2020 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition Counterpoint: The myth, the legend, the Land Cruiser
I sat down to watch Everyday Driver’s 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser review having just wrapped up a week of my own testing with the 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser Heritage Edition (LCHE). The timing couldn’t have been better, affording me the rare opportunity to compare my impressions to those voiced by the EDD hosts. Hearing their thoughts would check my barometer from afar and, of course, would make interesting jumping points for my own evaluation of the holy-grail of Toyota 4x4s. Notebook open, I hit play on the video.
Before we start, a brief matter of housekeeping: My tester was slightly different from the hosts’ loaner in that I was graced with the new-for-2020, limited-run Heritage Edition (HE) variant. All 1,200 HEs lose the third-row seats, running boards, and lowest part of body trim (so as to maximize ground clearance). Bronze BBS wheels with matching interior piping, blacked-out trim (versus the standard chrome), and an offensively-loud-on-the-highway Yakima roof rack are added as part of the package. Optimized for overlanding rather than family hauling, the LCHE differs from its standard counterpart if not in practice then certainly in ethos. Or, at least in appearance. Just by looking at it you know it’s the one you’d want to drive through Moab, the one you’d want to build a true adventure machine out of. But the core of the LC and LCHE include the same platform, running gear, and qualities built into their being. And that’s what matters.
The overarching themes of Todd and Paul’s review are, “Where’s the money?” and “Why buy the Land Cruiser when other vehicles in the class offer more for less?” Valid points considering the $89,125 MSRP of EDD’s single-option tester and my zero-option Heritage Edition loaner ringing in at $89,395. Big truck, big numbers. But numbers don’t tell half of the story here. Todd and Paul open their video discussing the history of the Land Cruiser nameplate, comparing it to the 911, Corvette, and Mustang. Dating back to 1951, it truly is important and iconic in the off-road world. The LC has never been on the forefront of tech, trading on known quantities/qualities rather than eye-catching flair. And like its name, the current truck is old.
As we know, the 200-Series has been on sale since 2008 and there’s no escaping that it drives it. Todd and Paul comment on the LC’s truck-like driving characteristics. The center of gravity is high and every pound of its 5800-pound curb weight is felt not only in high-speed corners but even in low-speed parking lot maneuvers. Yet for the size, body motions are well-controlled and the ride quality is remarkable given the parameters. Some credit goes to Toyota’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, a fancy name for variable sway bars that both allow and limit travel from the front end. Credit also goes to suspension tuned for off-roadability, as soaking up bumps on the trail corresponds well to doing so on the street. But driving the LC feels...old. Familiar. Like a truck “you used to drive.” It’s simple and straightforward. Even today, the antiquated aspects of the LC are simply part of the formula.
Things inside are similar. There’s no frills, no complicating of things that don’t need to be. Paul points out that it still has a manual hand brake and CD changer...yes, in 2020; yes, in a nearly-$90K vehicle. He suggests that, “Know when people get into your car and think, ‘Ooh, this must be expensive,’? They don’t do that in your Land Cruiser.” The material quality isn’t spectacular, hardly worthy of a $65K price tag. And I do have to agree with one of the team’s main points: When window-shopping, on a test-drive, or when owned only until the lease/warranty expired, the LC is crushed by its rivals on the surface in features, materials, driving experience, fuel economy, or anything else that isn’t outright off-road capability.
But then there’s the build quality: You’d be hard-pressed to find a better-built production vehicle. The lack of panel gaps and complete absence of interior rattles reminds you that Toyota cares about the Land Cruiser in a way it doesn’t about its other products, and that few manufacturers care about their halo vehicles. The LC name means something to Toyota. It’s reflected in how well the LC is built and how well it holds together long-term. It’s one of the reasons that the LC cannot be looked at through the same lens as one would its competitors. The money goes somewhere you can’t see.
So then where is the money? Where does that nearly $90K go? My biggest disagreement with our hosts starts with the fact that one week-- and even the typical term of luxury SUV ownership-- is the wrong measure of time in which to think about the Land Cruiser. Reviewing the Land Cruiser requires recalibrating yourself to think of it as a long-term investment rather than means to immediate gratification. Land Cruisers are built for longevity, durability, and prowess, which simply cannot be measured over a week’s press loan. In this time you can’t see how a vehicle will look or hold together down the road. Here, the LC is built to be the best.
