2016 Toyota Land Cruiser Review: Toyota’s SUV Matriarch Returns

wheel-to-wheel new car reviews

Toyota Land Cruiser

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Being the matriarch of the family doesn’t just mean that age and seniority are on your side. There is also wisdom, support, and most importantly, a community of people that adore you. Serving as a cornerstone for the entire Toyota family, the stoic Land Cruiser has long been considered an indestructible SUV with an ability to crush any terrain. Road trips, picking up kids from baseball practice, ladies night out, camping atop the Ozarks, and plowing snow are just a few of the millions of medial tasks this SUV has taken on over the years, and now it’s time for a new one.

But before we get into why this recent refresh is appreciated but not awe-inspiring, let’s be clear that traditionally, buying a Land Cruiser was not some lighthearted purchase. Unlike finding the perfect Ford Fiesta, the act of procuring a Land Cruiser was an ardent transaction, filled with questions about suspension travel, brushguard mounting points, mudflaps, traction settings, rear differential upgrade options, and much, much more. At least that’s how it used to be.

Drive mode settings

Drive mode settings | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Nowadays, the Land Cruiser is more of a double-parked grocery-getter than a dedicated trail guide, as it celebrates its 65th year of production with a facelift and an interior refresh. But even though it remains tough as hell and comes loaded with amenities, the Land Cruiser doesn’t retain the appeal it once had in spades. While we feel that this generation offers many of the same accommodations and off-road capabilities as its competitors, high sticker prices, dated engineering, and hackneyed design choices have left the Land Cruiser adrift in the rising tide of SUV choices — at least in the U.S.

Luxury SUV

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exterior

Overhaul and refresh alike have turned Toyota’s Land Cruiser into an odd creature. It looks better than it did, but it still relies on a dated V8 engine. The shear heft of this vehicle almost puts it on par with the damn Starship Enterprise, tipping the scales at roughly 3 tons. At 195 inches long, 78 inches wide, and 74 inches tall, the new Land Cruiser is massive; even the “halfpipe” in the center of the hood appears to be large enough to double as a bowling ball track.

Matriarchal proportions aside, the level of craftsmanship that goes into making one of these machines is still extremely solid, and there wasn’t a flimsy component to be found on the vehicle’s exterior. While it may not be winning any beauty awards due to not carrying a single styling cue from the original FJ, the angular undercarriage lines on this SUV do serve a purpose, literally giving the SUV cause to climb.

Full size SUV

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exterior pros and cons

+ Its brutish body is built to withstand punishment inflicted by both extreme off-road conditions and toddlers alike.

+ Headlamp washers, rain sensing wipers with de-icing features, and LED lamps on every corner are useful and add value.

+ Both the ride height and rugged undercarriage are always off-road ready, while standard step rails make it easy for kids and grandparents to climb inside. 

– The rear upper hatch is not power-operated, and only has a single handle on the driver’s side. This might sound slight, but it’s also an $84,000 SUV.

– The rain sensing wipers not very sensitive, forcing drivers to manually flick the stalk in order to see.

– It looks nothing like endearing models of yesteryear, and is rather nondescript even by today’s standards.

5.7-liter V8

Land Cruiser’s 5.7-liter V8 | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Powertrain

We all know that Toyota’s bulletproof 5.7-liter V8 is a strong but dated beast of an engine. So until engineers give us a twin-turbo V6 variation, Land Cruiser owners will have to settle with getting 18 miles per gallon on the freeway, and an abysmal 13 around town. While the Nissan Armada gets exactly 1 more mile per gallon from its V8, the turbo diesel in the $67,000 Range Rover Td6 easily trumps both with a solid 22/29 EPA average and 440 pound-feet of torque.

Off-road performance

Toyota Land Cruiser’s alloy rims | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Powertrain pros and cons

+ 381 horsepower and 401 foot-pounds of torque are good for towing up to 8,100 pounds. 

+ Full-time 4WD and locking limited center differential are ready to climb canyons along with things like crawl control, off-road turn assist, and multi-terrain select. 

+ The tried-and-true 5.7-liter V8 may be dated, but it’s also a setup that is virtually indestructible, and the eight-speed automatic gearbox it comes attached to is a gem.

– Fuel economy average scores a 2 rating from the EPA, which translates to wasting around $6,000 in fuel over five years when compared to the average new automobile. Ouch.

– Loud and unrefined, this engine is more befitting of a Tundra than a luxury SUV, and it seems more at home off-road than on. The transmission also does not have a committed 2WD mode for improved fuel gains.

Land Cruiser leather interior

Land Cruiser’s leather-clad interior | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Interior

A friend once said that riding in the backseat of a Land Cruiser was like taking your couch to school. I didn’t believe him until the day his mom gave us a ride back home, and was he right! While the quality of the materials used and seating arrangements still remain top-of-the-line, power amenities and automatic features have changed significantly. Today’s model is a connected, 11-inch TV tech fiesta with all of the trimmings, complete with a cooler in the center armrest and a profusion of cubbies in every corner. Although the rear bench may not relinquish as much room as fold-flat designs when it’s not needed, it does serve as a nice nod to designs of yore.

