The Toyota Land Cruiser is a beast of an off-road SUV, and while most everyone knows that much about it, here are five things that many Yota enthusiasts probably don’t know.
Step aside Camry and Corolla, the Land Cruiser actually has the longest running history in the Toyota lineup. Taking its origins from the 1951 Toyota Jeep BJ, the name “Land Cruiser” was first used in 1955, when the 20-series Jeep was introduced.
The Toyota Jeep vehicles were built to compete with the Willy’s Jeeps used in WWII, popular in Japan in the early 1950s and meant for military and police applications. It was the start of the Korean War and Toyota, along with other Japanese automakers, were asked to build a prototype for U.S. forces. This period was also known for being a period of strife for the Japanese with high inflation following the loss of WWII and automakers, like Toyota, were really struggling. While the BJ Jeep was ultimately rejected, the national Japanese police force and other government agencies bought them.
In June 1954, the Willys Corporation sued for trademark infringement and the name was changed to Land Cruiser with technical director Hanji Umehara being credited with it.
“In England, we had another competitor, the Land Rover. I had to come up with a name for our car that would not sound less dignified than those of our competitors. That is why I decided to call it ‘Land Cruiser’,” he said in a 1985 Toyota 4×4 Magazine article.
Shortly after the war, Toyota tried to expand into European markets, however, they were already occupied by American and European automakers. Plus, the idea of buying a vehicle from their recent, past enemy made it difficult for the company. Instead, Toyota focused on expanding into the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and South America.
Interestingly, Toyota would use the Land Cruiser as its way to break into these markets. Instead of leading off with passenger cars, the rugged SUV would be the first vehicle consumers would see. As the Land Cruiser name became known for its ruggedness and reliability, dealers had an easier time expanding especially in Australia where Toyota still tests the vehicle.
You can see this heritage in the latest generation of the Toyota Land Cruiser in many places, including the floor mats. Flipping over the mat and exposing the care instructions, you can see the information printed in Arabic, French, Spanish, and English.
Plus, the way the third-row rear seats fold up and move over instead of being integrated into the floor like the new Tahoe and Yukon do, is a nod to the importance of the off-road equipment. If they folded into the floor, it would change the off-road characteristics and possibly the off-road gear.
Dropping the hard lines of the military Jeep look in 1955, the Toyota J20 Land Cruiser was meant to have more civilian appeal. It eventually came in a variety of configurations, like a two-door hard top, soft top, pickup, and five-door station wagon.
The five-door station wagon is what we see today, with the other model types being dropped over the years. It has gained considerable width and height and nearly a foot in wheelbase.
Also, the engine has grown to handle the loads with the 5.7L V8 (the same used in other Toyota and Lexus models, like the Tundra) replacing the 3.9 L six-cylinder Type F gasoline engine. The Type F was one of the longest running Toyota engines in its history.
As the SUV has changed over the years, consumer demand for it really hasn’t. For example, the 2017 model uses the same powerful engine it always has, but it now comes with two more speeds in the 8-speed transmission (versus the 6).
The additional gears do not, however, increase the fuel economy like many consumers assume it would. Instead, Toyota engineers altered the gear spacing to provide smoother off-the-line power and better towing.
While the 13/18 city/highway fuel economy numbers seem pretty poor for this day and age of vehicles, Toyota told us consumers don’t want to sacrifice the power of the Land Cruiser in favor of a few more miles per gallon.
Unlike all other Toyota models, the Land Cruiser isn’t offered in any other levels of trim. It is simply the Land Cruiser model. The reasoning for this is likely quite simple: Toyota doesn’t need to.
While U.S. sales are down a bit this year (1,532 vs. 1,673), the fact is this stalwart Toyota product will come in right around the same number year after year. With the highest price point in the Toyota lineup and consistent sales, Toyota isn’t out to fix what isn’t broken.
In the end, the Land Cruiser is certainly one of the most lust worthy Toyota off-road SUVs in the world. Sure it sucks a lot of gas, but it makes up for it off the beaten path.