2020 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition First Drive Review

You should appreciate the Land Cruiser while it’s still here.

Aaron GoldWriterThe ManufacturerPhotographer

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah—At every press preview, there's always a bit of grumbling about the vehicle being previewed. The 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition was subject to more than most.

The blame lies squarely with Toyota. In order to make sure we were well versed in the heritage this special-edition Land Cruiser is celebrating, they procured five classic Cruisers from the Land Cruiser Heritage Museum in Salt Lake City and turned us loose. With so much cool old metal to motor around in, who could be bothered with what is essentially the same Land Cruiser we've been driving since 2008?

As I was attempting to coax a two-tone white-over-green FJ55 Land Cruiser up the mountain to the Snowbird ski resort, it occurred to me that today's Cruiser is tomorrow's classic. The particular FJ55 I was driving was a late-production 1977 example, and I could just imagine what my Carter-era colleagues would have said about it when it was new: Why bother driving it? It's the same damn thing they've been selling for the last 10 years. Now, where's the fondue?

So what, exactly, sets the Heritage Edition apart from other 2020 Land Cruisers? This is largely an appearance package, with dark blue or white paint, bronze BBS wheels, bronze interior stitching, a Yakima Megawarrier roof basket up top (which is bound to do wonders for the 14-mpg EPA estimate), and a Land Cruiser badge in vintage script. Most notable is the deletion of the third-row seat, a configuration offered on the Lexus LX570 but not, until now, on the Land Cruiser. (Zapping the back bench opens up much-needed cargo space for hard-core adventure addicts, but it also lets in more road noise from the back of the cabin.) Toyota is limiting production to 1,200, but given the glacial pace of Land Cruiser sales, I doubt buyers will be lining up at midnight to buy one.

But maybe someday they'll wish they had. Sooner or later, I realized as I tried to find the right gear to get that old FJ55 up the hill—third gear lugged the engine, resulting in high coolant temps; second resulted in low oil pressure and bleeding eardrums—people are going to appreciate the modern Land Cruiser. And not just the Heritage Edition, but the entire FJ200 series. Look no further than the rising values of 1998-2007 FJ100 Cruisers. So why not enjoy Toyota's gentle giant now?

Consider the Land Cruiser's mission, unchanged since the first FJ25s. The Land Cruiser isn't just a hard-core jungle basher; it's also Toyota's traditional envoy to new markets. Before the first Toyopets came to the States, Toyota sent a 1958 Land Cruiser to the States. The newly-minted Toyota dealer had to deliver it to the customer himself, since his dealership hadn't been built yet. (That first U.S.-market Land Cruiser now resides in unrestored condition at the Land Cruiser Heritage Museum.)

And with 60 years of Toyota history in the rearview mirror, is there a better emissary for the brand than the Land Cruiser? It illustrates all of Toyota's traditional strengths, primarily that it looks and feels as solid as the proverbial bank vault. Its design, inside and out, is conservative and straightforward. It is easy to approach and easy to use, and most importantly it's excessively good at its job.

We know a few hard-core Land Cruiser fans might scoff at this bit, as the smaller Land Cruiser Prado—sold here as the Lexus GX460—is arguably a better off-roader, while the FJ200 is arguably a better sofa. Still, the big Cruiser will go as far off-road as most people would want in a vehicle this expensive, with electronic aids to help the driver surmount just about any off-road obstacle its dimensions will accommodate. Is it as capable off-road as an FJ40? No, but few vehicles are.

When it comes to on-road driving, the modern Land Cruiser is a world away from the FJ40, which is a slow, noisy boneshaker. The 2020 Land Cruiser, by comparison, is quick, quiet and supremely comfortable. Its interior fittings feel as good as anything Lexus offers, and the 381-hp naturally-aspirated V8—the same 5.7-liter mill used in the Tundra pickup—provides a smooth, even flow of power. It's also an anachronism in today's turbocharged world, one that we hope will last as long as the cam-in-block straight-six that powered Land Cruisers from 1951 until 1992. This is a luxury vehicle that wears a blue-collar brand name strictly out of tradition.

While the Land Cruiser is a reflection of Toyota's greatest hits, it also highlights a few of its flops. The infotainment system, which has been undergoing incremental improvements, still feels dated in both appearance and functionality. And Toyota's Crawl Control system, which ensures slow, steady, automatic progress up and down hills (Toyota accurately describes it as off-road cruise control), still can't make smooth progress at its lowest speed settings.

That said, no matter what you think of Toyotas or Land Cruisers or SUVs, or the price of grain in Milwaukee, one cannot truthfully deny that the modern-day Land Cruiser—Heritage Edition or not—is one heck of a good vehicle. And what thanks does it get? People mistakenly call it a Land Rover and buyers ignore it. The sky-high price tag—$86,640 for starters and $88,970 for the Heritage Edition—certainly does it no favors.

The bottom line is that today's FJ200 Land Cruiser deserves more credit than it gets. It's an excellent luxury vehicle, an accomplished off-roader, and with a towing capacity of 8,100 pounds, seriously useful to drivers who like camping and boating. It does most of what a Land Rover Discovery or a Range Rover will do, with less prestige and (compared to the Rangie's twin-turbo 3.0-liter) a better engine. Yes it's dated and, yes, it's expensive, but it's a damn good SUV.

Now we just have to wait a decade or two for people to figure that out.

2020 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition Specifications
ON SALE Now
BASE PRICE $88,970
ENGINE 5.7L DOHC 32-valve V-8; 381 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 401 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV
EPA MILEAGE 13/18 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 194.9 x 78.0 x 74.0 in
WHEELBASE 112.2 in
WEIGHT 5,715 lb
0-60 MPH
6.8 sec (est)
TOP SPEED
114 mph
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