Mountain Wheels: Final edition of Toyota’s massive Land Cruiser provides holiday delights
I was tempted to write an M. John Fayhee-styled screed about the terror of pandemic-era driving, but he does that kind of thing better, and I would rather be hopeful for 2021, so let’s save that for another time.
Instead, let’s talk about my experiences in a massive, massive Toyota that is also an end-of-the-era celebration of its own. The 2021 Land Cruiser Heritage Edition is the final model that will be sold in the U.S. as Toyota presumably comes up with some less-expensive method of meeting the domestic demand for very, very large SUVs.
For 60 years, the iconic Land Cruiser has served as the Japanese counterpart to the equally iconic British Land Rover (cross your fingers that we will finally get a chance to see the new Defender this year). And in terms of stately, impressively capable on- and off-road motoring, Toyota’s big beast has remained at the top of the company’s food chain — and it disappears soon.
My experiences with this (gulp) $90,000 safari machine were perhaps fitting; I got one in Blizzard Pearl white, with Texas manufacturer plates, at Christmas in Breckenridge, so really the only thing missing was a pair of steer horns on the hood or a family of 13 to accompany me. Mine also got an open-topped roof box and a wind deflector that sort of acted as an airbrake — meaning the vehicle is so tall it won’t fit into most garages — and gold-colored wheels and old-school badging, to boot.
As a result, it absolutely fit in on the snowy streets of Breck, and while it did not have purely winter-ready tires, the imposing and often impossible mass of the vehicle meant traction was rarely an issue.
Yes, $90,000 is a lot of cash for a largely slow-moving, extremely high center of gravity automobile suited only for five passengers (the cool side-folding third-row jump seats I remember from the Lexus version are absent in this edition), but Land Cruiser has more recently been mostly about showing off rather than motoring practicality.
A friend asked why I did not go off-roading, and I asked him why he is not currently driving his motorcycle over Vail Pass; suffice to say that a summertime jaunt on muddy, rocky trailhead roads might reveal more of the Land Cruiser’s ancient, goat-like DNA, but it’s the middle of winter, so there you go.
In the summer, you’ll be able to take advantage of the eight off-road buttons and knobs prominently placed next to the gear shift, including crawl control and a system to make tight turns easier, even in the low 4×4 range.
Land Cruiser remains in 4×4 the rest of the year, and that helped add stability and stickiness, even on boilerplate ice on Hoosier Pass or out in the blizzard conditions on U.S. Highway 285.
I felt pretty comfortable keeping the big Toyota at about 65 mph, and no faster — minus the aggressive nonsense required to manage traffic in metro Denver. Its low gearing and 5,715 pounds of mass mean that even with a 381-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8, 65 really does seem about as hard as you want to push it, especially when tackling the passes. And Land Cruiser’s heavy-handed steering requires what are still some of the most involved inputs in the automotive world. And, no surprise, the resulting mileage was 16.3 mpg. It is not a small vehicle.
The trade-off is absolutely impressive with safari-worthy views plus ample passenger comfort. A mostly low and flat hood, coupled with enormous front, side and sunroof glass means visibility is not an issue, and other than being so tall that getting in really does call for a footstool — I guess running boards would spoil the aesthetics — it all made for pleasant, albeit slow, cruising.
You do get a very classy and old-school experience inside, which is heavy on the leather, the shiny metal and hardwood paneling, including a ridiculously slippery wooden steering wheel top. Why Toyota decided Land Cruiser drivers would never actually want to adjust their fan speed to, say, defrost the vehicle, or cool it in the summer, I do not know, and doing so through multiple stages of a touchscreen menu became an ongoing frustration.
The Heritage Edition came with very heavy-duty rubber floor mats in the front cabin and an absolutely gigantic mat covering the entire rear cargo area, all ideal for snowmelt or mud. And with the second-row seats dropped, it has an impressive, EPA-rated cargo capacity of 82.8 cubic feet.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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