Past vs. Future

Toyota Shows How Much Things Have Changed

All-new Land Cruiser is the old-school SUV many people claim to want back. After all those years, though, is that still true?

Generational conflicts have always been common in the automotive world. Young drivers usually seek sporty and stylish cars while older ones prefer larger, more opulent models. Those differences have also led to the creation of opinion-based sayings like “cars look all the same nowadays” and comebacks such as “OK, boomer.”

The thing is, while the industry initially tries to cater to everyone, focusing on one or a few trends is always more convenient: fewer variations, more options to cut costs, less development work… As a result, as soon as it finds a stronger market preference among its public, it will gradually steer it to car models that fit the same preference.

In other words, the recent rise of crossover cars has not occurred only because of buyers: automakers have encouraged its growth by offering an increased number of models every year. After years working on that side of the market tendencies, Toyota seems to have decided to put all that topic in perspective with its latest automotive release.

New cruiser, old land

This model is a precise example of evolutionary design. The Land Cruiser was born for military use, then went to civils as a rugged SUV. Toyota gave it many improvements in comfort and safety over the years, of course, but never to the point of altering its character because it has developed many other models for all those other purposes.

As a result, the model preserved comfortable driving, off-road capability, and no-frills character as priorities. Affordable pricing, city-appropriate size, fuel efficiency, luxury trim and breath-taking design can be found on the Toyota Corolla Cross, C-HR and RAV4, and on the Lexus RX and NX to name a few of the same automotive group.

With all those crossovers (and others) in line following the current trend, the release of an all-new Land Cruiser with the same original principles works like a time machine: comparing it with its siblings shows us how much this market segment has changed whether due to customer preference or to the pressure exerted by the global industry.

What causes such contrast?

First, the boxy design. Upright pillars, tall windows, squared fenders… not to mention the horizontal hood with bulges that make the front end twice as tall as the wheels — the windows use a lower base line to obtain a reasonable area. This SUV is clearly not concerned with minimizing aerodynamic drag or being easy to steer at a parking lot.

Second, the no-frills décor. Chrome accents were kept to a minimum, lights on both ends feature low profile and elevated position for extra protection in off-road driving and, while the cabin uses a large touchscreen for many functions, it has not totally surrendered to it: several others still rely on physical buttons for ease of reach and operation.

Third, but not less important, the Land Cruiser’s mechanics. It preserves body-on-frame structure because that protects its essence, according to Toyota, and offers two V6 engines, one powered by gasoline and the other by diesel. They use twin-turbo and several technologies in favor of efficiency but still manage to escape from electrification.

Bit of a 1990s flair, huh?

That’s the thing: the Land Cruiser is not incompetent or flawed, but simply no longer appropriate to most modern buyers. People are moving to big cities and often to live in apartments, emission regulations are getting harder to comply with, families are becoming smaller… the target audience for such a vehicle is getting smaller by the year.

Things are particularly difficult for this SUV because of its non-luxury nature: North America, a traditional fan of large cars with some off-road character, is expected to get a Lexus badge-engineered variation to replace the current LX because this is what effectively sells there. Consumers still associate demand for size and luxury a bit much.

In practice, the Land Cruiser as we see here will probably have decent market performance only in few countries and among die-hard enthusiasts who have also owned its previous generations. It is the type of car an automaker creates and updates to help build a specific image rather than to effectively sell many units around the world.

Toyota is celebrating the Land Cruiser’s seventieth anniversary by giving it an all-new generation which managed to stay true to its origins despite so many changes experienced by people, industry, and the market over all those years. Do you think there is still room for it or should Toyota focus on newer models? Share your opinions below!

Writer and future engineer striving to work with car design. If you like cars but not the stereotypes that surround them, give my articles a try.