First drive: 2022 Toyota Land Cruiser in the UAE
What you are about to read are our first impressions of the 2022 Toyota Land Cruiser, based on a quick lunch-break visit to the showroom as well as a very short spin of a private car on city streets. We weren’t invited to the media launch event held in the UAE, which was seemingly attended only by “agreeable” scribes and influencers, but taking a closer look at one of the most hyped new cars to be launched in the Middle East in 2021 (after the latest Nissan Patrol Nismo earlier this year) gives us some insight on why Toyota is trying to control the messaging so tightly.
First off is the styling. When the first images of the new design leaked onto the internet, there was widespread derision of the 2022 model’s new grille-heavy face. Indeed, the “tear duct” black grille elements under the headlights are ripe for criticism, but seeing it in person on the top-spec models, we got used to it pretty quickly and don’t mind the overall design at all.
Speaking of trim levels, only the top-spec models were on display at the showroom, and you have to buy them with all the optional extras such as tint, insurance and paint protection packages. These VX-R and GX-R versions (identified by chrome or black exterior trim, respectively) all have the lower front bumper which offers a poorer approach angle than a Nissan Patrol, so if you want to do some serious offroading, go for the lower-spec EX-R models or the GR Sport trim, both of which appear to have more offroad-friendly bumpers.
You’d be hard-pressed to tell the external difference between a 4.0-litre V6 VX-R and a 3.5-litre turbo V6 VX-R as they are identical, right down to the 20-inch wheels. The only differentiator is that the turbo model’s tear-duct grille intakes are actually functional, while they’re blocked off on the non-turbo V6. The turbo VX-R also has a tow hook cover in the back, while the non-turbo VX-R gets an exposed hook. That, and there is a twin-turbo badge on the tailgate, which will probably become a popular mod among 4.0-litre owners.
Boasting the exact same 2,850 mm wheelbase since the 1990 model, we’re hard-pressed to believe the claim that the 2022 has an “all-new” body-on-frame platform without speaking to a Toyota engineer. At the very least, this new “TNGA” is a heavily revised version, as the 2022 model has lost 200 kg in weight and apparently the engine/transmission setup are mounted lower and further to the back to achieve better weight distribution. The overall length is similar to the previous LC200 model, after growing significantly over three decades. Cabin space remains about similar to a mid-size crossover SUV, which is no surprise considering it’s shorter in length than a Ford Explorer.
Stepping inside, the design isn’t going to drop jaws, but it does look modern with the wide flat-screen multimedia screen and the crisp upholstery (genuine leather on the VX-R). All the tech features expected from a modern car are present in the pricey VX-R, such as a heads-up display, drive mode selector, smartphone connectivity, four-zone auto a/c, vented front seats, adaptive cruise, 360-degree camera, active safety, etc. The inside door handles don’t feel like cheap plastic any more. We even appreciated the soft-padded glovebox cover on the passenger-side footwell as well as the centre-console sides.
The Lexus-like premium feel ends with the armrests and seats however, as the upper dash and door panels are trimmed with what feels like rubberised black soft-touch materials with fake stitches moulded in. That’s a very cheap way of imitating the Nissan Patrol’s real stitched-leatherette door panels, although we suspect Toyota took this path for durability reasons in long-term usage. And although the trim around the shifter feels plastic to the touch, the brochure says the VX-R has walnut wood trim.
There are several mis-steps on the button-heavy centre console though. For one, there is a big black void behind the shifter that looks like it’s a cover for a storage area, but it doesn’t do anything — it’s just a black plastic panel with a JBL logo in the corner. This means the flat wireless charger is taking up space next to the shifter. We suspect this is only an issue on the top-spec, and base-spec models do get a storage cubby there.
The shifter console itself is mounted high, like in a sports car, thereby reducing the spacious feeling that drivers of big SUVs prefer. There are no extra storage spaces underneath that raised console that we could find. Even the cooler box under the central double-hinged armrest is tiny. In fact, aside from the usual pockets and such, there is a distinct lack of useful storage spaces for a “large” SUV. At least the glove box is massive.
And then there is the biggest complaint from existing Land Cruiser owners — the tighter third-row seating and the discontinuation of the Range Rover-style split-opening tailgate. It seems the new third row has a shorter seat bottom, clearly a side-effect of trying to stuff a fold-flat bench in an SUV that still uses live-axle rear suspension (all its rivals have moved to independent rear suspension). The older model had an awkward split third row that folded up on the sides of the boot, but had more useable space as a result. We don’t know why the split tailgate was removed in favour of a traditional one-piece tailgate, although there is still a faux cut-line to make it look like it’s still there.
Based on our quick spin with a mid-spec 409 hp 3.5-litre turbo, the power delivery seems fairly linear. It offers far better kick than the unremarkable old V8 motors, and feels a bit quicker than the V8-powered Patrol LE. The 10-speed undoubtedly helps as well. Buyers of models fitted with the old 271 hp 4.0-litre V6 6-speed models will see minimal performance benefits, largely due to reduced weight.
Handling remains average, with occasional lumpiness that encourages slow cornering. With the adaptive suspension option reserved for the VX-R only, the ride on all other models is reasonably comfortable, although rear passengers will probably feel that live axle more than the driver.
We didn’t go offroad, but everything you’d need is there, including low-range gearing, hill-descent control, crawl control and, surprisingly, three locking diffs on the VX-R (and probably the GR Sport when it’s available). The VX-R offers just enough ground clearance to ride the dunes, but if you try anything resembling a jump, you’ll surely break bumpers.
On a kilo-for-kilo basis, it is hard to justify buying the Land Cruiser over the facelifted Patrol as a daily driver. The Nissan is far larger, more spacious, a fair bit cheaper, has independent suspension, and still retains that sweet direct-injection V8. The Toyota has the edge in terms of a modern-feeling cockpit, is slightly easier to park due to its smaller size, a bit quicker (and probably more fuel-efficient), and — based on previous experience — probably a bit more durable offroad if you get a barebones model with higher bumpers. If we were more serious about offroading with a big expensive SUV, we’d probably buy the GR Sport and get the front bumper painted. Update: The GR Sport has been launched, and it’s priced like a Range Rover. We rescind our recommendation. Stick to lower-spec versions.
See prices and specs in the Toyota Land Cruiser buyer guide.
Photos by Mashfique Hussain Chowdhury.