Trucks & SUVs

This Toyota Land Cruiser Couldn’t Shake the Land Rover Defender

If you are at all into off-roading SUVs, you’ve no doubt heard of both the legendary Toyota Land Cruiser and Land Rover Defender. However, as the two models have evolved through the decades, the Land Cruiser has retained its body on frame design. In contrast, the Defender now sports a unibody architecture. Regardless, both SUVs are still set to be the great off-roading performers. The Fast Lane Car took both off-roaders in the snow to see how they stack up.

What makes the Toyota Land Cruiser so special?

2020 Toyota Land Cruiser off-roading through sand
2020 Toyota Land Cruiser | Toyota

The Toyota Land Cruiser is the brand’s most expensive and capable vehicle. All of the off-roading prowess comes down to its architecture. Unlike most brand-new SUVs, the Land Cruiser utilizes a body on frame design, allowing for more ground clearance and less flexibility off-road. Under the hood lives a 5.7-liter naturally aspirated V8 developing 381 hp. While this may not be the world’s most powerful engine, it may very well be one of the most reliable.

While the predecessors of the Toyota Land Cruiser were barebones no-nonsense off-roaders, the newest model leans heavily into luxury. Tipping the scales just under 5,800 lb, this enormous SUV is a sea of wood, leather, and even headrest-mounted TV screens. According to Toyota, you still get a double-wishbone suspension with coil springs in the front and a four-link suspension in the rear with coil springs, stabilizer bar, and a semi-floating axle.

However, the biggest thing that differentiates the Toyota Land Cruiser is its incredible durability. On many occasions, Toyota has said that every component on the large SUV is built to withstand at least 25 years of heavy use.

The Land Rover Defender takes a modern approach

Land Rover Defender on display in a showroom
A Land Rover Defender on display | Gerald Matzka/picture alliance via Getty Images

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While the Toyota Land Cruiser leans on its roots with a luxurious twist, the Land Rover Defender is significantly more modern. For starters, the Defender sports a unibody design instead of a body on frame design. The main benefit here is the improved on-road driving, making it more of a luxury SUV. Additionally, under the hood, you can choose between a turbocharged four-cylinder or a mild-hybrid turbocharged six-cylinder.

However, the biggest change from the Toyota Land Cruiser is the addition of an available air suspension system. The benefit here is that the Defender can raise itself for higher ground clearance. While the Toyota has to make do with 8.9 inches of clearance, the air-suspension-equipped Defender can offer up to 11.5 inches of clearance. Additionally, the Defender can change its ride stiffness to improve on-road comfort as well.

Like the Toyota, the Land Rover offers locking differentials, an all-wheel-drive as standard. However, the main question here comes down to reliability. Since the Defender has already shown some issues in customer cars, only time will tell if it can keep up with the Land Cruiser.

How do these off-roading SUVs stack up?

Enough stats, let’s look at how these SUVs perform in the real world. During The Fast Lane Car’s test, the team took these SUVs into snowy conditions to see how they stack up. As you’d expect, the Toyota Land Cruiser was noted as being the most athletic no-nonsense SUV of the two. Even on road-going tires, the Land Cruiser managed to find great grip while off-roading in the snow. Additionally, the ride quality remained relatively comfortable when the going got quite rough.

The Land Rover Defender, on the other hand, had a bit of trouble while off-roading. The SUV began showing a “Low Coolant” warning on the dashboard despite being a brand-new vehicle for starters. Despite having air suspension equipped, the Land Rover Defender was less comfortable than the Land Cruiser. Fortunately, the Defender was able to complete all of the required tasks in a very similar manner to the Toyota, demonstrating it is quite a capable off-roader. Additionally, the Land Rover was noted as having the highest interior quality and the best overall layout.

In the end, the Toyota Land Cruiser remains the no-nonsense, go-anywhere off-roader, while the Land Rover accomplishes similar performance while leaning heavily into luxury and tech features.