Toyota Reinvented the Land Cruiser

How Toyota Reinvented the Land Cruiser to Save It

Restructuring the Game: The Revamped 2024 Toyota Land Cruiser Shakes Up Off-Road Lineups for Toyota and Lexus

Once, Toyota’s lineup adhered to a clear and hierarchical structure: the family-friendly Sequoia, the middle-ground 4Runner, and the Land Cruiser at the summit, although the latter didn’t boast significant sales numbers. On the Lexus front, luxury versions of Toyota SUVs occupied the stage, yet their focus was never on off-road capabilities.

Toyota’s remedy to emancipate the Land Cruiser from its niche role was to embark on a transformative journey, and indeed, Toyota has succeeded in doing just that. In the preceding era, Toyota’s off-road SUV product lineup within the U.S. followed a distinct hierarchy. The pinnacle was occupied by the Land Cruiser, positioned just below it was the 4Runner, while the Sequoia found its place in the family segment. Paralleling this, the Lexus realm presented more opulent and pricier adaptations of the Land Cruiser and 4Runner, although their lower ride heights due to sweeping fascia designs and increasingly colossal grilles limited their off-road prowess. Despite sharing exceptional running gear (with the GX boasting even more power), Lexus variants consistently faced greater vulnerability to body damage and demonstrated a more delicate veneer, ill-suited for rigorous off-road adventures.

The predicament lay in the Land Cruiser’s commanding price point, which often placed it out of reach for many off-road enthusiasts. Most Land Cruisers existed as urban cruisers, confined to asphalt paths, with their tires rarely making contact with the earth until their shine dulled, their odometers reached six figures, and their value depreciated enough to allure enthusiasts. Over time, its prestige became somewhat intangible, grounded in history and tales of models that were exclusively available beyond U.S. borders. From the 100-series onward, the sole Land Cruiser we encountered was the opulent three-row behemoth boasting independent front suspension, a thirsty V-8 engine, and an automatic transmission. Consequently, U.S. Land Cruiser sales suffered, averaging merely 3200 units annually over the past decade.

In contrast, the more compact and budget-friendly 4Runner experienced robust sales, averaging around 130,000 units annually since 2016. The fifth-generation model, which debuted in 2009 as a 2010 model, continues to enjoy a successful run.

What triggered this shift? The surge in popularity of overland-style off-road camping coincided with the period when many body-on-frame SUVs transitioned to crossovers. Toyota also opted to discontinue the FJ Cruiser during this timeframe. Individuals began seeking out the dwindling number of remaining frame-based off-road SUVs, outfitting them for rugged backcountry excursions. With limited availability of used Land Cruisers, new 4Runners emerged as a preferred choice.

Toyota Reinvented the Land Cruiser
Toyota Reinvented the Land Cruiser

TNGA-F Stirs the Pot

Embracing New Horizons: Toyota’s Strategic Reimagination of the Land Cruiser

With the introduction of the adaptable TNGA-F truck platform and the debut of downsized turbo engines accompanied by hybrid variants, a unique opportunity for a brand recalibration emerged. This marked a pivotal moment for the Tundra, Sequoia, and Land Cruiser, as Toyota embarked on a journey to redefine its offerings. In a transformative maneuver, the Tundra transitioned from leaf spring rear suspension to the TNGA’s coil setup, while the Sequoia adopted the reverse route, shifting from independent rear suspension to the TNGA’s solid axle. This strategic shift swiftly bestowed the Sequoia with enhanced off-road capabilities, transforming it into a three-row large SUV adept at conquering challenging terrains. This evolution presented challenges for the Land Cruiser, as the Sequoia emerged as a compelling alternative for the same role in the U.S.

The TNGA platform further found its footing under the new global 300-series Land Cruiser. Toyota, however, leveraged this juncture to reposition the U.S. Land Cruiser as an accessible two-row off-roader, thereby aligning with the brand’s aspiration for a more budget-friendly option. Lexus, on the contrary, seized the opportunity and introduced the 2022 LX600 as part of the 300-series, embracing it within their luxury lineup.

