If you’ve been following our adventures over the last year (holy cow, it’s already been a year?), you know that we like cars. Maybe too much. It’s not that we enjoy buying cars, it’s just that we’re constantly trying to find the right one. Call us Goldishocks (see what we did there), if you like. As you know, we sold Stan the Airstream shortly after returning from our long trip, but decided to hold onto the F-350, at least for the short-term. Let’s just say that it was really short-term and we chose to sell it within a few weeks. Why, you might ask? Well, for a few reasons; but the main one being that it is just too darn big. In fact, our entire set-up from our Airstream-towing adventure was just too much. Apparently, we desire smaller things in our lives. So, what did we replace the F-350 with, you ask? Say hello to our new road trip vehicle!
What is that beautiful specimen, you ask? Is it a Highlander? No. A Sequoia? Nope, try again. Meet the successor to Tan Stan (a few generations removed), our new 2016 Toyota Land Cruiser.
Why do we love the Land Cruiser so much? Let us count the ways. First, because it is very well-built. Second, it is very, very comfortable. Third, it has a low range transmission. Fourth it is really well-built (wait, did we mention that already); and finally, because it is one of the last body-on-frame SUVs available for sale today. Once upon a time, all cars were built using a body-on-frame method. There are some great benefits to having a vehicle with body-on-frame construction- particularly off-road (articulation, durability, towing); however, on the road (where most SUVs now spend most or all of their time, tragically), body-on-frame can make the ride in a car or SUV feel unnecessarily rough and heavy. I know that there are a lot of mixed feelings about large body-on-frame SUVs these days; I mean just look at the terrible press for this guy here, here, and most painfully, here (hippopotamus is a touch mean, no?). Fortunately, there are some folks out there (not many as Toyota sells less than 3,000 per year) that understand the true purpose of this spectacular vehicle (apart from us obviously). For example, both MotorTrend and Off Road seem to get the point, by realizing that this is an insanely well-built and capable off-road monster.
Do we care about the off-road ability of our car, you ask? Of course we do, it is probably one of the single biggest reasons that we moved on from the Ford (excluding the reliability and size issues). While the Ford was decent in the snow, sort of analogous to a charging bull; the Land Cruiser is more nimble and decisive in its moves, like a mountain goat. And while these are great reasons to invest in a car with more than 60 years of proven capabilities (after driving 388,000 miles in Tan Stan with almost no issues, there is no doubt that dependability, quality, and reliability are in the Land Cruiser DNA), they don’t address the real reason why the Land Cruiser is the perfect car for our travels across the Americas. The real reason is QDR– automotive industry speak for Quality, Dependability, and Reliability.
It’s hard to find a better reason to buy a car than “it’ll go anywhere you want to go… and bring you back” (unlike Range Rover that’ll just get you there and you have to walk back), but it’s important to consider all aspects of a vehicle before you hit the road for a 6,000-mile road trip. No one wants to “discover” that the vehicle roll sensor is randomly locking your front left brake when it’s raining, while you are thousands of miles from home.
If you may recall, we had some issues with our F-350 right after we bought it last year. We were able to get them resolved before we hit the road towing a 30-foot trailer, but the fact that we had a problem so quickly shouldn’t be completely ignored. When compared to the Land Cruiser, there is no question that the Ford has greater towing capacity (8,500 lbs vs 13,000 lbs); but how about that QDR number we’ve been discussing? The F-350 scored a whopping 43.2, out of 100. Ouch. And how does that compare to our new backcountry beast? Not well, because we chose the literally perfect car. QDR(or QIR) for the Land Cruiser- 100. Yep, a perfect score.
For comparison sake, we’ll take a look at the QDR and specs for other cars that we considered, before ultimately settling on the Land Cruiser:
2016 Toyota 4Runner: QDR- 96.3
Very respectable. The SR5 (base model) was the only option for us, because it’s the only one without a moonroof. Why was the moonroof an issue? Well, because I am too tall. At 6’5″, I just didn’t fit, so all models with a moonroof were immediately out of consideration. Fitting in the base model was awesome (we actually owned a ’15 4Runner SR5 for a short time), but we went a different way because the 4Runner models with the really amazing off-road tech, like KDSS and A-Trac (cool video), are not available without the moonroof. Towing had only a max of 5,000 lbs., which should we choose to get another trailer in the future, just wasn’t enough. Oh, and no leather. Seriously, once you’ve had leather seats it’s tough to go back to cloth…
2016 Toyota Sequoia: QDR- 100
Besides the Land Cruiser, this was one of only two other cars that scored 100. Towing capacity: good, comfort: good, but Toyota and that “designed for short people only” moonroof again makes it a no-go for me.
2015 Nissan Armada: QDR- 70.3
Above average. Off-road capability is pretty good. When you read about classic off-road vehicles. you almost always see references to the Toyota Land Cruiser, the Nissan Patrol, and the Land Rover Defender. What we in the U.S. know as the Armada, is the legendary Patrol in the rest of the world. The Armada has a decent 9,000 lbs towing capacity, more than enough for Stan 2.0 (technically Stan 1.0 as well); for some reason though, it just didn’t work for us. Call us brand loyal to Toyota, I suppose. And 70, I mean, that’s a C-.
2016 Lexus GX 460: QDR- 100
Go Toyota, I mean Lexus, for making reliable off-road cars. The current GX is based on what the rest of the world knows as the Land Cruiser Prado, which is smaller than the Land Cruiser 200 (current series) but the same as a Prado in pretty much every way. Towing was less on this one at 6,500 lbs., but despite lower towing capacity, this was certainly a contender. For one, the roof was higher, so the moonroof let me fit! The Lexus treatment took the car a little far for us though with the smaller V8 making it a less peppy; and the interior was a bit too nice for us to be comfortable “beating it up” on long road trips. Everyone know white leather won’t look good after you leave the lot, much less after a 3,000-mile road trip with a 98-pound dog in the back seat.
2016 Range Rover: QDR- 45.7
To be honest, we did not really consider a Range Rover, mostly because of the sage advice from our friend Kyle over at Colorado Auto Brokers, who so eloquently stated that “friends don’t let friends buy Range Rovers”. The reason I included it in this list was really just so I could say that the F-350 was more reliable than a Range Rover…but I couldn’t even do that, though it was close!
So far (we’re at 13,000 miles, as of writing this), the Land Cruiser has been a champ. Super capable off-road, surprisingly comfortable on the road, great in snow, it has thus far been a phenomenal car for our Tin Sheets To The Wind travels! While the features that come stock are great, we’ve already made some upgrades and have a few more that we’ll undertake soon. Check out the full details on our Cruiser so far:
2016 Land Cruiser VXR: QDR- 100
(only model available in the U.S.)
1. Changed stock tires to 265/70/R18 BFG KO2 AT2 Tires
2. Removed third row seat and added ARB Drawers with fridge slide-out (nothing beats traveling with a fridge!)
3. Wired up a 12-volt ARB outlet in the rear, so that the fridge can still run with the car engine off
4. Removed stock running boards
1. Bud Built or Slee Sliders
2. Bud Built front skid with oil filter access (can’t believe that Toyota wants you take off the whole skid plate for an oil change)
3. OME BP-51 Shocks – I mean it’s good on the road now; but with a full load and washboard (Alaska?), I can see the upgrade here
4. HAM / CB radio install (because listening to truckers on the highway is pretty helpful, and HAM has range!)
1. ARB Sahara/ Summit bumper (they are great to push things with, and a good place for a winch)