- Ross Ballot
The Land Cruiser is the Supra of the off-road world
Back in the glory days of modifying street cars to go faster, Toyota’s Supra was king. A titan in peoples’ image of a modified vehicle. Maybe not as much so to the casual onlooker as Honda’s Civic, but the Supra stands tall in enthusiasts’ minds when the idea of a tuned, built car comes into the equation. Some of the credit, and Toyota itself admits this, goes to the car’s lasting The Fast and the Furious fame. It’s not without merit: The Supra, and its engine in specific, is a spectacularly strong vehicle. It takes well to modifications, has a sizable aftermarket, and looks the part. Nothing is like the Supra.
Years ago if you wanted to go really, truly fast, you had to build it yourself. It was an involved process: buy a vehicle, modify it, tune it, and hope for the best. Today, a healthy chunk of money is all that’s needed. Speed is accessible at a price it never has been before. Simply walk into a dealership, lay out the money, and plant the accelerator. Even the slew of today’s new $30k new cars are faster than what could be built for the same money twenty years ago given a $10k starting point and $20k for improvements. This low bar to entry combined in part with the general public frowning upon street racing (which it should) has led to a decrease in the popularity of the tuned street car. And with it has come a decline in popularity of the grassroots tuner culture.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, tuner cars were all the rage. Today it’s not on pavement, but rather off. The promise of an escape from reality and sight-seeing without the hassle of air travel has enticed a new age of off-roaders. Four-wheeling has displayed a rapid increase in popularity over the last decade. Part is due to the internet making vehicles and trips more approachable, what with endless resources for modifications and trail maps. Part is also, like street cars getting faster for less money, the proliferation of factory-capable 4x4s that can hang with the modified vehicles of yore. The Jeep Wrangler, Nissan Xterra, Toyota 4Runner and FJ Cruiser, and so on are all responsible for bringing off-roading to the masses. A vehicle that’s otherwise a normal commuter, a daily driver, can take buyers to places they never before thought possible. Any day can be an adventure.
And then we hit the overlanding era. Contrary to what Instagram might lead you to believe, “overlanding” isn’t loading up a vehicle with every possible piece of equipment and spending a night camping. Rather, it’s simply self-sustained, prolonged off-road travel. Overlanding is using the vehicle not only to get from one place to the next, but to exist in the outdoors and the outdoors alone for longer than just overnight. Of course, there’s more to overlanding than just off-roading. While more off-road capable options exist from the factory than ever, half the fun is personalization.
Real-deal overlanding with some harder off-roading thrown in taxes a vehicle in a way most (that’s buyers and vehicles) might not be prepared for. Few vehicles are truly up for the task of being burdened with a hard life of off-highway travel. Climbing up and over obstacles, crawling over rocks, digging through mud, clawing through sand, and so on. The kind of thing seen in Moab, on the Black Bear Pass, on the Camel Trophy, on the Rubicon Trail, and so on. Off-roading is a task for a dedicated vehicle. And it’s in this vein that the Land Cruiser serves as the off-pavement equivalent of the Supra.
In short, the things that make the Supra so iconic and such a fantastic platform translate directly to Toyota’s most polar-opposite offering.
First things first, the Supra is known for its ability to be built wildly past its original threshold. It can be modified, overloaded, and tasked with doing things the engineers likely expected only very few to do. Like a Supra can handle ~500+ horsepower without breaking a sweat, the Land Cruiser can handle bigger tires and carry a slew of armor without feeling even remotely overwhelmed.
In the same vein, the Land Cruiser is far and beyond the most durable in its class. This translates to a reputation as being dead-reliable in spite of whatever owners throw at it. The Supra was the same: It could only be killed with outright neglect or, similarly, neglectful overbuilding. The Land Cruiser carries the same ethos: Build it strong, and build it right. You can’t have fun and use the vehicle to its fullest if it isn’t going to get you there, get you through, and get you home.
Some of the credit here is to the slightly outdated tech which helps with its reliability and durability. Allowing a platform and drivetrain to “cook” for quite a while before revising it does allow the manufacturer to work out the bugs. It also means modifications and techniques for eking the most out of the vehicle can be perfected and eventually become tried-and-true. Be it a dealer completing a repair or a forum member steering an owner in the right direction, unchanging platforms and drivetrains mean time for the masses to figure things out.
And yet, despite the lack of in-model innovation, the prices of these vehicles are high. The Supra, when it last went away in 1998, started at $31,078 ($49,323 in today’s dollars) and higher trims ran as high as $40,508 ($64,289 in 2020). A 1998 Land Cruiser carried an MSRP of $45,950 or $72,926 in 2020 money. Getting into a new one will run you $90k. Even in their respective classes both the Supra-- the much-loved 4th gen, at least-- and the Land Cruiser go for serious money. That goes for used as well. Land Cruisers hardly depreciate.
Most importantly, though, the Land Cruiser serves as Toyota’s halo vehicle for their four-by-four lineup. It’s the most expensive. It’s the most comprehensive. It’s the most reliable. It holds a special place in peoples’ minds and hearts. It’s the same place in which the Supra once lived. And for that reason, until the Supra was reborn, the Land Cruiser was the closest thing we got.
Hear me out: I’m not saying the Land Cruiser is the new Supra. It’s just that with the new Supra more focused on being a sports car and with it sharing a lot of its DNA with BMW, it’s not the same Supra as what we once knew. Instead, the Land Cruiser carries the brand’s cache in the same way, and carries the same place in the brand and enthusiast’s lineup. It’s the off-road equivalent of the street car and holds the same place in the automotive world. Perhaps not the outright most engaging option but certainly the most reliable, most buildable, and the option for those looking to buy something, make it their own, and drive it for a long, long time.
Toyota North America has already announced that, as of next year, the Land Cruiser will no longer be sold in the USA. It’s already hit cult-like popularity but, like the MKIV Supra, will be loved even more once it’s gone. Within each subset of the automotive world there are some standouts, the icons that are loved universally and that stand the test of time and get better with age. The Toyota Supra is an unwavering colossus of the tuner scene. And when the pavement ends, the Toyota Land Cruiser is its closest equivalent. In a time when the Supra has returned as a somewhat different vehicle altogether, the LC has almost taken the role of most dependable and cherished Toyota product. There simply never will be another vehicle like the Land Cruiser.
Hi, my name is Ross. I write primarily for Hooniverse.com and co-host the Off the Road Again Podcast. As you can guess, I’m an off-road enthusiast/self-proclaimed expert and an ever-improving amateur autocrosser. My current car is an NC3 Miata Club PRHT but the joke goes that I’m perpetually looking for the next vehicle I will regret...