The amazing machines I’ve been lucky enough to test have brought me to some extreme places.
Engine: 5.7-liter V8
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Drivetrain: Full-time 4WD with low-speed transfer case
Horsepower: 381 hp at 5,600 rpm
Torque: 401 lb-ft at 3,600 rpm
Fuel Economy: 13/18/15 mpg city/hwy/combined
Tow rating: 8,100 lbs
US Price: $84,725
From pushing my limits behind the wheel of a Lamborghini on a Spanish race track to fording a river of melting glacier water in a Land Rover in Iceland, I’ve been to some amazing places. But my latest is certainly the most epic of any adventure yet: driving one of the world’s most capable off-roaders, the Toyota Land Cruiser, through what might be the planet’s most remote and dangerous environment: the Australian Outback.
But Why Australia?
So why would Toyota fly me 10,000 miles to drive a truck that no one really buys? My guess is that it makes for a great story, because when you think about it, the Land Cruiser is a quintessentially Australian machine.
It’s modern and sophisticated, much like the Aussies themselves, and yet, it’s designed to handle the most rugged of terrain. After all, we’re talking about a people who built civilization on a continent where pretty much everything wants to kill you.
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So what’s new about the Land Cruiser and why should you care? The first part of that question is much easier to answer. The short story is there’s a new look, a new transmission, plus new safety and convenience features.
The second part of that question is the one I’ve been asking myself since I first started researching all the deadly wildlife native to Australia, from the snakes to the spiders and the drop bears. The answer is far less clear.
But let’s get back to the what’s new.
Selling just about 3,000 trucks a year, it’s fair to say that a lot of folks just don’t “get” the Land Cruiser. It takes a special breed to spend close to six figures on a Toyota.
But those who get it, really get it. Toyota has nailed down the buyer profile so precisely that only one version is offered: fully loaded. You pick your color and a choice of two interiors (black or brown). That’s it. There are no trim levels and no options.
Toyota Can Do Luxury
As a result, it’s extremely well-equipped. There’s almost every luxury feature you could want and it’s a beautiful place to be in. Yes, it’s a Toyota, but this is not a Corolla, folks.
There’s a push-button ignition, four-zone automatic climate control, a heated power steering wheel, radar cruise control, a 14-speaker audio system and even a fridge in the center console.
For 2016, the cabin has been modernized with a new 9-inch display screen with Toyota’s Entune system, plus it has wireless charging for your cellphone. Back seat passengers can even enjoy the standard entertainment system with two 11.6-inch screens.
The safety suite is impressive and now boasts lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert as well as both frontal avoidance and frontal collision mitigation systems that will apply the brakes at speeds below 24 mph to either help minimize the impact of a collision or prevent it entirely. It might even work on Kangaroos.
When it comes to on-road manners, there’s no forgetting it’s a truck. When the road gets choppy, there’s plenty of wobble in the chassis. At the same time, once you leave the beaten path for the dirt trail, it’s surprisingly refined, from the smoothness of the ride to how well it isolates you from the harshness of the rocks you’re kicking up outside.
If you are thinking of buying a Land Cruiser as a functional family vehicle, it’s important to note that it does have three full rows and adults will fit in the third row, though their knees might be up near their chin.
The second-row seats can slide forward or back by 4.1 inches and there’s an easy-release mechanism to flip the seats forward for easier (but not exactly easy) access to the third row.
If there’s any complaint to be made about the interior, it’s that there is only one, yes one, USB port.
New Look, Not That You’d Notice
Outside, the design has been revamped from the side mirrors forward. You might not notice though, because it’s not really that dramatic a change and, lets face it, you probably never knew what the Land Cruiser looked like before anyway.
The rear also gets a mild makeover wit a new bumper, and LED taillights.
Compared to luxury SUVs in its price range, it’s certainly unassuming. It doesn’t look very luxurious and it certainly doesn’t look very off-road ready. You won’t find any 22s here. Instead, it’s comes with subtle 18-inch wheels with huge sidewalls because this beast is meant to go off road. And where better to leave civilization behind than in the Outback?
Off-Road Features Abound
With 9.1 inches of ground clearance, skid plates, a 30-degree approach angle and 20-degree departure angle, it’s amazing what the Land Cruiser can cruise right over.
As a proper off-roader, it comes with a two speed transfer case with a set of low range gears while a center limited slip differential splits power 40/60 front to rear. But the list of off-road tricks, making use of some serious technology, is extensive.
Much like other modern trucks, it offers selectable programs designed to suit your environment. The Multi Terrain Select lets you pick between five drive modes: Mud and Sand, Loose Rock, Moguls, Rock and Dirt and Rock.
This is available in some other Toyota trucks, but the Land Cruiser pairs it with a Multi-Terrain Monitor that uses this luxury SUV’s front, rear and side mirrors to give you a view of your surroundings, because, let’s be honest, having to actually get out and check by yourself is for poor people.
If getting dirty is your thing, a lot of off-road guys will detach their sway bars for better wheel articulation. But not here. The Land Cruiser uses what Toyota calls a Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System that hydraulically adjusts the sway bars for you. This is particularly helpful when going over obstacles or through ruts.
Off-Roading Cruise Control
There are too many off road features to keep running down the list, but one that can’t be ignored is Crawl Control. Just engage it with a button on the center console, select one of the five speed settings and then it takes over the brakes and throttle and all you do is steer. Down hill or up hill; it’s off-roading cruise control.
A sign of just how much Toyota understands off-roaders, the tire pressure monitoring system actually also watches the full-size spare tire because the only thing worse than needing your spare is discovering that it’s flat.
And the Land Cruiser is a true truck in more ways than one. It can off-road with the best of them, but it can also tow with an 8,100-lb rating.
That’s due in part to the powerplant. While you can get a V8 turbo-diesel in Australia, U.S. Cruisers come with a 5.7-liter V8 mated to a new eight-speed automatic.
Fuel economy isn’t great on paper, and it’s not any better in real life. Even with relaxed driving, we couldn’t achieve the claimed 18 mpg highway rating.
The Verdict: 2016 Toyota Land Cruiser Review
The Land Cruiser and Australia share a unique history. This was the first place it was sold outside of Japan and it’s where the truck, and arguably Toyota itself, earned a reputation for being durable.
But let’s be honest. This isn’t the next evolution of the automobile. It’s not part of a growing trend. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.
While SUVs like this have become increasingly irrelevant, at least in the cushy urban areas of the once-wild America, for some there is still a need for a truck like the Land Cruiser.
When you come to an environment like the Outback you realize that there are still a lot of places in the world, and even in America, where civilization is something you have to bring with you.
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