2020 Toyota Land Cruiser: conquering, cushy, and compromised

2020 Toyota Land Cruiser

What changes will make the 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser different?

A specially trimmed Heritage Edition celebrating this iconic SUV’s sixth decade in Toyota’s U.S. lineup is new, but model-year 2020 is unlikely to bring substantive changes. We’d be happy to be wrong if it means Toyota expands available safety features to include lane-maintaining automatic steering.

Otherwise, expect the Land Cruiser to continue much as it has since its last full redesign, which was for model-year 2008. That makes it by far the oldest vehicle in a class Toyota helped invent. Nonetheless, a passionately loyal following keeps this relatively understated marker of wealth and taste essentially sold out.

Given that glacial pace — its most recent update was a model-year-2016 freshening that tweaked styling, modernized the transmission, and added safety features – was more than a footnote. With the Heritage Edition the only probable addition, however, the 2020 Land Cruiser will be a rerun of the 2019. It’ll return as a traditional body-on-frame SUV with seating for up to eight, an old-school V-8, terrain-dominating all-wheel drive (AWD), and standard luxury features so comprehensive a rear DVD entertainment system should again be the sole option.

Note that driving impressions and other subjective conclusions in this review are based on road tests of the 2019 Toyota Land Cruiser. In areas where the ’20 might be different, we will reserve judgment.

Should I wait for the 2020 model or buy a 2019?

Wait for the ’20 if you’re keen on the Heritage Edition. Unveiled in February at the Chicago Auto Show, it exchanges bright exterior accents for black and shadowed pieces, adds a vintage Land Cruiser badge, and deletes the running boards and chrome lower bodyside moldings of the standard model. Midnight Black Metallic and Blizzard Pearl are the only exterior color choices, the latter a $395 option on standard models. The alloy wheels are unique bronze-colored BBS-sourced rims in the standard 18-inch size.

Inside, the Heritage Edition gets black leather upholstery with bronze stitching. And it comes without the standard third-row seat, making this the first five-passenger Land Cruiser in recent times.

Buy a 2019 Land Cruiser if the Heritage Edition isn’t your bag. The ’20 won’t otherwise change in any way worth waiting for, but it’ll almost certainly be priced higher. It’ll return in a single level of trim brimming with standard amenities such as plush leather upholstery, a heated steering wheel, and imbedded navigation. Also aboard: a formidable suite of off-road tech that includes a video view beneath the undercarriage.

Both the 2019 and ’20 Land Cruiser will retain the minor styling updates and other features that came with the model-year-2016 freshening. Don’t look for additional changes of note until at least model-year 2023, which sources peg as the launch of the next-gen model. That would make 17 years between redesigns, but unhurried evolution is part of Land Cruiser’s charm.

From its early-1950s origin as a utilitarian Jeep-like two-door, the Land Cruiser has grown progressively larger and more luxurious — even as overseas versions retain their functional roots as diesel-engine transports familiar in war zones. First imported to America in 1958 (and the top-selling Toyota in the U.S.1961-1965), today’s sixth-generation model, for all the loyalty it engenders, isn’t a big seller. In fact, it’s last in sales in a segment led, in order, by the Cadillac Escalade, Mercedes-Benz GLS, Infiniti Q80, Range Rover, Lincoln Navigator, BMW X7, and Maserati Levante.

Also in that full-size premium-SUV class is the LX from Toyota’s own upscale Lexus division. Essentially a gussied-up Land Cruiser, the LX is more expensive and, to some, more prestigious than its Toyota cousin. Both factors help it outsell the Land Cruiser, if by a slight margin. Interestingly, though, while LX sales tend to fluctuate as buyers flit around to the sample the latest competition, Land Cruiser demand holds steady.

Will the styling be different?

The Heritage Edition brings its own look, but other ’20 Land Cruisers won’t change. Every version will remain a broad-shouldered box, some tastefully applied chrome doing little to diminish its function-first aesthetic. In contrast with many fashion-first rivals, Land Cruiser’s core purpose is to go anywhere and return intact. That Toyota makes a mint positioning it as a luxury vehicle for some markets doesn’t dilute the rationale behind its design.

Built to ride over rocks, maneuver tight trails, and negotiate narrow village streets, it rides high, is relatively short bumper to bumper, and shares with the LX the stingiest wheelbase (the span between the front and rear axles) in the segment. The downside for occupants is a lofty step-in to the cabin and shrinking legroom as you move rearward. Driver and front passenger are fine, and the second row compensates with chair-height seating and a reclining backrest. But the third row is little more than a thinly padded afterthought with nowhere near the space or comfort of competitors like the Navigator and GLS.

Land Cruiser’s comparatively neat dimensions exact a toll on cargo volume, too, with carrying space more akin to that of a midsize crossover than a full-size SUV. Worse, instead of folding flat with the floor, the third row-bench splits into halves that tip against the sidewalls. It’s a weighty and cumbersome chore that consumes valuable storage space. No wonder Lexus now offers an LX sans third row, a move copied here by the Heritage Edition.

Speaking of the LX, its status as a Lexus doesn’t elevate it that far above the Land Cruiser for interior opulence. It does come with a 12.3-inch dashboard infotainment screen, versus the Land Cruiser’s 9-inch screen. It also has a head-up instrument display and is available with open-pore wood trim and an audiophile Mark Levenson stereo. By any measure, however, the Land Cruiser’s cabin is true luxury-grade. Standard features include semi-aniline perforated leather upholstery, heated and cooled front seats, a power tilt/telescope heated steering wheel, imbedded navigation, and a 14-speaker JBL audio system.

Richly padded surfaces abound – but so do controls for the myriad features, most notably numerous ones for all the off-road technology. We counted 45 buttons, toggles, and knobs on the dashboard and center console, with 12 more on the steering wheel, not including the cruise-control, turn-signal, and windshield-wiper stalks.

