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Most car people are well aware of the Toyota Land Cruiser’s status as an adventure legend, but it still seems crazy that these relatively primitive SUVs command nearly six-figure list prices. And those who can afford them, and those who can’t, absolutely adore them. Then I drove one, and I got it.

Slightly more specifically, at my previous job I got to spend a little time with a J200 Heritage Edition Land Cruiser, the ultimate execution you can buy new as of this writing, and within just 10 minutes behind the wheel my initial summary was: “Yup, I get it. This thing is awesome.”

My main automotive interests have always been rooted in sports cars, hot hatches, GT cars, and the like. Cars that are tarmac-only: stiff suspension, sticky tires, sharp turn-in, stuff like that. But driving around in the Land Cruiser opened my eyes to why cars that are quite the opposite can also be a lot of fun. This moment of clarity also included the realization that sitting up really high is a great place to be on the road.

The “go-anywhere, deal with anything” mantra is strong with the Land Cruiser. You can take famously steep SoCal driveways without any concern of scraping the hell out of a lip or ripping off an oil pan, which is my normal concern in my own Mazda2 or any press car I’d driven up until then. In fact, I went out of my way to play low-speed Baja racer negotiating these brutal driveways in the Land Cruiser, much to the horror of nearby motorists sitting a mere couple feet away. A full-size, 5,700-pound, off-road-ready truck is incredibly menacing.

The J200 Toyota Land Cruiser Taught Me That Off-Roaders Are Just As Fun As Sports Cars
Image: Peter Nelson

Yet it wasn’t terribly wallowy or over-damped; it felt well composed for its size, and made freeway jaunts, drives up dirt roads, and some mild off-roading very enjoyable. Especially the latter; I’d done a little bit of extreme-grade, four-wheel-low climbing in a Jeep before, but the Land Cruiser ate up a fairly-gnarly incline without 4WL. It just lumbered it’s way up and never skipped a beat.

Sitting up high was a welcomed perspective, too. I love a low-slung, tiny sports car that’s barely suspended off the ground, but a high perch with a commanding view is pretty friggin’ awesome. I’d never sat so high in such a likable car before; it struck me as special. Not like a big, lame Ram pickup I’d driven for work in the past.

Gorgeous SoCal sunsets were more enjoyable up there, too; I need more high-sitting off-roaders in my life for this reason alone.

The Land Cruiser was also a new-found appreciation in conservative automotive design and craftsmanship. The infotainment system was ancient for a 2020 model year, but I didn’t care. It worked fine, and everything in general just worked. Substantial-feeling touchpoints, its low-stressed V8, the lot. And I’m willing to bet green money that nothing on it will fall apart, but rather work for at least 300,000 miles. Like its forefathers. Toyota over-engineered the hell out of the J200, and the price tag proves it. But it’s also hand-assembled, which is incredibly rare in this day and age. Even among thrilling little GT cars.

All this wax poeticizing, er, wax poeticing… whatever, makes me want to get behind the wheel of more sturdy, tall off-roaders. There’s more to automotive enthusiasm than pupil-dilating lateral and longitudinal Gs. I might have to alter my Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist perusing accordingly.

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