Off-roading with the new Toyota Land Cruiser
To the casual observer, the Toyota Land Cruiser is an automotive anachronism, a craggy island adrift from mainstream thinking about the evolution of car design. The current car – seen here – dates from around 2009 although it received a substantial tech and styling update in 2018. How does it match up with the fiercely competitive big SUV sector? The Land Cruiser model has been around in one form or another for over 60 years. Originally launched in the early 1950s as a naked imitation of the wartime American Jeep, the Land Cruiser has slowly evolved into one of the most venerable of all motor cars, unbreakable and unstoppable.
These qualities are obviously important in the Australian Outback or sub-Saharan Africa, but perhaps less so when it comes to everyday roads. It might not have escaped your notice that the SUV boom shows no sign of abating and practically every manufacturer has a high-riding model on their books. But while most SUVs and crossovers are becoming more car-like and civilised in their driving style and appearance, the Land Cruiser has remained steadfastly old fashioned.
The earliest models have now earned their retro chic, with companies like ICON in LA restoring them to levels of industrial design perfection that far exceed their original quality. With the best will in the world, there’s nothing especially attractive about the current car. It is upright, bluff, and uncompromising, all the better for forging rivers, rambling across the savanna and tackling steep gradients. While other marques use the imposing scale of SUVs to convey a sense of grandeur and status, a Land Cruiser is rather more modest, if only because it implies a certain insouciance on the part of the owner about things like brands and style.
Inside, there are more updates, with a thin veneer of technology over the underpinnings of pure tradition. It all works as you’d expect, with touchscreen infotainment and plenty of buttons, knobs and dials – this is not the realm of glassy digital dashboards. A new 4-cylinder diesel engine delivers ample but languorous performance, with a bunch of dedicated off-road transmission controls to dig you out of the deepest bog. Toyota undeniably has the nous to build for the future – over four million Priuses (Priuii?) has given the company an unparalleled technical advantage. It is also ploughing money into hydrogen fuel cell technology, compact electric city cars, robotics and even flying cars.
But the Land Cruiser is about building for the future in a very different way, a car designed to survive and soldier on, outliving obsolescence and relentless updates. It is the kind of car that sits around on a country estate like an old retainer, bought new but lasting out the generations. These are rare qualities in modern industrial design and as such should be celebrated. §