(First Posted October 13, 2013) With the Volvo V40’s lease being up soon, and a general desire for something with more space, we started to consider our options for our next car. Living in Lafayette, CA, a somewhat upscale East Bay suburb, there were a lot of large SUV’s roaming the landscape. We were with small child which means we were with a lot of accoutrements that generally had to go with us, so yes, a large SUV made sense on many levels, especially since we were not contemplating minivans at this point…
Soon I found what appeared to fit the bill – A 1999 Land Cruiser with only 30,000 miles for $33,000 from a private party just north of Berkeley. I spoke with the seller and he said it did not get driven much, he commuted in a Camry and used the Land Cruiser on weekends, otherwise it was always garaged. So far, so good.
The next day I drove to take a look. Sure enough, both Toyota’s were in the 2-car garage (an amazing feat for a Californian, as almost nobody uses their garage for their cars. Houses without basements naturally relegate the garage to being used as the storage unit…)
The Land Cruiser was Atlantis Blue Mica over Tan leather. The bumpers and rub strips were a graphite color which set off the blue nicely. The body and interior were in perfect condition. Basically it was like new. He had every receipt, it had only ever needed normal maintenance, no accidents, exactly what we were looking for. I drove it, but even before then was pretty sure I would be buying it. Sure enough, five minutes later I found myself haggling the price down to $31,500 and promised to come back the next day with a cashier’s check after leaving a deposit.
The next day was the big day. We transferred the title, handed over the check, and I drove back home in our new car, uh, truck. Oh what a feeling! Driving the Land Cruiser after a few years of relatively low cars was like being Captain Stubing on the Bridge of the Pacific Princess. A panoramic view with a feeling of steering a very large piece of machinery beneath you. Every switch clicked with that Toyota precision, every dial rotated with the right resistance, the seats were as comfy as a La-Z-Boy with armrests to fold down into position.
The generation of Land Cruiser is known as the 100-series. In the U.S. it was introduced in 1998 with a new V8 engine; a first for the Land Cruiser. The engine is the 4.7liter that was eventually used in various other large Toyotas, here it was relatively low-powered with 228HP at 4800rpm but 302 lb-ft of torque at a still relatively high 3400rpm. The vehicles weighed over 5000 pounds so it definitely took a bit of a push of the accelerator to get it going. But it would definitely go once the engine was on the boil. Alas, it did require premium unleaded which I find a bit ridiculous for something of this size (and thirst).
One thing I noticed and eventually looked up was that the badges looked dark-colored. Everyone is familiar with those hideous “Gold packages” that were all the rage once upon a time, it turns out that Toyota also had a factory option for the “Black Pearl Package” which is what ours had. I have to say that although I would not spend the money on it from the options list when new, it did look nice.
Land Cruisers sit pretty high, my wife at 5’2” obviously used the running boards and the grab handle to get in, but I also found myself using both items regularly and I am almost a foot taller. Once inside, you sit surrounded by nice leather, a smattering of good looking wood trim, and a sea of buttons, dials and displays. Everything falls right to hand.
The back seat is also very roomy and then there is a somewhat unconventional third row that is split in half and when not in use can be folded up against the sides of the cargo area. We ended up removing them and storing them in the garage most of the time, they weigh a LOT and are somewhat of a bear to schlep around. Folded up they still took up a large chunk of the cargo area as well. Below is a picture with them installed.
We only ever had two things go wrong with it, the first was an oxygen sensor. I didn’t want to deal with it so I told my wife to just have the dealer fix it when she was having the oil changed. I won’t be making that mistake ever again as the bill was over $400. The other item was a taillight bulb, this is a common Land Cruiser malady, and in our case it was one of the tailgate lights that was out. It was simple to take the trim panel off and soon we were all lit up again!
This is the same vehicle that the Lexus LX470 is based on, the differences being mainly in the grade of leather inside and the suspension tuning along with a few cosmetic doodads. I realized that the wheels on our Land Cruiser are actually the Lexus ones, I have no idea how that happened or when, perhaps the prior owner had them swapped or something.
Interestingly, the median income of the Land Cruiser buyer (from new) was higher than that of the Lexus buyer and was the highest of any Toyota model. I assume those people sent the hired help to get it serviced as the service experience was generally abysmal. Well, the actual service was fine, but the average Toyota dealer’s service waiting area left something to be desired. A far cry from the Jaguar dealer’s service area, that’s for sure.
We had it around the time of Hurricane Katrina, and were shocked by the increase in gas prices in the Bay Area at the time. Now they are even higher of course but that was the first modern-day shock to the average SUV driver’s wallet and many people dumped their guzzlers soon after. We tried to take it in stride but definitely planned our trips a bit better.
It was not helpful that the Land Cruiser was the best way to get our daughter to nap, so there were plenty of 20-mile drives to nowhere in the afternoons (Average of $7 per trip in gas I am ashamed to say I calculated). This was also when I switched jobs and began a 42-mile each way commute so I was not going to drive this thing for that.
We did use it to visit the in-laws for holidays in Southern California several times, the dog rode along comfortably in the back, our daughter was in her carseat, the luggage and stroller(s) rode in the other side of the backseat and in the cargo box we had on the roof. It was a great road trip car except for the thirst. Around town it would get between 12 and 14mpg the way my wife drove it, and on the highway maybe into the high teens.
It was VERY nice to be able to lift our kid into her seat more or less laterally, putting a baby or small kid into a normal car and then reaching around to faster their belt(s) is very hard on the back and not appreciated by those that haven’t had to deal with all the car seats / child carriers etc. Yes, a minivan makes it even easier somehow, but we were not (yet) ready to give in to that.
I once responded to an ad on Craigslist offering a free Keter plastic 6×6 garden shed, free for the taking, similar to the picture above. Since we could make good use of such an item I immediately called, told the guy I was coming over, for some reason decided to take our daughter, and drove all the way to San Rafael on the other side of the San Francisco Bay.
Once we got there I realized that the shed was much larger than I had envisioned (not sure what I was thinking), the panels were all about 3’x7’ in size and there were many of them. Since my daughter was in the back seat, I folded the other side down and then jammed a bunch of the panels in next to her. However there were still several panels left, so we tied them to the roof. It ended up being a large stack well over a foot tall, all held down with basically a thick twine. Needless to say it was a total nightmare getting back home.
I took back roads the entire way, except I was forced to take the San Rafael Bridge across the Bay, which we did at 40mph with the hazard lights on as the panels were flapping and slapping around on the roof rack and I was very concerned that they would come off. After about a 2-hour return trip in total, we made it back and I reassembled the shed in our yard, where it presumably still stands today.
Eventually we moved closer to my work, going from a 42 mile commute to a 2 mile commute was heaven. The only problem was that our new house had a bizarre S-shaped driveway along with being on a grade on a very narrow street and was extremely difficult for many people to navigate backwards. That along with a large garage that had dual single doors in it made my wife very nervous about damaging the car to the point that she decided she wanted something smaller. (Note to regular readers of this COAL series – take note of the garbage cans in the picture above, they will make an important follow-up in a couple of months…)
It took several months to sell the Toyota, not because anything was wrong with it (it was still in excellent shape, somehow) but rather that nobody was looking to buy something this large with gas prices the way they were in California. Eventually a guy came by and bought it for his son for $23,000, we were quite happy to have gotten that much for it at the time.
It’s a shame they never offered these over here with the turbodiesel available elsewhere, it really would have been a great overall truck then, but in fairness when it debuted gas was still cheap. In the meantime the Sequoia has taken over the Land Cruiser’s price point and the Land Cruiser’s sticker price is now firmly in Range Rover territory, which is probably appropriate.