Review and road test of the Toyota Land Cruiser Light Duty Series J150 (2014-2018)
By Jonathan Crouch
Toyota's Land Cruiser has always been the preferred mode of transport in some of the world's harshest environments - and is particularly popular in its more accessible 'Light Duty Series' form. A fourth generation 'J150' version of this model series arrived in 2009 and was substantially improved in 2014 to create the car we're going to look at here as a potential used buy.
3/5 door family 4x4 (3.0/2.8 D-4D diesel [Active, Icon, Invincible])
In an age of Crossovers, soft roaders and various other permutations of pretend 4x4s, it's refreshing once in a while to come across the real thing. And this is it. Toyota's Land Cruiser.
We're looking here at a modern version of the so-called 'Light Duty Series' model, which launched in fourth generation 'J150'-series guise in 2009. To begin with, it sold alongside a larger V8 diesel-powered super-luxury Land Cruiser that sold to the Range Rover set, but in 2014, Toyota's UK importers decided to discontinue that bigger V8 model and focus instead on the 'Light Duty Series' J150 Land Cruiser model range. To suit that remit, the J150 was made smarter and more luxurious as part of a facelift. It's that facelifted model, which sold between 2014 and early 2018, that we examine here as a used buy.
Base versions were available with three doors and a short wheelbase bodystyle, but almost all buyers wanted the five-door long wheel base body shape, offered with five seats in lesser guises but with seven seats further up the range. Initially, buyers were offered the 3.0-litre version of Toyota's D-4D four cylinder diesel that'd been used previously by the J150, but in 2015, that was replaced by a slightly more efficient 2.8-litre version of the same unit. The car was facelifted again for the 2018 model year.
What You Get
In a world of stylised luxury SUVs, there's something about this Land Cruiser's bluff-fronted suitability for purpose that's rather refreshing - if you like that sort of thing. Even some of the aesthetic updates made to the post-2014 facelifted fourth generation 'J150' model we're looking at here have their roots in greater off road practicality. Take the way that the headlamp clusters and daytime running lights form a single unit with the grille, with the entire structure set higher so it's less vulnerable to damage in extreme driving conditions. Then there's the over-sized front bumper's chunky two-step design that further protects the headlights above, yet despite the 20mm that this adds to the front overhang, has been designed so that it doesn't lessen the car's approach angle on a steep slope.
Here, we're going to focus on the long wheelbase bodystyle that almost all buyers in this country choose, though we'll point out that the farmers and industrial folk who still like the short wheelbase three-door model might still be able to find one. This bigger bodystyle's profile didn't change with the facelift, though owners familiar with the original version of this MK4 'J150'-series model might notice smarter 17 or 18-inch alloy wheels; maybe also the smaller door mirrors with their integrated LED indicators. Otherwise though, this car in this form remains tough, tall and imposing, with few concessions to style, though the distinctive flat-topped wheelarches, the bold sill line and powerful haunches do catch the eye.
At the back, the spare wheel as before hangs temptingly in plain view below the level of the bumper, but at least you do still get a proper one, which is rare enough these days. Further up, there's a more prominent numberplate surround than the original version of this design had, plus redesigned rear lamp clusters with clear lens blocks and red accents. It all looks a little smarter but if you're familiar with this car, then you'll probably be of the opinion that the design time could have been better spent in correcting what is arguably this Land Cruiser's most annoyingly distinctive design cue, the side-opening tailgate, a real pest in tight supermarket carparks. True, to compensate, Toyota has provided an opening tailgate glass section but to get your shopping bags in through the opening it creates is an awful lot of work, so high is the loading lip from the ground.
Once you do get stuff inside, the news is mostly all good, with nice little touches like a toolbox that's stowed in its own purpose-designed tailgate compartment. We're going to assume that, like almost all buyers of this long wheelbase model, you want seven seats - though a five seat-only configuration was still offered at the foot of the range. If you do want a model with three rows of chairs, then you probably won't be expecting much carriage capacity with all of them in place. You'll be right: there's just 104-litres.
