So I recently got a letter from my local Toyota dealership telling me that they are in desperate need of my Toyota Elantra so much so that they were willing to give me 2 movie tickets just to come in and test drive something. Yesterday was slow at work and I was going to a movie later in the evening so I thought...why not?
My plan was to see if they would let me drive the most expensive thing Toyota makes - the 200 series Land Cruiser. My excuse was flimsy but at least partially valid; My father in law fell in love with touring on the Kaiparowits trip and has since been looking for a 200 series land cruiser to replace his sturdy work/travel van. Will he ever bite? I doubt it, his wife is staunchly opposed but he keeps floating the idea.
I found that it was surprisingly easy for me to get the keys to a 2017 Cruiser because, according to my new sales friend, they sell so few of these a year (he says about 5) that no one ever comes in to drive them and so salesman jump at the chance to go for a ride along.
So here we are brushing the recent storm’s remainders off an 85 grand Toyota. Now Im not going to mince words and try to convince you that $85,000 isn’t a lot for any car, let alone a Toyota, however, I think its money well spent [you know I had to get it in there somewhere]. Still, I was keenly aware of the amount of money I was piloting around.
My test drive was brief and the car was covered with snow so great pictures I did NOT get, but I can say that I LOVE the proportion of the facelift in person. I’m not a huge fan of the sock in the crotch hood bulges that do nothing other than obstruct vision, but aside from that I think it looks really great up close; well proportioned, and unapologetic.
One thing I don’t like that seems to be endemic to Land Cruiser wagons is relatively low door sills and a huge butt. I like that the wheelbase is moderately contained and it means steering it around isn’t a big deal, but that huge butt is 90% of what I hit off road, and those door stills are way WAY lower that they are on the focused 4runner and Tacoma trucks. Those trucks, however, pay an interior penalty for that raised sill height and the land cruiser does not. I have a general visual rule for SUV off road worthiness potential: if you draw a line from wheel center to wheel center, all the body should be above that line to be off road worth, with the running boards in place...its not. I generally don’t count running boards so it gets a pass, but only just. A 2 inch lift and larger tires would bring it up, but only to the point where the 4runner is now. This is my #1 complaint with the 200 - Its too low.
Inside its obvious that the panorama vision of the 90's cruiser is somewhat damped by “modern” styling cues and safety requirements but the sightlines are still really great and there is a lot of adjustability in the seat and tilt/telescope wheel to get real comfy. Speaking of comfy, holy hell is that leather nice; I’ve planted my butt in a lot of former cow and I can tell you that this is the nice stuff.
I really like the way Japanese cars fit my frame and the cruiser was very much to my liking, I felt an immediate rapport with the controls and seating position and after test driving a new Tacoma and 4runner this is by far my preference of the 3, not only for its quality but they way it fits me. I liked the layout of the controls, and i LOVE that they still have a handbrake. Bless you Toyota. I didn’t get a change to check out the back seats this time around but I have before and they are nice and roomy. The interior refresh suites the vehicle nicely and the fit and finish is second to none. Sure there is a lot of plastic in the IP and center console...big deal, plastics last, don’t need maintenance, and look fine here. Some people say they hate the “wood” trim on the wheel...I can see that...it didn’t bother me at all mostly because I didn’t bother touching it for more than a second or two.
Pressing start wakes it up in a surprisingly angry way, it actually gave me a little start. It was like the engine was wound up and pushing the start button just released a catch holding back the fuel. The engine note is nice, but a bit player in the overall experience. That engine, the 5.7 liter 3UR-FE, is the main reason my father in law is looking at 200 series and with 381 hp and 401 lbs-ft its a compelling reason but, it wasn’t all that amazing. I guess 5800 lbs of truck will sap the fun out of nearly any engine. Acceleration was...whats the word...seamless. It never felt quick but I was always driving faster than I thought and getting to 80 on the freeway required much less room and time than the senses predicted. Its as James may and Rolls Royce might describe as “adequate”.
The new 8 speed didn’t feel like it had 8 speeds, but the shifts were smooth and more or less out of mind. It did do some weird stuff once or twice but the mass of the vehicle effectively dampens any small tremors in the force.
The mass, oh the mass. Here’s the thing; its a lard-ass but it feels SO great to pilot. It feels good-heavy, and thats a strange thing to try and describe. The steering is light but there is some feel, the brakes are crazy strong on initial bite and the body motions are well controlled but you get a sense of being a part of something solid. Its not at all ponderous, it just feels meaty. I like that a lot in a truck. Some cars feel fragile or “tinny” this is the opposite of that feeling and yet it doesn’t make the car a handful in the least to drive.
I don’t know what I was expecting though I know what you are expecting from this review and you’re going to get it: I like Land Cruisers.
I like they way they feel special, like when you finally buy your first nice pair of dress shoes or quality watch - there is a restoration of faith that in the age of planned obsolescence that there are still products that are designed and built with an eye to timelessness. No, its not perfect;
- Its too low
- It drinks like an 80's cop drama protagonist
- Its not the touring wagon it used to be, or could be
- Its awfully expensive
But I love its stubbornness to exist in this world all the same.
All images from Toyota newsroom for editorial use