Truck Yeah Review 1997 Land cruiser FZJ80 40th Anniversary Edition
I drive a Land Cruiser, and you've heard this all before but I told someone I would write a review for it and I'm not one to back down from the sort of challenge from someone on the internet who's name I don't know or handle I can't recall. So here we go.
(Disclosure: I once accidentally killed a hamster by bungee jumping it with an ACE bandage when I was 12, I still feel really bad about it.)
The tough part for me with this review was how to place it:
Compared to 1997?
Compared to modern cars?
Compared to what I can get used?
I think I will do a little of each, but I would like to frame it mostly in two frames:
What it's like for me to drive and own
What it must have been like new
To set the scene, remember that the mid 90's was the golden age for large SUV's, the average price (inflation adjusted) for gas was $2.00 and the average Large SUV mileage was around 14 city and 17 highway. Different times indeed.
The FJ80 came on the scene in 1990 and was a radical departure from the FJ60 which was strait, boxy and simple. Land rovers and other SUV's from that time were about as boxy, which made the 80 really stand out with its curvy "bubble" styling. It's got a long hood, swollen fender flairs and integrated paraphernalia that other 80's in markets outside the US did without.
Frankly I think it looks better in without all the flair, but I'm a bit simplistic in my automotive tastes. Mine is in one of 2 special 40th anniversary edition colors called "antique sage" which is like a gray beige? I don't love it, don't really think too much about it. It looks good cleaned up and in the right light. Flair, fortunately, was "in" for the 90's and it sold the idea that "luxury" and "big" were synonymous, which was totally a thing back then. Even still, I would bet that 50% of custom plates for this car had something to do with teeth.
Also, in 1995 they switched from the excellent T O Y O T A badge on the front to the bean in a hat. In collectors editions and anniversary editions its black, like the grill, so collectors can pretend the bean didn't even ever exist. Love the T O Y O T A badge? Good news!
Well, they tried. Actually in 1997 this thing was the stuff in terms of luxury, especially decked out in 40th anniversary trim.
Genuine two tone leather for all three rows, leather steering wheel, leather shift knob, too. It looked and felt a lot like the Lexus LS and that car was pretty hot stuff in the luxury department and in fact shared a lot of its components. The important thing with a luxury interior is how it weathers the test of time. Well, 17 years and 240,000 miles later, all the switches and gauges still work, the dash isn't cracked and the carpet is wearing well. The leather sucks and is hard and splitting apart at the seams and wearing thin in places…but it's not cracking!
It terms of storage space there is surprisingly little for a car this size, just tiny hard door pockets, a moderately sized center bin and a tiny glove box. Also, there were no cup holders…anywhere…that came from the factory, as well as driver or passenger arm rests. Still, if I had to pick place to put my drink over switches and gauges that still looked and worked fine though, I know which one I would pick. The 40th Anniversary also has a sliding sunroof that leaks a little in car washes, manual sliding rear glass and windows that open as big and wide as Steven Tyler. Frankly, it's a very pleasant place to sit and the seats, despite the leather coming apart and the foam completely collapsed doesn't hurt my back, even after 14 hours in the saddle.
Audio, Infotainment, Gadgets
It has a 9 speaker "premium" sound system with electronic tuning, Cassette and CD …CD! It's pretty obvious though the Toyota was trying pretty hard to figure out where to stuff 9 speakers in a car meant for 3rd world travel, and not for daily driving to the office and it shows with the front two tweeters mounted at knee level pointing down. It's just as well though, since the paper speakers typical of even the nicest 90's Toyota's weren't able to provide much more quality than my knees are able to distinguish. It also came with buttons…lots of buttons. Two rocker switches for the sunroof, two buttons to raise and lower the antennae which, after seeing my friends Tacoma antenna nearly rock and sway itself into destruction off-road, I now totally get and lots of switches and buttons for the climate control which is automatic. That's right, automatic climate control, which in 1997 was still pretty sweet. It doesn't work very well. That's not to say it doesn't work as an air conditioner or heater…it REALLY does…what I mean is that hitting "AUTO" always turns on the AC, puts the flow director to feet and windshield and turns the fan to medium and then just adjust the temperature of the air which is too hot (or cold) at first, and then too cold (or hot) when it settles in. I just set the temp, turn the fan to low and the flow director to hands and feet and call it a day, and it works pretty well. Bonus points for the optional secondary, completely independent and coolant driven heat unit under the passenger front seat which is hot enough to keep the entire truck warm as well as melt discarded crayons into the carpet permanently.
The "toys" are pretty limited, but you can have an optional switch to the left of the steering wheel that locks the front and rear diffs electronically. It also has other things which were probably pretty great in 1997, like a remote arming security system with glass breakage sensors, a feature that keeps the power on for 90 seconds after you turn everything off, and headlights that automatically turn off when you turn off the car.
