There are two types of great cars. The first is what we focus on most on these pages, those cars that provide great experiences through what they do for the driver. GT3s and Miatas dominate those conversations. The second kind of greatness is just as important: Machines that don’t inherently provide great experiences but enable them. If that’s your barometer for success, you can’t do much better than a 100-Series Land Cruiser.
Taken on its own, my 2004 Lexus LX470—the posh man’s Land Cruiser—doesn’t look like much fun. It’s got big comfy leather seats, awkward and nondescript styling, and none of the tough-guy bona fides you get with a modern 4Runner TRD Pro or half-ton truck. The driving experience is nothing special, either. The hydraulic suspension is pillowy soft and prone to major body roll in the corners, the steering devoid of feel, and the 235-hp 4.7-liter V-8 overburdened with 5590 lbs to haul. Nothing about it is going to light your senses on fire.
Despite that, in the four months since I bought it, the LX has become my favorite car I’ve ever owned. I’ve had more great memories in this truck than in my S2000, E39 M5, and NA Miata combined. The reason for that is simple. The LX doesn’t just enable adventures, it requires them.
Otherwise, I’d be a fool to operate such a gas-guzzling behemoth as a single man now living in California. Capability like this demands an owner who’s going to use it. So I have.
It started the day after I bought the truck, when I loaded it with half of my life in Brooklyn and set off back home. The following week I drove the 500 miles back from Ohio to get the rest. Combined with the ride back from picking it up in Maryland, that made for about 1500 miles of driving in week one. The LX, with seats ripped from an old man’s office and suspension off a ‘67 Cadillac, made the miles disappear.
A few days later, I loaded up all three rows with family and set off for yet another drive to a Jason Isbell concert. My stepmom had no complaints about a stint in the third row. My dad, who drove us home in the LX, hasn’t stopped asking about it since. He’s thinking of getting one when he retires.
Then I loaded it up again and moved West, taking as much of my life with me as I could. I’ve already written about how it performed, but the quick version is that the LX exceeded my expectations and won over another fan in Andrew, my best friend and co-driver on that trip. Through the highest interstate pass and what felt like an endless blizzard, the LX—loaded up to the windows in every dimension—never faltered. It just worked.
The same’s been true in the two months since I got to San Diego. First it hauled furniture, then camping gear, then surfboards, then camping gear again. It worked so well as a desert camping rig for three grown men that the next time we did it with four. A trunk piled to the roof with firewood and bottled water didn’t stop us from exploring Joshua Tree’s off-road trails, allowing us to test both its high-speed unpaved prowess and its compliance over what shouldn’t have, technically, been jumps. The 18-year-old Lexus ate it up.
Of course, many trucks could do most of these things. But I can’t think of another vehicle that could do all of it—the endless highway miles and the seven-person concerts and the heavy-duty hauling and the off-road shenanigans—for under 20 grand and with enough reliability that I’d be comfortable hauling off the high-school buddies to a backcountry camping trip.
So after years of swapping cars every two-five months, I think I’ve found a keeper. In four months it has crossed a national park threshold seven times, traversed the whole country once, enabled three life-affirming adventures, transported countless friends, and blasted all of my favorite songs. It’s accumulated 8000 miles in my care, bringing the total to 195,000 on its odometer as of Monday, without requiring anything but light bulbs and oil.
It is old, funny-looking, scratched, and outdated. It guzzles $5.60 a gallon California gas and yet accelerates like a Prius. But it’s got my weekend adventure gear sitting in its trunk, it still reeks of three separate campfires, and it's the best supporting actor in a dozen memories already.
A hundred miles into our Joshua Tree trip, my friend Connor put it best: “Mack, this is the best thing you’ve ever bought.”