2020 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition Review: This Aging Star Still Matters
We don’t need an appearance package to remember how great the Land Cruiser is.
The Japanese have a word—kuchisabishii—that describes the 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition well. It's best understood as the term for when you eat something not because you’re hungry but because your mouth is bored. The Heritage Edition doesn’t need to exist, same as Toyota doesn’t really need to sell Land Cruisers in America anymore given our paltry share of the international sales pie. Yet it does, and it’s damn tasty either way.
That’s not to directly compare one of the world’s legendary SUVs with empty calories. As equipped in the American market, the 200 Series Land Cruiser is a fairly brilliant truck, melding its rugged heritage and superlative capability with a sensible approach to modern comfort. Even if an $86,710 sticker price might shock when you step back and see a gussied-up UN vehicle, consider that Mercedes-Benz has been pulling the same thing at twice the price with the G-Wagen and making out like a bandit for decades. Toyota’s low-volume Cruiser business here in the States still generates around $279 million in revenue annually, and that's without counting the Lexus LX. If you do count the LX, the revenue total for Toyota was $710 million in 2018. Not exactly peanuts.
But given its formulaic, three-squares approach since the 200 Series launched in 2007—one trim, one option, no marketing—it's easy to see why Toyota whipped up the 2020 Land Cruiser Heritage Edition. It's nominally a minimalist adventurer appearance package accented by bronze BBS wheels and a Yakima MegaWarrior roof basket. More than a decade into the current series (Land Cruiser generations move on geologic time scales), it's also the closest the world's largest automaker has come to a bored-mouth snack involving its most iconic vehicle.
Again, this isn't a bad thing at all. The opposite, in fact. The Heritage Edition looks great, drives great, and is great. It just doesn't feel like it's meeting a vital need the way the regular Land Cruiser does, nor does it scan as a gluttonous blowout truly celebrating its six decades of production ahead of an uncertain future. Kuchisabishii.
The 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition, By the Numbers
- Base Price: $86,710
- Powertrain: 5.7-liter V8 | eight-speed automatic transmission | full-time four-wheel drive with low range
- Horsepower: 381 hp @ 5,600 rpm
- Torque: 401 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm
- Ground Clearance: 8.9 inches
- Off-Road Angles: 32° approach | 21° breakover | 24° departure
- Cargo Space: 53.5 cubic feet | 82.8 cubic feet with the second-row folded
- EPA Fuel Economy: 13 mpg city | 17 mpg highway | 14 mpg combined
- Quick Take: Get the Heritage Edition or don't—what matters is that you get a Land Cruiser, period.
When Trucks Were Boxy
The Toyota Land Cruiser has changed as much as anyone would over sixty-odd years, and the four-door, roofed 200 Series stands worlds apart from the pokey 1958 FJ25 that Toyota shipped over back then as the first Land Cruiser sold on these shores. (By the way, that two-door convertible model survives in unrestored condition at the excellent Land Cruiser Heritage Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah.) The "base" 2020 truck will look familiar to everyone—its design has gone unchanged since a 2015 facelift, and its profile has been with us since 2007. Good thing it's a handsome, blocky fella, with a drawn-out grille to accentuate its 78-inch width and a noticeably upright greenhouse.
An untrained observer could mistake it for a Toyota Sequoia, that other three-row, V8, body-on-frame SUV in the American lineup, except the Sequoia is more than ten inches longer, bigger in every dimension, and also it's not a Land Cruiser and never will be. We digress. As mentioned up top, the $2,330 upcharge for the Heritage Edition nets the following exterior tweaks: 18-inch bronze BBS wheels, darkened chrome trim on the grille, deleted running boards, a Yakima roof basket, a sweet retro badge, and a paint choice of Midnight Black Metallic or Blizzard Pearl.
Adding the roof rack, removing the running boards, and swapping in smaller wheels make the biggest visual impacts. It's a conservative upfit, no doubt. But the simplicity is still compelling. $87,000 compelling? Different discussion.
Land Cruiser Puts Comfort First
Fitting for a truck that's more common in war zones than American driveways, the interior is laid out with dutiful practicality, all straight lines and big buttons and analog gauges. Cabin comfort is one place where we're glad to leave the old Land Cruisers behind, and Toyota relies on materials like wood and semi-aniline leather to soften the UN Peacekeeper experience for domestic buyers, plus extras like heated and ventilated seats and a center console refrigerator—sorry, "cool box."
The Heritage Edition comes with black leather, bronze contrast stitching, all-weather floor mats, no third row, and no cool box for maximum storage. (Toyota reasons that you'll bring a real cooler along anyway, what with the 53.5 cubic feet of space back there without the far back seats.) Don't look for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in that nine-inch touchscreen, however.
There are typically two complaints lobbed at the Toyota Land Cruiser interior: it's boring, and it's too fancy for what the truck actually is. To the first camp, we'll just point out that the Land Cruiser was not built to impress you. It doesn't have an art degree because its utilitarian buyers around the world still don't care. And to the second critique, the truck as it exists in America 2019 isn't marketed to you. Toyota knows you and a few other ragamuffins want a downmarket Land Cruiser. But that's not what it's trying to do here.
Driving the 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser Off Road
The 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition is less about going further off-road than looking better in the process. That's not a problem when the base truck is as otherworldly durable as a 200 Series. When you write a check for $87 grand, what you're paying for is the million-mile engineering needed to take the Land Cruiser safely to the globe's toughest and roughest edges. We're not exaggerating; much of the vehicle is designed for a 25-year service life. Everything from suspension components to window glass is thicker and stronger and utterly overbuilt compared to flimsy modern crossovers or even the full-size pickups we hold dear as Americans.
