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2021 Toyota Land Cruiser: Old-school charm, modern day problems

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If the Toyota Land Cruiser were an actual dinosaur rather than a figurative one, it would be the Brontosaurus because it’s incredibly big and a little bit dumb. While the Heritage Edition sparks some nostalgic emotions and looks pretty cool in your driveway (it won’t fit in your standard garage with the roof basket), I largely found this vehicle to be outdated and super low tech.

I don’t want to say I didn’t like the Land Cruiser – because it does have its charms – but it’s not a vehicle I’d want to live with on a daily basis. I say that after a 400-mile road trip.

I can see why Toyota is nixing it after this model year. In fact, if you go to the Toyota consumer site, you can’t even build one or see vehicle details. Toyota has already removed it from the “select vehicle” dropdown.

I know this review is going to come off sounding overwhelmingly negative, which isn’t my style or intent, but I’m posting this as more of a cautionary tale for someone who might want to cash in on incredible reliability, amazing off-road prowess and throw-back styling. Go into the purchase with your eyes open.

No Apple CarPlay

While most of the other Toyota vehicles have made the switch to updated infotainment systems, Land Cruiser has not. I’m sure that’s because Toyota didn’t want to waste money on a vehicle it was killing off. But for a 3-hour drive, I was really planning on an easy connection to catch up on some podcasts.

Without Apple CarPlay, I had to depend on Bluetooth audio or the wired-in “ipod” connection. Both of which were spotty. I started out wired in, and halfway through my first podcast, it pooped out. While the podcast continued playing on my phone, it no longer came through the audio system. I unplugged and re-plugged and I got the sound back for about 10 more minutes. Then it pooped out again. So, I switched over to Bluetooth, which was more consistently connected but had poor sound quality.

Flip-forward seats

The reason for the road trip was driving down to my parents’ new home in Indianapolis to pick up some of my childhood belongings and furniture my parents no longer needed. A large SUV is just what I needed to haul six large storage bins and two antique wood side tables.

But it wasn’t an easy fit, which was largely due to the flip-forward second-row seats. Rather than folding flat, the seats flipped forward taking up some precious floor space. I ended up putting some items in the front passenger seat, so that I could still see out the back.

Again, because the Land Cruiser is old school, there was no digital camera mirror to fall back on. And this is such a large vehicle, you really want to see out the back while you’re road tripping.

In addition to the awkward flip, the seats were heavy and difficult for a someone on the small side of the spectrum to maneuver.

2021 Toyota Land Cruiser

Traveling back to Chicago with the Toyota Land Cruiser full of storage bins and tables, Managing Editor Jill Ciminillo thought the flip-up seats hindered the flexibility of the storage space. (Photo by Jill Ciminillo)

No place to put your phone

I know this is such a first-world problem, but in 2021, it’s one of those things most people would find irksome. Unless you want to put your phone in the glove box or console bin, there is literally no place to put your phone. The cup holders are too small for a larger iPhone or Android. There are no ledges or slots to put your phone in the front seat.

And per the no CarPlay comment above, if you want to listen to music or podcasts from your phone via Bluetooth, you’re going to need to have access to it to make menu selections.

I suppose you could put it in the door bin, but then you’d hear it rattle around.

I ended up setting it under my right thigh on the driver’s seat.

Poorly designed cup holders

In addition to not holding a cellphone, the cup holders also don’t really hold cups or bottles well. They’re slotted between the gear shift and the armrest, which is generally an awkward location if you want to use said armrest. The don’t have any rubber grips or prongs to hold smaller bottles and cups, so things end up wobbling around.

This is clearly a known issue amongst owners because a Google search for “2021 Land Cruiser cup holders” yields numerous results for aftermarket cupholder inserts – some of which have a space for your phone.

So, I guess the good news is the cup holder and phone issues are at least solvable.

2021 Toyota Land Cruiser

The interior of the Toyota Land Cruiser lacks many of the modern amenities one might expect in 2021 — including a place to put your cell phone. (Image courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales)

Wind noise galore

The test vehicle had a roof basket. While this looked really cool, it did pose a couple problems – the first of which is that it didn’t fit in my garage (or my parents’ for that matter). That meant I was parallel parking all week on narrow city streets. Thankfully there was a decent 360 camera (the one modern feature on the Land Cruiser), which kept me from smashing into vehicles on either side of the street.

The other problem: Wind noise. Between the roof basket and the large side mirrors, there was a constant whooshing sound in the cabin. Not a big deal if you turn up your music, but if you like to listen to podcasts or drive in silence like I do (yes, I’m weird), it grates a bit after, say, hour three behind the wheel.

The bottom line on the Toyota Land Cruiser

I realize that not everyone needs the latest technology or cup holders that actually grip your beverages. If you’re that person, the Toyota Land Cruiser provides excellent ride height and a fairly comfortable ride – especially over pot-hole-strewn city roads. Also, if you’re an off-roader who spends more time on the trail than the highway, then this is, again, a great choice — and you should read our previous review that extols those virtues.

But if you’re looking for anything beyond old-style navigation and radio, you might want to consider a Land Rover Defender instead.

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Jill Ciminillo

Jill Ciminillo is a syndicated automotive writer. Jill also manages the “Drive, She Said” blog for ChicagoNow and posts reviews to DriveChicago. She is the president emeritus of the Midwest Automotive Media Association and has the distinction of being the first female president for that organization. She also serves as a judge for the Automotive Heritage Foundation Journalism Awards. Previously, Jill has been the automotive editor for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Chicago Sun-Times News Group and Pioneer Press Newspapers.

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