In other markets, the Land Cruiser Prado, a smaller and more cost-effective variant, has been accessible for years, featuring independent front suspension and smaller engines. For regions that still marketed the full-sized Cruiser with solid axle front suspension, the marketing distinction was clear. However, this distinction had faded in the U.S. context for quite some time. Redirecting the 2024 Land Cruiser towards the Prado direction is a strategic shift that carries less surprise for the American market than it would in other parts of the world. This approach, which reduces costs and enhances affordability, is a logical step in the U.S., where the larger Land Cruiser had faced lackluster sales performance.

How It Played Out

Reconfiguring the Off-Road Landscape: Toyota’s Strategic Evolution of the Land Cruiser

In a strategic realignment, the Sequoia has stepped into the realm of three-row utility, allowing the Land Cruiser to transition into a smaller, five-passenger Prado-style off-roader—a decision particularly advantageous for those who revel in off-road exploration and urban maneuverability alike. This transformation is underpinned by the versatile TNGA platform, streamlining the execution and resulting in a 250-series Prado-based SUV. Remarkably similar in aspects like frame, suspension, and four-wheel drive system to the 300-series LX600, both models share a wheelbase of 112.2 inches and boast comparable track widths. However, due to the distinct development cycles of the 250-series Prado and the 300-series Land Cruiser, Toyota had to retire the Land Cruiser to pave the way for this transition.

As the landscape settles, both the Land Cruiser and the new GX550 (a model historically built upon the Prado foundation) will occupy the same tier, each embracing the distinct characteristics characteristic of their respective brands. Notably, the GX will stand taller and longer, offering heightened luxury and exhibiting less favorable approach and underbody clearance dimensions. It will be propelled by a marginally more potent (albeit thirstier) 3.4-liter twin-turbo V-6 engine. Anticipate a considerable price differential as well. Building on this divergence, the new GX550 will feature the enhanced e-KDSS stabilizer bar disconnect system, while the Land Cruiser adopts a more cost-effective front stabilizer bar disconnect solution. Toyota’s focus seems firmly set on restoring the Land Cruiser to its minimalist origins, thereby ensuring affordability remains at the forefront.

One Last Domino

Navigating the Path Ahead: Toyota’s Unfolded Strategy and the Role of the 4Runner

Among the questions that emerge, a central one looms: What lies in store for the 4Runner? As of yet, the 4Runner has not embarked on the transition to the TNGA-F architecture, nor has it adopted the new powerplants that accompany it. Even in the context of a downsized Land Cruiser, the pivotal role of being the larger, more appealing offering remains intact, although the once-clear gap between them has narrowed. Intriguingly, queries arise about whether the 4Runner’s wheelbase and width will maintain their dimensions relative to the Land Cruiser. Toyota remains tight-lipped about any forthcoming specifics concerning the new 4Runner, other than confirming its steadfast presence.

Our projection suggests that the upcoming 4Runner will carve its niche at a more affordable price point, potentially leveraging the Tacoma’s part-time four-wheel-drive system and midlevel engine option. In a parallel manner to the present configuration, the rear differential lock, MTS (Multi-Terrain Select), and Crawl Control systems will likely be exclusive to the TRD Off-Road and Pro trims. The high-performance TRD Pro variant is also expected to persist, a strategic move to differentiate the 4Runner from the Land Cruiser, which focuses more on overlanding capabilities.

Was this strategic overhaul a prudent course of action? From a standpoint of welcoming a Land Cruiser into one’s garage, the answer is affirmative. The prior model’s sales momentum was unsustainable, and its colossal dimensions coupled with its lofty price tag seemed incongruent with the inherent mission encapsulated in the Land Cruiser’s very name. Toyota’s intervention to revive the Land Cruiser necessitated a bold approach—relinquishing it temporarily in order to reinvigorate it.

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