Switch to the more common five-seat configuration though and of course things improve markedly. One of the big advantages of choosing this four cylinder 'Light Duty Series' Land Cruiser model rather than its larger, ritzier V8 stablemate is that when you're not using the third row seats, they don't have to be stored vertically on each side of the cargo area, Land Rover Defender-style, when not in use. Instead, they fold properly into the boot floor with a clever 'Easy Flat' arrangement that on mid or high-spec models works at the press of a button. Even the headrest stows itself automatically. Neat. It'll all be welcome for anyone who has broken fingernails or drawn blood battling with rear seat folding mechanisms. For families, it'll be a major selling point.
Once the third row seating disappears, a 621-litre space is revealed, big enough to swallow four large suitcases and equipped with a luggage net, tie-down hooks, a 220V AC power outlet, a storage tray, a 3.8-litre storage box and, on most models, a sliding rail system too. You can extend it too, by pushing forward a 40:20:40-split middle bench that has 125mm of sliding travel. If that's still not enough, dropping forward that bench frees up 974-litres of total capacity - less than you get with most rivals in this configuration but quite as much as most families will need.
So the square boxy shape gives you plenty of carriage capacity - as you'd have expected. But how will it be for people? Is this car really a realistic alternative to a 7-seat large MPV? Possibly. An SUV is never going to be as invitingly spacious for third row folk as a big People Carrier would be because all those 4WD mechanicals raise the ride height. You realise that stepping up into this thing. Even on top 'Invincible' models with air suspension that can be lowered to ease access, the 2.5cm drop provided doesn't make much difference, though the side step and the way the folded seat angle here has been increased to aid access are both welcome touches.
Once you do get yourself back into the third row, you'll certainly find it better than the kids-only zone offered by most cars of this kind. Cup holders and a power socket are provided for junior folk but two adults could happily cope in the very back, provided they weren't too tall and the journey wasn't too long, thanks in part to the way that on mid to high-spec models, you can electrically recline the seats for greater comfort.
Of course, if there are adults at the very back, second row folk will need to considerately position their sliding bench to suit those people's needs. The second row seatback reclines too and there's excellent standards of head and legroom. Plenty of practicality too, with seatback pockets, twin cupholders and door pockets with bottle holders. As usual, if you're trying to take three adults, the middle person will have pulled the short straw but three children will be quite happy here. Especially in a top 'Invincible' model with its drop-down DVD screen.
At the wheel, as ever, it's more about durability than style but everything's of high quality. We think the wood and plastic mix on top versions could be better judged, but the Piano Black and aluminium detail finishes introduced around the cabin as part of the post-2014 facelift package do add a slightly more up-market feel. As you'd expect, you sit high up in a commanding position on six or eight-way adjustable seats - and there are nice touches like a soft-touch kneepad on the side of the centre console.
The Land Cruiser's dashboard ergonomics have always been a bid muddled, but at least some attempt was made with this improved model to try and tidy things up. As with the pre-facelifted model, a huge colour screen dominates the middle of the dashboard, but from 2014, Toyota fitted its better and easier-to-use 'Toyota Touch' infotainment system, with a 7-inch display four times sharper than before. The centre console also gained a switch panel that brings together the controls for the on and off-road driving technologies. These include a selector dial for the five-mode Multi-Terrain Select and five-step Crawl Control functions, flanked by switches for the all-wheel drive and Adaptive Variable Suspension.
The key change though with this post-2014 facelifted model was the adoption of a 4.2-inch TFT colour screen set between redesigned Optitron thin-needled speedo and rev counter dials in the instrument binnacle and operable by steering wheel controls. It's got a wide range of functions that are especially helpful off road where this display can show you the vehicle body angle, the traction control operation on each wheel and the status of the differential locks.