Sheer toughness and a solid rear axle will only get you so far—pretty damn far, but there are limits—so the Land Cruiser also has a low-range transfer case with a center differential lock, multi-terrain AWD settings, off-road cruise control, and a system that brakes the inner wheels for an off-road pivot-turn. It runs in a permanent 4HI mode with a 40/60 front-to-back torque split that can vary as needed. Lastly, Toyota's Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System automatically adjusts the sway bars to provide excellent wheel articulation without ruining on-road handling. You can feel the KDSS loosening things up as you bounce off the pavement, shift into low range, and start climbing your first rocky hill.
With 8.9 inches of ground clearance and off road angles of 32° approach/21° breakover/24° departure, the 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser isn't the most out-and-out capable crawler in the lineup. That honor belongs to the 2020 4Runner TRD Pro, as does woeful technology and a dated five-speed transmission. True to its name, what the Land Cruiser represents is the cushiest, safest way to conquer mountains. It made quick work of both the demonstration off-road course Toyota set up in the hills outside Eagle Mountain, Utah and an extracurricular detour over a challenging rock pile.
As the most expensive vehicle Toyota sells in America, though, it had better drive well on the road. The trucky Land Cruiser does what it can. Its 5.7-liter, 381-horsepower V8 (shared with the Tundra pickup) pulls strong with a decent grumble, though peak torque doesn't hit until 3,600 RPM and you'll notice the delay in higher gears. It doesn't help that the eight-speed transmission sometimes feels like it's taking a wild guess when you put your foot down, dropping too far for having over 400 lb-ft of torque on tap or pausing before slamming into the correct gear with an audible thud.
So, not all roses. But apart from that the 2020 Land Cruiser rides like any other large SUV—heavy, tall, and reassuringly soft—despite its antediluvian construction. KDSS also works on pavement as a hydraulic stabilizer system to limit body roll, so it's composed in turns and a peaceful long-distance rig overall. The only thing to really warn about for daily driving is the abysmal fuel economy: 14 miles per gallon combined. Even a 24.6 gallon tank feels small.
The Past and Present
Even in cases like this, where the historic connection is clear and unbroken, automakers often try to keep a least a little daylight between present-day models and their older counterparts. It makes sense: Old cars are cool, and generally new cars are not. Put them in the lineup, and what should be a proud evolutionary timeline often ends up looking like a March of Progress parody ending in a fat man.
That's why it was a surprise when Toyota arranged to borrow five historic Land Cruisers from the Salt Lake City museum collection for us to drive alongside the 2020 Heritage Edition. Sprung for the day was a 1977 FJ40, a 1977 FJ55, a 1984 FJ60, a 1991 FJ80, and a 2004 UJZ100. All stand as key stages in the Land Cruiser's growth from a military runabout to a globe-stomping status symbol.
That humble FJ40, even with its unlined interior, barn doors, and scepter of a four-speed shifter, has leather bucket seats and soft springs to deliver a surprisingly comfortable ride. (If you can get past the racket from the 4.2-liter straight six engine at speed, that is.) The "Iron Pig" FJ55 debuted as one of the few four-door family SUVs in 1967, and even if it shared its platform and powertrain with the FJ40, it was still designed to advance the Land Cruiser's mission. Its successor, the FJ60, brought the first fully-insulated and modernized interior, though the SUV market was starting to simmer in the 1980s. So Toyota took a radical leap forward with the 1991 FJ80, adding more luxurious appointments, coil springs, a full-time 4WD system, airbags and ABS, and the streamlined design that signaled the end of sharp corners for the Land Cruiser. Still had a straight-six engine, though.
Apart from varying levels of comfort and sound deadening, they also all drove remarkably similar on and off the pavement. Extremely slow—of the four, only the FJ80 could muscle past 35 mph on an uphill grade at 7,000 feet in the mountains—and very noisy, but endearingly blunt like only an old truck on solid axles can be. We weren't pushing any limits in these museum pieces, but the simple fact that all they needed to drive was a fresh battery and a fluid check speaks to the insane longevity of Land Cruisers.
The one truck we haven't touched upon is the 1998-2007 UJZ100, representing the largest leap forward yet. It was the first Land Cruiser with a V8 engine and independent front suspension, two key departures that make the 100 much closer in feel to the 200 Series than to any of its predecessors. It just drives like a contemporary Toyota, even if the lack of KDSS means body roll can be excessive.
The Land Cruiser Plays On
And what did the 200 Series Land Cruiser contribute to its kind? Incremental improvements in power, frame strength, and comfort, all undeniable. But whenever Toyota decides to sunset the current generation, we have a feeling it will be remembered for the off-road tech it introduced to the name. (Unless the rumors of it leaving the North American market in 2022 are true, in which case, yeah, that will be its epitaph.) KDSS is probably the biggest highlight, the way it's produced the most comfortable Land Cruiser while giving up little in capability. Even if we're eons past the FJ40's agricultural-tool approach, the 200 Series is still building on the same reputation, one advancement (or two) at a time.
What it won't be remembered for is the 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition. Not because it's a silly idea, but because the normal truck is its own heritage edition. Adding a roof rack or a smaller wheel doesn't make it any more connected to its past or give it a sense of vitality. There was room to go all out here in a celebration of spirit, with a lift and a rear locker and real off-road tires, but absent that we're more than happy to enjoy the sustenance of the regular Land Cruiser.
MORE TO READ
2020 Audi RS6 Avant First Drive Review: Wagon Über Alles
The RS6 Avant is out to prove wagons do it better. Will America finally listen?
2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid vs. 2020 Toyota Prius Comparison Review: What’s the Better Buy?
The O.G. hybrid faces a formidable challenger in America’s first electrified Corolla.