Early in the video Paul states, “I like it because it’s honest.” The LC isn’t trying to be everyone to everyone. It’s not trying to be something it isn’t. There are better options for buyers who care about only one or two of the things the LC is good at. Todd and Paul suggest the Range Rover Sport which will perform nearly as well off-road, is better to drive, is less expensive, and boasts drastically stronger curbside presence. But they’re scary to own out of warranty and I wouldn’t want to drive one through the desert without a support vehicle. The Yukon Denali is also discussed which, like the RR, has a better interior and is less expensive even, but doesn’t hold a candle to the LC off-road. There’s other big, 4x4/4WD/AWD options: Q7/Q8, X7, Tahoe/Escalade, Grand Cherokee, Expedition/Navigator, Armada/QX80, Telluride/Palisade, GLE/GLS, and even G-Glass. And so on.
As our hosts mention, the LC’s closest competitor is its dressed-up sibling. Shockingly, Lexus’ LX 570 starts at $86,480. That’s right: LX is less expensive than LC. Options can push the Lexus to $100k, but still: Yikes.
Ignore the LX and no comparable vehicle will be as problem-free and as capable at their off-road limits as the LC. Therein lies where $90K earns its worth. What about the 4Runner, you say? It’s as capable off-road and they, too, run forever. Just for reference, the most recent 4Runner I owned was a well-optioned 2018 TRD Off Road Premium. It stickered at $4,000 less than half of the LCHE’s MSRP (and I paid $5K under that).
LC vs T-4R isn’t apples-to-apples, but it’s food for thought. It somewhat mimics Porsche’s “Cayman Complex,” i.e., how despite being able to, Porsche won’t make the Cayman better than the 911 because of the latter’s price, prominence, and prestige. Toyota could likely sell the LC for quite a bit less but won’t because they want to protect the nameplate and lowering the MSRP would allow buyers of their other vehicles to consider it when they shouldn’t. At $90K, Toyota has put the LC on a pedestal. I don’t disagree that it’s questionable coin for what, as Todd and Paul point out, has the same engine as a Tundra costing less than one-half as much, and for a LC that’s largely unchanged from the 2008 model it has evolved from. But here we are again evaluating the LC in the normal sense of the act, and here we are entirely missing the point.
The LC is becoming a cult vehicle for a reason. It’s not aligned with “the new normal.” Todd says, “Some of you will say ‘But the Toyota will just run,’ but you’re getting into really expensive cars, but if you’re buying new you’re relying on the warranty anyway, and you’re not going to keep it long enough that reliability will matter.” I disagree. Land Cruiser faithfuls aren’t traditional luxury-SUV buyers. The LC isn’t purchased in the quest for the most luxurious, most stylish option. A casual passerby will ogle a Range Rover; they won’t look twice at a LC. Then again, most LCs are still chugging away regardless of age. When was the last time you saw a twenty-year-old Range Rover running well? Or even running? Money simply cannot buy a vehicle that offers a stronger combination of durability, reliability, comfortability, and off-road capability. Longevity is its bread-and-butter.
At the end of my time with the LCHE I found myself reflecting on if $90K seemed any more palatable. To appropriately say, I thought not of my prior week’s experiences with the LC but rather of those that could be had in the vehicle over long-term ownership. I looked at the LC and imagined it parked in the same place thirty years from now, having driven hundreds of thousands of miles over varying terrain and having carried multiple families and gone on countless adventures. And then it made all the sense in the world. It’s not the sexiest or most up-to-date SUV. Not by a long shot. But when it comes to a 4WD, off-road capable vehicle that is still quite luxurious and that can be confidently driven for decades, the Land Cruiser is unbeatable.
Later in the video Paul says, “I would keep this until my son or daughter grows up and starts driving...and family memories, that does exist with Land Cruisers more so than other trucks.” He’s right. Heritage Edition isn’t simply a name. Heritage, the importance of longevity, and a strong vehicle providing the backbone to memories-- those are all built into every Land Cruiser. Not just memories now, but memories for as long as the buyer can imagine.
When compared to similar offerings and in the reference point of a trade-it-in-when-the-lease-is-up ownership, the 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser and Land Cruiser Heritage Edition make almost no sense. But the LC shouldn’t be compared to other vehicles. The LC is in a class of its own. A class that, it has to be said, is trading on the heritage that will be there as long as the LC continues to be the vehicle that made it what it is today. A day-- or a week, as I had-- in the Land Cruiser won’t sell you on it. But knowing it’ll go a lifetime right there alongside you, taking you places, allowing you and your friends and family to make memories; that’s well-worth the money. The Land Cruiser has become a legend, and it deserves every ounce of that praise.
Hi, my name is Ross. I write primarily for Hooniverse.com and co-host the Off the Road Again Podcast. I strive to bring some down-to-earth perspective and wit to the world of automotive journalism. I am an off-road enthusiast/self-proclaimed expert and an amateur autocrosser. My current car is an NC Miata Club PRHT but the joke goes that I am perpetually looking for the next vehicle I will regret...