Despite all the improvements, you'll still need plenty of time with the 1,200-page handbook to understand all the rather scattered switchgear: for example, the way that the damper and traction control buttons are located out of sight under the steering wheel. Still, at least reading up will allow you to more easily locate all the various storage options provided for adventurous Land Cruising folk. As well as properly sized door bins with built-in bottle holders and a huge glovebox, there's a centre storage box that's big enough to hold four half-litre bottles and is cooled on most models for better storage of drinks which can then be dispensed to individual cup holders provided in three different sizes. We also like the overhead sunglasses compartment which folds out to reveal a rear conversation mirror allowing parents to better monitor kids in the back.
What to Look For
What to look for? How about the smug feeling of satisfaction that comes with buying the toughest 4x4 in its class. Time and again, the Land Cruiser comes top of customer satisfaction surveys and there's a reason for that. It's been engineered to cope with enormous doses of punishment and Toyota has a track record of over sixty years of realising what works and what doesn't.
Inevitably though, our ownership survey came up with a few issues. The 2.8-litre D-4D diesel four cylinder engine has known 'DPF' ('Diesel Particulate Filter') issues, so some urban-based models have had problems with that issue, the DPF getting clogged up. One owner had a problem with the front wheel hubs getting hot on the left side and smoking. In a few cases, owners reported the engine light on the dash coming on when 'Eco' mode was selected; this will require a workshop visit for a check-up. One owner had a leak in the coolant system and had to replace their radiator after only around 10,000 miles. In one instance, an air conditioning compressor failed. And in another, there was an engine rattle at just under 2,000rpm. Look out for all these things on your test drive, along with signs of excessive off road use evidenced by bumper and under-body scrapes. Check the alloy wheels carefully for condition and the rear part of the interior for child damage. Insist on a proper service history.
(approx - based on a 2015 Land Cruiser 2.8 D4D) Given the remote probability of anything but consumables being required, the Land Cruiser works out pretty cheap on parts. Just be careful about the front end when tackling off-road inclines as some of the grille plastics and the headlight units are expensive. An oil filter will sit in the £5-£10 bracket, a fuel filter will be about £12 and wiper blades will probably cost between £8-£15, though pricier brands charge up to £32. A brake calliper is around £173. A pair of front brake discs are around £96-£105. A pair of front brake pads is around £27-£65, while a pair of rear pads is around £20-£41.
On the Road
If you'd classify the driving position of something like a RAV4 as being 'high up', then a seat behind this Land Cruiser's steering wheel will make you feel like you're in the umpire's chair at Wimbledon. It's a seat of high command from which you marshal an almost bewildering selection of knobs, buttons, screens and switches that collectively combine to send this car smoothly over terrain you'd struggle to walk across, let alone glide through with Radio 4 soothing you on the stereo.
When the first facelift of this 'J150' 'Light Duty Series' Land Cruiser was announced in 2014, the car continued with the previous 188hp 3.0-litre version of Toyota's four cylinder diesel, but a year later, this was replaced by the more economic 177hp 2.8-litre version of this unit we'd recommend you try and go for. Expect 60mph from rest in about 10s. The output on offer doesn't seem like a great deal when a 3.0-litre diesel Discovery from this era offers you nearly 70hp more, but greater emphasis in this Toyota's case has been put on torque - 450Nm of pulling power being on hand to drag you out of the front gate and power you up to speed in that small traffic gap - or drag you through a parched earth ravine in Death Valley, whichever is most appropriate. Assuming the former scenario to be a more common one, this car impresses with reasonably accurate response from the Variable Flow Control power steering, great all-round visibility and reassuring brakes.
The ride's actually very good too - or at least it is on the top 'Invincible' variant with its electronically modulated rear air suspension, there to address the rather unsettled low speed ride you get on lower-range models. This offers three heights - 'Normal', 'High' or 'Low' - which you might want to manually select: say the 'Low' setting to help passengers get in or the 'High' mode for a gnarly off road trail. On the move on-tarmac, you'll want to leave the Speed-Sensitive Control to select forward based in the speed you're going. There's also auto levelling that adjusts the suspension to suit the load you're carrying. On top of the air-sprung damping, the 'Invincible' model also gets the desirable AVS Adaptive Variable Suspension system, which can adjust the ride you get to suit the road you're on and the mood you're in via the 'Normal', 'Comfort' and 'Sport' settings you get from a centre console switch.
