Maybe it's time to let the huge, comfort oriented Land Cruiser go. To suspend the nameplate, shutter the production line and give the once-great 4X4 a rest. Perhaps quell the heartbeat for a model year or two (or five), until it's clear either what the SUV wants to be or what buyers need it to be.
Loving a thing doesn't make it good. Calling something an icon is only acceptable when it's true. But when the lovable and iconic characteristics of a thing are mostly gone, what do you have?
In this case, you have the 2016 Toyota Land Cruiser, a mid-cycle refresh of the 200 Series that was overhauled in 2013. This big 'n' blasé SUV may own the Land Cruiser badge, but the spirit is no longer willing. I just spent a week with one to see if there was any magic left and, well, not much. This is a vehicle with a personality complex.
I'm not the only one with little confidence. Just look at how Toyota prices the LC: $84,820. Then consider that until recently the Lexus version, the LX 570, was $700 cheaper. (Lexus has bumped up the price of the 2016 model.) It's almost as if they're trying to steer away buyers.
So it's little wonder that last year, as of November, only 2,337 LCs were sold in the U.S. Compare that to the 87,000 4Runners sold.
A base Range Rover starts at $85,945, including destination. Hardcore off-roaders might scoff, but the latest Range is a far lighter vehicle, and you'd be amazed how well it handles terrible terrain. I've beaten them up from the badlands of Utah and high passes of the San Juan mountains of Colorado. When it isn't your paint or bodywork that you're worried about, they make seriously good 4X4 rigs.
The requirements for a good off-roader are usually in direct conflict with the characteristics that make a comfy ride on the asphalt. But all the R+D that the Tata Group has sunk into the Range Rover immediately shows when you're driving one.
If they can make a vehicle palatable in both worlds, so too could Toyota, if they would give the serious love, care and investment dollars that the Land Cruiser deserves. But seeing as we get only configuration and engine, and not a single other available option except color choices, I'm not holding out much hope.
It's no shame to fall in love with a nameplate. Even a casual off-roading fan knows that the Land Cruiser lives among the pantheon of 4X4 greats alongside the Jeep. It's been with us since the 1950s, with its own take of boxy bad-assery.
And if the Jeep is the American great, the Land Cruiser is still found all around the world's roughest places. I've ridden around the Atlas Mountains of Morocco in an abused FJ60, and banged around the Great Karoo desert of South Africa in a classic FJ40. In South Africa they're still selling brand-new Land Cruiser 76s with diesel V8s that are as rough and righteous as ever. Seriously, tell me you wouldn't happily on one? That's around $43,000, as it turns out.
And if a vintage LC dropped in my lap, I'd be a happy man. How about a 1970s era FJ40, or even better, a FJ45 with a long bed? (, though in need of serious attention.) A1980s FJ60 with solid axles and an unbreakable inline six would also be welcome. An older LC can be remade into an unbreakable machine. Just ask Icon's Jonathan Ward .
There's still some good news. Purists will be pleased to find that it is still a box-on-frame design. And the gasoline engine is old school, a naturally aspirated 5.7-liter V8 with plenty of torque (401 pound-feet). On the highway it powers up the steepest hills with low-throated abandon. I suspect that the time tested powerplant will run and run with few if any complications, for hundreds of thousands of miles. If Range Rovers were historically consigned to endless mechanical problems, the Land Cruiser was the always the eternal beast of the badlands. You couldn't kill them.
A Lexus lover would feel pretty at home in the modern LC's cabin. Nice seats, nice leather, everything heated and cooled and sensor enabled. But there's no excuse for the on-road behavior. The vehicle is an unconscionable 5,800- pounds, and you can feel every bloated ounce in every single turn.
Much of the weight and poor manners is due to the 4X4 equipment, of course, including a center locking diff and the high ground clearance (8.9 inches). The LC has a number of trick off-road systems, including Crawl Control and a multi-terrain selector that work off the traction control. Some Toyota engineers are bravely soldiering on, and I bet the systems would be wonderful in a smaller, lighter vehicle.
But anything this big and heavy just isn't going to make it through something like California's Rubicon Trail. Hell, even a real Jeep Rubicon is big enough these days to have issues. I ran the trail two summers ago and could barely squeeze an Unlimited model through the tight Little Sluice section.
Nonetheless, I threw a shovel, axe, tow rope in the rear and headed for national forest and logging roads near my house in eastern Pennsylvania. Without snow I didn't even need to put the LC in 4 Low until I reached a muddy concourse torn asunder by heavy logging equipment. The mud got muckier and as I seesawed through and I began considering the Toyota's weight and the not-so-knobby 16-inch tires.
Not long ago I was in similar terrain in a new Tacoma and it didn't even give me pause. But there is no overcoming the LC's weight, too-civilized rubber and oversized proportions. I couldn't even slip through the narrowest tree-lined lanes. In the end, I'd lost faith. So I turned around.
In the end, the company should allow the Lexus be a Lexus—and maybe even dump most of the off-road equipment to make the LX a lighter machine. And the Land Cruiser should take a pause and become something else. Something simpler and lighter and cheaper. Something more like the Land Cruiser 76. Because the nameplate deserves better.
(Jason Harper, a contributing editor to Road & Track, has tested and written on cars for two decades. His scariest drive was a rally race in an original Lancia 037, his first drive of a supercar was the Porsche Carrera GT, and the only time he's gotten a speeding ticket was in a base Mini Cooper. His column, Harper's Bizarre, runs every Wednesday.)