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The 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser Is a Fitting Farewell To a Legendary SUV

Few vehicles have the same resume as the Toyota Land Cruiser. Originally introduced out of the need for a rugged military vehicle, Toyota faced an insurmountable hill when it decided to sell the SUV in the U.S. in 1958. In the first year, Toyota only sold a single SUV. Despite its rough debut, the Land Cruiser endured for over 60 long years. While the Land Cruiser’s story is one that could be used for motivational speeches, the SUV, once again, finds itself struggling to exist.

To the uninitiated, the Land Cruiser is just another large SUV that takes up way too much space on the road. To those in the know, the Land Cruiser is a legendary nameplate. The Land Cruiser has long held the mantel for unshakable reliability, impeccable quality, and unflappable off-roading capability. It’s those qualities that have made the Land Cruiser an automotive icon with a cult-like following.

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Only a few military-inspired vehicles have stood the test of time. Others have met their end on the chopping block as more modern, efficient, and comfortable rides have risen in popularity. Few people are in need of a $90,000 large SUV that can climb Mount Kilimanjaro when the Jeep Wrangler is just as capable and far more affordable. The Land Cruiser has been a tough sell since the 200-Series went on sale in 2008. Sales are everything for automakers, which explains why the Land Cruiser is disappearing after the 2021 model year. There’s a bit of solace, as Toyota is giving the Land Cruiser a proper send-off with the Heritage Edition.

Design & Interior

The Land Cruiser has always been a purpose-built off-roader, but it has received more upscale touches and design elements to appeal to more consumers over the years. The Heritage Edition does away with trying to appeal to the masses, choosing instead to showcase its iconic background and off-roading prowess.

For starters, there are only two available colors: Midnight Black Metallic or Blizzard Pearl, which is what you see in these pictures. The chintzy chrome trim that you’ll find on the regular Land Cruiser has been replaced with dark chrome. You’ll find the darker materials on the front grille, fog lights, and side-view mirrors. The headlights get a dark housing, too. Then, there are the bronze 18-inch BBS wheels, Yakima MegaWarrior roof rack, and gorgeous badges that have a vintage flair.

These changes, though, are pretty easy to spot. Toyota’s also made some smaller adjustments that aren’t as noticeable that make the Land Cruiser even more capable off-road. The running boards and lower body-side moldings from the standard SUV are gone. Shorter passengers may find it incredibly difficult to get into the SUV and even taller ones will have to hop into the vehicle, but the changes add extra ground clearance.

Add these modifications together, and the Heritage Edition becomes the ultimate Land Cruiser for owners looking to go overlanding or simply having an attitude-filled SUV that mother nature can’t stop. The only things that don’t make much sense on the Land Cruiser are its Dunlop Grandtrek all-season tires. The RAV4 TRD Off-Road comes with chunkier tries, which boggles my mind. If you plan on getting one of these, get ready to swap out the tires immediately.

While the exterior feels special, the interior is anything but. While incredibly spacious, especially since the center-console cooler has been removed, the Heritage Edition doesn’t come with anything that would let you know that it’s close to $90,000. Bronze contrast stitching is found throughout the cabin and the wood trim is tasteful, but the design is dated and you don’t get that sense of occasion you would expect with an SUV of this price. Instead of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, you’re getting build quality that will outlast any other modern vehicle.

Driving Experience 

Within a few days of testing the Land Cruiser, the SUV lovingly became known as the tank in the parking garage. The nickname not only fits because of the way the Land Cruiser looks, but also because of the way the SUV drives. There’s an unshakable sense of sturdiness and invincibility here that other SUVs simply can’t match.

With its immense size, the Land Cruiser goes unphased by small ruts and potholes, most likely due to its off-roading-first design, but it’s hardly what someone would ever call sporty. Around corners, the Land Cruiser is an oddity. There’s an immediate amount of body roll, but then Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) kicks in and the SUV immediately levels off. It’s such a peculiar sensation because entering a corner too quickly gives you an impression of being on a capsizing ship, but it then catches itself and you’re left mystified that something this big can do the things it does.

Baltimore’s first real snowfall seemed like the perfect time for a road trip to get the Land Cruiser on something other than tarmac. It’s a crime that some people will buy the Land Cruiser Heritage Edition and never go off-roading. Don’t be one of those people. This SUV deserves to get dirty.

Baltimore is an interesting city because it sits on the Patapsco River, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay, but it hasn’t been hammered by snow in the past few years. The little snow that does manage to accumulate in the winter is practically gone the next day as the city acts as a pocket of heat. That leaves people like me looking west to really enjoy inclement weather.

Sugarloaf Mountain is approximately 12 miles south of Frederick and is an imposing monadnock, an isolated mountain that manages to stand tall after the surrounding land has given way because of erosion. There’s plenty of snow out here and the mountain sits tall, like an easy target to conquer in the Land Cruiser. Unfortunately, the scenic road that winds up the mountain is closed and there’s no off-roading trail that’s open this time of the year. That’s probably the Land Cruiser’s greatest flaw — finding a trail that’s big enough to fit the behemoth. Still, there’s plenty of snow-packed dirt trails to act like there’s some kind of emergency that only the Land Cruiser can solve.

The gravel roads surrounding Sugarloaf Mountain are a joke for the Land Cruiser. Quite frankly, you’re going to have a hard time finding terrain that makes this SUV, sweat and the 381-horsepower 5.7-liter V8 makes power in a way that gets the 6,000-pound SUV down any road in an impressive fashion. With things like Crawl Control, Hill-Descent Control, a Multi-Terrain Select system, KDSS, Multi-Terrain Monitor, and a locking center differential, the Land Cruiser is unstoppable.

Most of the Land Cruiser’s off-roading goodies are easy to use and fairly straightforward, except for the Multi-Terrain Monitor. To get a view of what’s in front of the SUV, four-low has to be engaged, which is a bit of a shame, and the low-resolution camera can actually be a hindrance.

Should You Get One?

Absolutely, but only if you plan on doing some serious off-roading. This is not the kind of SUV that one gets to simply tackle the occasional inch of snow. Nor is it the kind of SUV to take the entire family to a COVID-19 friendly concert or outing. There are far more modern and comfortable SUVs out there for that job.

The Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition practically sits in a segment of one. There’s no other full-size, three-row SUV that has the same off-roading capability and history as the Land Cruiser. Word on the street is that the Land Cruiser won’t stay dead for long and is poised to make a return, sometime in the unknown future, as a more luxurious and modern SUV. Let’s hope Toyota doesn’t stray too far away from the current cocktail mix that has the right amount of hooch and filler.

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Joel Patel
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Joel Patel is a former contributor for The Manual. His work has also been featured on Autoweek, Digital Trends, Autoblog…
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