This is a tough one. Let's start with the stats: 4.5 liter strait 6 with 212 hp and 275 ft-lbs of torque that netted you 13 city and 15 highway. I'm on record as saying that this engine is one the best made engines of all time, and that counts for something surely, but it weighs nearly 900 lbs and has to motive a dry listed weight of 4,850 lbs. A 1997 4wd Chevy suburban weighed 4800 lbs and was powered by 255 hp and 330 ft-lbs for reference. 0-60 time was 11.4 seconds and the ¼ mile was…bad. To be honest though, in the context of its peers it wasn't terrible and it was light years ahead of the outgoing engine with 155 hp and 240 ft-lbs for the same car. Here is the truth, you can theoretically pull 5000 lbs with this truck, and you probably can, but you are going to be no one's friend on the freeway. Given the displacement and the torque curve, it's still pretty modern; 61 ft-lbs per liter. The best N/A V6 truck engines tuned for torque are topping out at ~70 ft-lbs per liter. Also, considering that 240 of those ft-lbs are ready the second you leave idle, it moves along pretty well. The upside is that it doesn't much care if you load it to its max payload, it still drives about the same, it's slow, but steady.
Gearbox & Transfer Case
The gearbox is…sturdy. That's about the best compliment I can heap on the A343F electronically controlled 4 speed automatic with overdrive. Its harsh to shift, its dimwitted and it this engine desperately needs a 5th gear as the ratios are spread out in an unfortunate manner. 1st is nice and low, but the shift to 2nd feels like you skipped a gear, and the gap between 2nd and 3rd is such that you can't do 67 mph in 2nd but 3rd is too tall to maintain the hp peak, so you bounce back and forth on long freeway climbs. I'm sure in 1997, this was perfectly acceptable though, and it did come with a "PWR" button which, if you are 16 you know stands for POOOWEEERRRRR! and makes your car go way faster... but actually just modifies the shift logic to hold gears longer and shift down before you start to slow down as opposed to normal which just waits it out and hopes the hill goes away soon. It also has a 2nd gear start, which the brochure touts has being helpful on slippery surfaces (as if you could possible break the tires loose anyway) but is actually only helpful when you want to hold 2nd gear in low range which is great for water crossings and sand. The transmission features a cooler for better low speed heat management and a skid plate. The good news is that its bulletproof, it just keeps going.
All US market 80 series were full time 4wd which uses a viscous coupling center differential to modulate torque split front to rear and is capable of transmitting up to 30% torque to the slipping axle. In low range, the center differential automatically locks electronically to provide true 50/50 torque split, which is music to the ears of Land Rover Discovery owners of the time that no longer had the ability to lock the center differential. The low range is a 2.42:1 ratio, which isn't really that low, but is plenty for the torquey engine; I haven't even needed better except in engine braking on super steep slopes. Again, it's a durable unit that is manually actuated with a lever and gets the job done. As a bonus, because the 80 series in other markets came with a switch to manually lock the center differential in 4hi, adding this feature is literally as easy as buying the switch and plugging it in (which I've done). You can also modify the control unit by unplugging a single wire to allow you unlock the center diff in 4lo (also done), which is handy in increasing your turning radius on very tight switchbacks.
Like the transmission I think the best we could say is that is has brakes, and they won't fail you. Even by the standards on 1997, stopping distances were long. It had 4 wheel ABS and REALLY solid looking 4 piston front caliper and 2 piston rear calipers but I think the brochure sums it up best when it said that when you can't avoid trouble with the brakes "it's nice to know that you're inside a strong, 4.850 lb. body-on frame structure…"
The plus is that they are linear and, with modern pads, pretty fade resistant. I would hate to see what I panic stop with a 5000 lbs load would look like, but around town they do just fine all things considered.
On the safety front, you do have to give Toyota props for integrating good crumple zones, dual airbags, shoulder belts on all outboard seating locations and side impact beams. It's also a convenient nicety that the roof, designed for heavy expedition loading, is super strong. I knew a man with a lifted and heavily armored one that was T-boned so hard it rolled twice and ended up on its roof and yet it didn't collapse any of the pillars, compare that to other full size SUV's of its time and weep.
Ride & Handling
Compared to other large SUV's, and especially trucks, this is a pretty smooth ride. It jiggles and shakes like body on frames tend to do, but it takes it all in stride and all but high frequency chop is filter out expertly. Honestly, it's MUCH better than I was expecting. Are modern trucks better at this? yup, but I drive 30 miles a day in it and its not tiring at all.
As for handing…is not bad! I like to quiz car people with this:
What has AWD, a NA inline 6, coil springs on all 4 corners, 50/50 weight distribution and isn't a BMW?
