typical road trip photo from a Pilot Travel Center somewhere in mid-Kansas:
Notice again the lines and lovely finish of the Land Cruiser. Toyota’s been making these bigger SUVs for such a long time now that they’ve really nailed the exterior design. It’s aerodynamic and refined, ready for adventure whether it’s on highway or off road. And what’s it like to take a road trip during a pandemic? Please check out my article Road Trip in the Age of Coronavirus for lots of details on mask usage, politics, and much more.
So let’s talk about the vehicle itself, because while there were a ton of wonderful luxury features, there were also a few oddities and surprises. The greatest of which is that the 2020 Land Cruiser lacks CarPlay or Android Auto support without an additional multimedia package being selected. Did the car have rear seat entertainment system with dual 11.6″ screens? Yes. Could I view my Apple Maps route on the car’s media screen? Nope. At first I thought I was just plugging my phone into the wrong plug, but some research showed me that this particular model just lacked the feature. In 2020. Toyota has been slow to adopt CarPlay across its line (claiming security issues) but on a vehicle tricked out with every feature I could imagine, it was a surprising omission.
And then there was the Toyota navigational system. Which I might well have had set with bad preferences, but it sure had a hard time routing me through rural Missouri, taking us dozens of miles out of my way with its bias to the largest highways in the area. At one point my daughter even took this photo showing the striking difference between the Apple Maps route and the Toyota Nav System route:
My phone is showing that we’re 95.6 miles from our destination with 1 hour 40min of driving left, while the Toyota has me taking a different route entirely (note it’s suggesting a left turn up ahead, while the iPhone indicating a right turn) that’s 128 miles and will take me 2 hours and 11 minutes. That’s quite a discrepancy and I would never even have noticed if CarPlay was supported because the phone’s map would be on the Toyota display. If anyone has a theory about what was going on with the Toyota driving route, please do share it in the comments!
Those were really my main concerns with the Land Cruiser, however; fuel efficiency, lack of CarPlay and the navigational oddities. Otherwise, there’s really so much to like in this vehicle. Just check out the space and luxurious design looking in the rear:
The third row seats fold up sideways, which was a neat design that made it easy to have one seat down when we needed the additional passenger capacity and fold it back up when the cargo space was a priority. The middle seat is also quite flexible and you can fold down just the mid-seat armrest, either side, or the entire row to maximize capacity. Notice the left entertainment screen is on in the above image. Your passengers will want to explore that armrest too, because there’s something very useful hidden inside: the remote control for the rear entertainment system. Without that remote, I could not figure out how to turn on those back displays.
The front center console holds an even better hidden compartment:
This is the “Cool Box” and it’s basically a mini-fridge that is perfect for road trips. On the main drive, I loaded it up with beverages that remained nice and cold even hours later, and when we left the market, we couldn’t help test it with some Ben & Jerry’s and a bottle of orange juice. Result: OJ was cold, ice cream was a bit melty, but delicious! Still, one can’t help wonder how Toyota can add a mini-fridge but can’t make CarPlay standard? 🙂
We’re not quite done with the rear seats, however, because the rear control console is remarkably complex and capable:
HDMI input, phone charge plugs, separate volume control, even a 12V “cigarette lighter” plug all for the rear passengers, along with their own environmental controls even to seat warmers for each side. Very nice. The only lack here was a 110V plug, something that most American trucks (Chevy, Ford, RAM) seem to have as a standard feature. We’ve come a long way from when I was a kid laying across the back seat of the car to read my comic books without a seatbelt and without any controls at all to make my space more or less comfortable!
Switching to the driver’s seat, you can see that there are a lot of controls, but all very well designed and easy to understand:
Notice down where your left and right knees would be the array of feature buttons and controls too. Those are hard to reach and read, so I imagine that most owners kneel next to their driver’s door and study all the iconography (or read the manual) to figure out what’s what. Certainly you won’t be able to just guess which opens the back hatch, for example. The main gauge layout is classic Toyota, bright and easy to read:
Notice here that my average fuel efficiency is 16.5mpg. Oil temp, engine temp, battery level and fuel comprise the four small gauges, while tachometer and speedometer are the two big ones. Why do cars with automatic transmissions have tachometers, though? A hold out that I imagine we could remove without 99% of drivers even noticing…
Switching to the center console, you can see the layout’s easily to understand and control too, from radio and navigation on the main screen to environmental controls (tho notice the lack of fan up / fan down buttons if you don’t want it set to AUTO). The Land Cruiser also features a hidden Qi wireless charging compartment for compatible phones that’s just below the bottom of this image.
And so, finally, we pulled up to our cabin at the Lake of the Ozarks, about 12 hours of driving later (split into two days). As always, it’s a delight to get out and stretch your legs at the end of a road trip, and oh, the view. So nice:
The ride home was equally smooth and uneventful and the combination of a great audio book played off my phone, cruise control, powerful and effective air conditioning and a bright, sunny day meant that the drive was a breeze. There really is a lot to like about the 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser V8, with its impressive towing capacity, luxurious interior and spacious cabin. If they could just squeeze a bit more fuel efficiency out of the beast…
AS DRIVEN: 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser 4WD SUV V8, Blue Onyx Pearl exterior, featuring a 5.7L V8 DOHC 32-valve engine with 6-speed automatic transmission and optional rear seat entertainment package and carpet floor/cargo mat set. Base Price: $85,315.00. As Driven: $89,129.00. Learn more at Toyota.com
Disclosure: Toyota loaned me the 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser for an extended road trip for the purposes of this writeup. Thanks to Toyota for their kindness and generosity. My family definitely appreciated the space and luxury! #letsgoplaces