I’ve loved Jeeps since I was a kid. I studied engineering just so I could help design the new Jeep Wrangler, and I currently own enough Jeeps to where the city I live in is complaining. I’d never owned a Toyota until a few months back, when a reader offered to sell me her 100 Series Land Cruiser. I bought it. Here’s what I think of the legendary off-road vehicle after driving it across the country.
The beige 2002 Toyota Land Cruiser (okay, technically a Lexus LX470) that I bought sight-unseen for $5,000 just finished a road trip from Chicago to Seattle, and I have to admit: I get it now. I understand why so many Land Cruiser fans have been whispering in my ear over the past few years: “Dude, just join the dark side. Stop living in Jeepish squalor and enjoy this reliable luxury.”
Since picking up the LX last week in Chicago (and helping fix the wheel studs that the used tire shop mechanic broke), I’ve driven the vehicle 2,200 miles through Wisconsin, Minneapolis, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Washington. All I did after gathering the Lexus was install new (well, used) tires; I didn’t even do an oil change until I reached Montana. The Lexus didn’t care. All it cared about was chugging a ton of gasoline.
Still, even though I “get” the vehicle’s appeal, I don’t think it’s the right automobile for me. I plan to sell it at some point in the future. I’ll explain why after I gush about the SUV’s merits.
I bought the Land Cruiser because I needed something to drive from Michigan to Washington to pick up my dilapidated 1958 Willys FC-170 electric vehicle conversion project. I could have used a press car (i.e. a vehicle that a car manufacture loans me for review purposes), I could have used one of my Jeeps, or I could have simply shipped the old Jeep from Washington to Michigan (this would have been the cheapest option, I bet), but those all seem boring. I hate boring.
Upon hitting the highway westward, the most obvious thing I noticed about the LX is that it is comfortable. Like, absurdly comfortable. Not only is the ride quality supple (and yes, the hydraulic variable-height suspension works, in case you were curious), with a torsion beam-sprung independent front suspension and coil-sprung five-link rear axle, but the noise — there is so little! How it’s possible for a vehicle this enormous to generate so little wind noise is beyond me.
I was chatting with my brother over the phone while on the highway (he was on speaker). “Where are you stopped right now?” he asked. “Stopped?” I responded. “I’m driving 80 mph down the highway right now.” He couldn’t believe it.
The leather seats, though torn, are incredibly supportive; I could sit in them for days straight. The audio system is awesome, and my god that V8. It makes 230 horsepower, which sounds great until you realize the truck weighs roughly 5,400 pounds. The LX is slow, but god is that motor smooth. If you thought “V8? That must have a nice burble to it” then you’re way off. Revving this 4.7-liter 2UZ-FE doesn’t yield a roar or growl of any sort; it sounds more like turning up the taps on a shower. It’s quiet, it’s smooth, it’s lovely. But it ain’t powerful.
The four-speed A343F transmission is only great in that it’s probably going to last until the end of time. The transmission actually comes from the same family as the AW4 found in Jeep Cherokees between 1987 and 2001 and a few Grand Cherokees in 1993, and the AW4 is known in Jeep circles to be absolutely unstoppable, especially when hooked to a transmission cooler.
Speaking of which, just look at the giant trans cooler on the LX:
That leads me to reliability.
I can’t really vouch for the 100-Series’ reliability since I’ve owned it only a week, but the right pieces are there for this SUV to be truly unkillable. The 2UZ motor is known to drive the vehicle a half a million miles without a rebuild. Given that the one in my Lexus has 260,000 miles and doesn’t appear to burn a drop of oil, I believe it.
It’s disappointing that the engine uses a timing belt (which also drives the water pump), as that’s just a failure waiting to happen if the owner doesn’t change it on time, but it — along with the engine cover — does help keep engine noise down, which I appreciate.
That engine, the transmission, the simple suspension — it’s all proven itself to last if it’s properly maintained. And that’s another area where the LX excels: Other than the whole timing belt thing, it’s incredibly serviceable. Like the Jeep Cherokee XJ with which it shares a similar transmission, the Land Cruiser’s four-speed has a drain plug:
That may not seem like a big deal, but the single best way to keep a vehicle from breaking is to maintain fresh fluids, and the reality is that, if changing fluids is hard, people just aren’t going to do it.