Foldable third row

Land Cruiser’s foldable third row | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Interior pros and cons

+ Large and loaded, this cabin features luxury additions like heated/vented seats, a warming steering wheel, and an abundance of soft touch materials.

+ Sturdy command knobs, door handles, and seals, lavish numbers of driver settings, and a slew of vent controls in the rear are thoughtful additions. 

+ Comes with a duo of 11-inch televisions, 10-way adjustable driver’s seat and eight-way passenger chair, DVD player and HDMI connections, and a built-in fridge in the center console.

– Third row still takes up extra space when folded, cupholders in second row sit too far forward for juice-sipping toddlers, and not having switches and knobs for climate controls means touchscreen time is a must. 

– No electronic e-brake, seats don’t fold as easily as new Armada, and front seat limitations might be troublesome for certain drivers.

9-inch touchscreen

The Land Cruiser’s 9-inch touchscreen | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Tech and safety

Filled to the brim with Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS P) tech sensors, the Land Cruiser does a fantastic job of keeping drivers from getting into accidents and out of muddy danger as well. A portion of the array includes pedestrian detection, pre-collision warnings, lane departure alerts, cross traffic alerts, and automatic high beams. Everything in this department worked well for us, and with the addition of front camera views for monitoring wheel angle and hill approach lines, things couldn’t look better for off-road enthusiasts.

Climate control

Climate control | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Tech pros and cons

+ Toyota Safety Sense P (TSS P) is all-encompassing when it comes to accident avoidance, which makes driving something this large far more manageable, regardless of whether you’re on- or off-road.

+ The multi-terrain monitor allows you to view wheel geometry and side clearance, and overhead views make parking a piece of cake. 

+ The 9-inch touchscreen is bright, bold, and easy to navigate, housing climate controls, audio, infotainment, and more.

– No pinch-to-zoom skills like a Honda touchscreen, climate control settings can be tedious and distracting, and graphics look plain once compared to the new Prius Prime’s setup.

– No center-mounted undercarriage cameras like the new Armada, no onboard Wi-Fi, and no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

Heated steering wheel

Land Cruiser’s heated steering wheel | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

The drive

Roaring to life with the push of a button, the matriarch’s V8 reminds you that 401 pound-feet of torque are behind you at all times, and that 15 mile per gallon averages are likely going to be as good as it gets that day. Once inside, ventilated seats and an enormous amount of cabin room remind you that the comforts of home can still be had on the open road.

After dropping a beverage inside the center armrest to cool, be sure to check your surrounding cameras for bicycles and recumbent canines, and let the leisure cruise begin. The Land Cruiser may be a very comfortable vehicle to drive and ride around in, but since it is such a barge of a car, piloting one takes a little getting used to. Mashing the throttle is often necessary in order to keep the 3-ton SUV from slowing down other commuters, and although its variable cruise control does work better than what we’ve seen on other Toyota models, it does still overcompensate when accelerating.

But once up to speed, you will find yourself floating along without a care in the world, and you begin to realize why this vehicle is still in production. It may be enormous, but it is also quite easy to drive once you get a little practice in, and its brakes are plenty strong enough to bring the SUV swiftly to a stop. Just be forewarned that due to the combination of having a heavily calibrated steering rack and an overly cushy ride, drivers can easily cause this car to cast about if they jerk the wheel suddenly.

Car cameras

Car cameras | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Wrap up and review

Somewhere in the last decade, the Land Cruiser has lost its charm. It’s as capable and comfortable as ever, but in American spec, Toyota has been happy to relegate the Land Cruiser to suburban duty and place its off-road prowess as a sacrificial lamb to price tag-inflating technology and creature comforts. It’s a very luxurious approach to conquering tough terrain, but it’s losing touch with the Land Cruiser of the 1990s, 1980s, and prior. Toyota calls it “the timeless icon,” and the off-road engineering that goes into the SUV’s traction settings alone reinforces this statement.

But it also feels like it might be about time for another overhaul too. From an efficiency and appeal perspective, buyers may shy away from this vehicle in favor of more current, or less expensive options. This particular Toyota also leaves much to the imagination in its approach to wasted interior space, as its bulky 11-inch TV sets and side-folding rear seats are cumbersome when not needed.

The mighty Land Cruiser has trouble making a compelling argument for the direction Toyota is going with its line of larger off-road vehicles. It seems like this SUV is stuck in limbo right now, patiently waiting for an overhaul that can offer both a fresh powertrain and a certain level of nostalgic appeal. Although it will still attract buyers based purely upon its legacy and namesake, we get the feeling that the Land Cruiser has been secretly aching for a return to its roots — an intriguing thought considering how far this SUV has come in the past 65 years.

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