Oddly, though, such abundance contributes to the sense of occasion one feels in a Land Cruiser, a rare sensation these days. Still, it’s too bad Toyota couldn’t manage to fit modern turn signals that flash with a flick of the stalk. More than minimal small-items storage space would be welcome, too, although the standard cooled front-center-console bin is appreciated. And we do like the traditional hand-brake lever.

Any mechanical changes?

No. The ’20 Land Cruiser will continue with one engine, a 5.7-liter V-8 with 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. It’ll again link to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Shared with the Lexus LX, this engine is an outlier in the segment: along with the Escalade’s V-8, it’s the only engine that isn’t turbocharged or supercharged. The result is smooth, progressive power, and while acceleration is more than adequate, you can sense Land Cruiser become a little short of breath if you hit the throttle to pass at highway speeds. That’s precisely when turbocharged and supercharged competitors come alive.

Still, only the Range Rover and the Mercedes-Benz GL – another box with off-road roots – rival this Toyota/Lexus SUV for go-anywhere ability in this class. Capitalizing on its body-on-frame construction, sold rear axle, and generous wheel travel, Land Cruiser ladles on the traction technology to feel neigh unstoppable.

The AWD system splits torque 40:60 front-to-rear but automatically redistributes it to sustain grip. There’s low-range gearing, driver-selectable multi-terrain modes, and a locking center differential. Off-road cruise control drains guesswork out of rough-trail crawling; it has five speed settings and works in forward and reverse.

Engineers exploit the tidy wheelbase with Off-Road Turn Assist to brake the inside rear for a pivot effect, further tightening the already efficient turn radius. Dashboard screens depict degree of tilt; front-wheel position; and live video to the front, rear, and sides. Composite imaging of your projected path provides a look at potential threats below the vehicle itself. Skid plates shield the front suspension, radiator, fuel tank, and transfer case.

All that off-road acumen dictates some compromises on-road. The only wheel/tire combination mounts tall-sidewall rubber on sensibly modest 18-inch alloys. That combines with soft suspension tuning to let broken pavement and tar strips pass almost unnoticed. But the short wheelbase, tall center of gravity, and the cushy suspension combine for queasy hobby-horse motions over moguls, side-to-side head toss on uneven topography, and jolting passage over closely spaced bumps.

The old-school rack-and-pinon steering is linear but slow, and even modest cornering speeds trigger noseplow. The standard hydraulically adjustable stabilizer bars can’t do much to quell copious body lean in turns.

A generous assessment would describe the on-road manners as stately, while noting the LX’s standard 20-inch wheels or optional 21s sharpen its cornering behavior and its height-adjustable air suspension helps it feel more composed. The Lexus, though, falls 1,100 pounds short of the Toyota’s 8,100-pound tow rating.

Will fuel economy improve?

Little chance beyond some an on-paper change in the EPA’s calculations. So 2020 Land Cruisers should repeat their 2019 EPA ratings. They won’t be good, but still about par in this competitive set, at a sobering 13/18/15 mpg city/highway/combined. At least Toyota specifies 87-octane gas, in contrast to Lexus’s recommended 91-octane for the LX.

Will there be new features?

Probably not, although we’d lobby Toyota to complete the Land Cruiser’s driver-assists by adding lane-maintaining automatic steering correction – and maybe find a way to fit one-touch turn signaling.

Otherwise, there’s little more to throw at this one-spec luxury wagon. The ’20 Land Cruiser will again come with Toyota Safety Sense P, which includes autonomous emergency braking that can stop it automatically to mitigate a frontal collision with another vehicle, object, or a pedestrian (what the “P” stands for). The system also includes lane-departure warning, automatic high-beam headlights, and adpative cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead. Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection will again be standard, as well.

In addition to the cavalcade of aforementioned amenities, infotainment, and mechanical wares, look for the ’20 Land Cruiser to again count among its standard features LED low- and high-beam headlights with washers and automatic leveling, power moonroof, rain sensing windshield wipers, and windshield-wiper de-icer. The liftgate will remain an 80/20 clamshell affair with the larger upper section power operated. It’ll again have a full roof rack.

Four-zone automatic climate control, wireless smartphone charging, heated second-row seat, front- and rear obstacle detection also will return as standard. So will a rear backup camera that can also help trailer hitching.

Expect the sole option to again be a rear DVD entertainment system with 11.6-inch video displays in the front headrests, RCA and HDMI inputs, remote control, and two wireless headphones. It should carry the same $2,220 price as it did for model-year 2019.

Will 2020 prices be different?

Expect the usual model-year inflation, but the 2020 Land Cruiser should remain priced near the entry level of this rarified segment. Toyota had not announced ’20 prices in time for this review, but for reference, the 2019 model had a manufacturer’s suggested retail of $86,460, including the $1,295 delivery fee. Look for a modest increase for 2020, with the Heritage Edition, which Toyota says will be built in limited numbers, perhaps demanding a few thousand more.

By comparison, the 2019 Lexus LX was priced from $87,375 in five-passenger form and from $92,375 with the third-row seat (both included the $1,295 delivery charge). To put these prices in context, the ’19 Mercedes G-Class started at $125,145 and the GLS at $71,145, the Range Rover at $90,795, the Escalade at $79,490 with AWD, and the Navigator at $77,155 with AWD. All prices include delivery.

When does it come out?

Expect a 2020 Toyota Land Cruiser release date in late summer 2019.

Best competitors

Audi Q7 and Q8, BMW X7, Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV, Range Rover, Infiniti QX80, Lexus LX, Lincoln Navigator, Maserati Levante, Mercedes-Benz G-Class and GLS

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]