By comparison, most Jeeps from the 2002-era don’t have drain plugs in their transmission oil pans, so replacing the fluid is an absolute shitshow:
Unlike any Jeep offered in the past 50-ish years, the LX also has a drain plug for its differentials. Here’s the rear:
And here’s a look at how easy it is to change the fluid in the front diff:
By comparison, changing diff oil in any modern Jeep involves removing a bunch of bolts, whaling on the cover with a hammer, spilling stinky oil everywhere, scraping off old RTV, and just generally being miserable:
Then there are other niceties on the Lexus like single-piece lugnuts. Just look at these beauties:
My Jeep Cherokee XJs all have two-piece lugs nuts, which split apart, and then round off, leaving me trying to get them off with a bolt extractor. It’s not surprising that a more expensive vehicle has more expensive parts (I’m assuming that drain plugs, even, cost more, which is why Jeep’s axles and pans didn’t use them), but from a serviceability standpoint, all of these little things make a huge difference, and likely contribute to the Land Cruiser’s reputation for longevity.
Meanwhile, we Jeep owners go through some shit just to keep our vehicles on the road. Hell, even an oil change on a ‘90s Jeep Cherokee or Grand Cherokee isn’t exactly a graceful endeavor. The oil filter is located just above the starter motor — do you realize how idiotic this is? Do you know how many starters I’ve had to replace on Cherokees?
Usually one replaces that filter from up top. This is also a huge pain in the ass, because snaking the filter between the AC hoses and distributor can be rough, depending on the model year. The fact that the filter sits horizontally means you’re definitely going to spill some oil on something.
Meanwhile in Toyota LaLa land, all you have to do is remove a couple of skid plate bolts to get to the oil filter, which has a channel to direct all the spilled oil directly down into the oil plan. Just look at how elegant this is:
To be sure, lots of newer Jeeps have cartridge-style oil filters integrated into their engine castings. Those are even simpler than the Lexus’ setup, but the point here is that keeping the fluids — and hell, even filters (see fuel filter below, which is, on many old Jeeps, tucked. underneath near the tank) — clean is really easy on this machine, and that helps to keep the expensive bits from failing.
The Lexus seems to be so well-suited for service that if someone came to my house and said “Hey, I can help you fix your Jeep. I’ve been wrenching on my Land Cruiser for years” I’d probably turn them away. “Trust me,” I’d say. “You’re not qualified to handle the levels of bullshit I’m going to have to go through to fix this Jeep. Go home. Do your daily yoga routine. Eat granola bars. Frolic around the park with your children. Live the good life that I can’t have.”
If the Land Cruiser is so comfortable, and if I’m convinced it’s going to last until the end of time, and that servicing it won’t be hard, then why am I planning to sell this machine (eventually)?
For one, I’m a cheap bastard, and the idea of having a car that’s actually worth real currency bothers me. I’ll take the cash and drive a nice, but cheap Jeep all day.
Then there’s parts costs. If the ABS pump on this Lexus fails, I’m going to be spending over a grand to fix it. The steering rack that’s leaking right now? I can’t just mend that for a few hundred bucks. I’ll probably be dropping at least $500. That’s the issue with the Land Cruiser: Parts are not cheap. Some are, but most aren’t.
The primary reason why I’m going to part ways with the Land Cruiser is that it’s just not right for me at this point in my life. I think, in five or ten years, it will be absolutely perfect. But right now, I’m looking for excitement, and the Land Cruiser is simply not exciting.
For one, there’s no manual transmission, and that’s basically a deal-breaker for me. I only plan to keep one automatic vehicle in my fleet, and that’s my off-road rig 1992 Jeep Cherokee. I’m only holding on that because of sentimental value, as it was my first car. Everything else that I keep long-term will have a three, four, or five-speed stick in it. Automatics bore me.
It’s not just the transmission that’s a bit “subdued.” The LX470 is so heavy that, even with the V8, it’s slow. Plus, it’s just so enormous. If I have a family at some point in the future, this would be great. But I just don’t need all the space. Right now, if I’m going to have a big machine, it needs to be a pickup truck, because I can use that to haul oily junk from the scrapyard.
The Land Cruiser is also never going to be as capable off-road as my moderately lifted Jeep Cherokee. It will be more comfortable, sure. And in some situations, like sand dunes and easier off-road trails, it’ll be better for sure. But in terms of outright capability, this Land Cruiser is simply too large. The overhangs are too big, the belly is too long, and the suspension doesn’t flex enough, and the curb weight is too high.
The Land Cruiser is an amazing machine. I appreciate its thoughtful engineering, I like that it will last forever, and I’m a fan of just how absurdly comfortable is. For long off-road trips and overlanding adventures, there’s nothing better. Truly.
But right now, as a single dude craving excitement over things like reliability and comfort, a slow, automatic, oversized machine like this just isn’t the right vehicle for me.
Maybe I’ll change my mind when I go off-road, or when I tow my FC-170 2,200 miles over the Rocky Mountains. Stay tuned to my Instagram to see how that goes, and whether or not I can get my rusted-out FC running for the first time in who knows how long. I just did a compression test and got readings between zero and 30 psi. I should be getting well above 100. Gulp.