But of course it is what it is. Weighing nearly 2.5 tonnes and lacking the car-like monocoque chassis of European rivals in favour of the ladder-framed underpinnings that true mud-plugging ability demands, this is never going to be a BMW X5-style SUV around the twisty stuff. And it isn't, even on a top model with behaviour further civilised by a hi-tech KDSS Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System. This is one of those active anti-roll set-ups with active anti-roll bars that limit pitch, not only from left to right but also from front to rear. Though that obviously helps through the turns, cornering body roll must still be allowed for, in the same way as you must carefully plan overtaking manoeuvres ahead of time to take account of the prodigious weight.
And off road? Well where do we start? As long as you can afford the priciest version, it's everything a Land Rover Discovery is - and then some. There's a proper range of off road stats that most competitors can only wonder at: an approach angle of 32-degrees, a departure of at least 24-degrees and a ramp breakover angle of 22-degrees. You can drive this car at a scary maximum bank angle of up to 42-degrees and at a maximum forward or reverse pitch angle of 42-degrees. And wade through water up to 700mm deep.
All models get a permanent 4WD system of course, with high and low ratio gearboxes you swap between via a control ahead of the gearstick. And the usual Torsen limited slip differential, able as required to apportion torque between front and rear axles that offer astonishing levels of articulation, allowing wheels to drop into huge ruts and dips. The underside of the vehicle has even been engineered so that if you do get beyond the 215mm ground clearance and ground out, it'll slide over the surface rather than grind through it.
The top 'Invincible' model though, offers a whole package of extra features. That active anti-roll system we mentioned earlier, for example, cleverly works in reverse off road to offer maximum body movement and therefore maximum grip. Plus, you can lock the rear differential if you're really stuck. Not that there's any excuse for getting stuck if you properly choose between the Multi-terrain Select set-up's four different modes ('Mud & Sand', 'Loose Rock', 'Mogul' and 'Rock'). There's even a 'Crawl Control' system on the top model in which your car will pick its way along at speeds of up to 3mph over almost any terrain you care to throw at it: all you need to do is to steer. This replaces the more conventional Hill-start Control and Downhill Assist Control features fitted to lower-range Land Cruiser models.
Drivers of the 'Invincible' flagship Land Cruiser variant don't even have to get out and inspect what they may be about to hit, thanks to four external cameras that feed pictures back to the fascia's central display screen: they even work under water. Should you lose track off road of which way the wheels are pointing (easy to do in glutinous mud), the same screen will show you via a Tyre Angle Display. There's also a display in the centre of the instrument binnacle to show you Body Angle and Off-Road Traction monitoring. Plus there's clever sat nav capability that can even help you if you get lost in a field, showing a fairy story-style trail of where you've been so you can find your way home.
The post-2014-era 'J150' 'Light Duty Series' Land Cruiser certainly smartened up its act, but it still remained a proper off roader intended for a proper 4x4 lifestyle, not the smiley marketing one you see in the brochures of lesser SUV models. The likelihood is that it'll never let you down and it'll very comfortably get you and six passengers wherever you want to go, be your destination Kensington or Kenya. Such has always been the appeal of the Land Cruiser.
This revised post-2014 MK4 model though, had had its all-round on and off road superiority threatened by the excellence of rivals like Land Rover's Discovery. Which is why Toyota responded in kind, producing a vehicle just as capable and probably better suited to the many third world users who wouldn't be seen dead driving anything else. It's a slightly better bet for roadgoing use too, though if it's a tarmac SUV you want, then this isn't it.
No, this remains a vehicle fit for purpose, a car that'll still be happily ploughing through mud ruts when you've long ago forgotten you ever owned the thing. As an ultimately capable long term ownership proposition, there isn't much that beats it.
Toyota Land Cruiser Light Duty Series J150 (2014-2018) review by Jonathan Crouch