Yes its tall, yes it's heavy, and not its not really fun to drive, but terrible it isn't. The roll stiffness is better than expected, it really does have 50/50 balance so you can lift throttle or trail brake neutral behavior and because its solid axles front and rear, the steering geometry doesn't change when loaded in a corner so you keep a lot of rubber on the road and a lot of the weight is low[er]. As a bonus, it has a hand brake that is VERY effective in initiating slides and I've been full on, power sustained, handbrake initiated oppo before.
Hauling, Towing, Cargo Management
The land cruiser is a great vehicle because its great at what it was meant to do: take you, lots of people and lots of things to places you need to be without complaint. The 80 series has a factory tow rating of 5000 lbs, which I'm sure the truck is up to, provided you don't have to be there in a hurry, AND a payload of 1620 lbs. All in all you, your truck and your trailer could be traveling down the highways of America to the tune of 11,470 lbs, though I can't even image what that would do to the poor 212 hp available; leaving you only 37 hp per ton to get things done. Not per lb, per TON. That having been said, the cargo capacity with the 3rd row seats removed is…enormous. With the weight balance, the heavy rated axles, strong fully boxed frame and big torque, you can load up pretty heavy and have a pretty normal drive. I've put 1500 lbs in mine driven 500 miles like it was empty, it really doesn't bother is aside from steep grades and braking.
Off-Road & Maneuverability
When this truck came out in 1990, it was the champ of heavy off road travel, and it didn't change in its 7 year life. Sure, the wrangler is a better rock crawler, and the Land Rover is a fine vehicle too (seriously I harbor no ill will), but if you had to get someplace difficult and you had stuff to bring, you bought a land cruiser. Period. Aside from class leading 10.8 inches minimum ground clearance, 8.9 inches of coil sprung travel, and a ramp score that's still impressive for a production vehicle you could option front and rear electronic locking differentials; combined with weight, and wheelbase, as one commentor put it "if it fits, it goes."
Lift kits are easy, and you can fit 33 inch tires without rubbing anywhere on stock suspension are also perks. The only let downs is the poor departure angle (22 degrees) and relatively light skid plating.
People have turned these into rock crawlers, but don't. It's a heavy overland tour machine and its set up, right out of the box, ready for action.
People like to complain about how much Land Cruisers costs and yes, the new J200 is nearly 80 large, and when new this beast wasn't much different. At $49,000 ($72,000 adjusted) the FZJ80 was a very costly machine new. Before I say a word on value I will first qualify by saying two things:
1. There is 20% luxury good tax on imported luxury vehicles like this
2. Is value getting what you pay for it terms of an itemized list? Or does it include the intangible?
What I mean by the 2nd is that yes, $72,000 in today's moneys is a lot, and you should expect a lot but 17 years and 240,000 miles later my truck looks like some vehicles do at 50,000 miles and I see no reason that I can't keep it that way for another 100,000 with the right maintenance. On the used market, 80's series are going for between $5000-12000 depending on condition; I bought mine for $6500. Given that most cars at 10 plus years…especially luxury cars…sell for about 10% of their MSRP, I would say that they are above average in their value. A well maintained 80 will hold 10,000 for years, and if the trends for FJ40's, and FJ60's is an indication then there is likely to be a spike in the demand and value of clean examples in the coming years…assuming anyone can pay for gas by then.
On that front, now is as good of time as any to say what I'm getting mileage wise. Keeping in mind I have a lot of miles on a completely original engine, that I live at 5000 feet and that I, like almost all American's, am forced to used E10…I'd say I'm doing pretty great at 12.5 city and 15 highway.
Should you buy one? The question of value comes down to time:
1997 –Are you an orthodontist who thinks you need the ultimate overlander to tackle the occasional light snow? Also, is your wife/GF breast implant procedure this year, or next? Next year? Go for it.
Now –It's lot compared to other used 4x4's and it will require your time and attention…do you want an image, or do you want the substance the image built? I would say that the idea used buyer is a mix of 20/80. Also, how much lenience are you likely to get in regards to time spent on it/playing with it from your significant other.
I love my cruiser [duh] and it's the right car for me right now.It wasn't ever a good "car" but a better overlanding vehicle may never have been built.
Specifications As Tested
1997 Toyota Land Cruiser 40th Anniversary edition
MSRP: $48,790 in 1997 - $72,000 in 2014
MPG: 13 over many miles, aggressive driving or sedate…doesn't matter. (EPA: 13 City / 14 Combined / 15 Highway)
Engine: 1FZ-FE Inline 6, 4.5 liters.212 hp @4600 rpm 275 ft-lbs @ 3200 rpm
Drivetrain: 4-Speed Automatic, full time 4WD
Curb Weight: 4,850 lbs
Payload Capacity: 1620 lbs
Max GVWR: 6470 lbs
Towing Capacity: 5000 lbs with 4.10 rear axle (only option)