<a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/01/toyota/index.html">Toyota</a>'s Land Cruiser is truly a global vehicle. In the past fifty-five years, some four million Land Cruisers have been sold in more than 125 countries. Originally a crude but highly utilitarian off-roader patterned after American military jeeps, the Land Cruiser has branched out to encompass a plethora of shapes, styles, and amenities. Toyota's oldest nameplate, the Land Cruiser has been built in the form of a <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/02/trucks/index.html">pickup</a> and an <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/02/suvs/index.html">SUV</a>, as a softtop and a <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/02/convertibles/index.html">hardtop</a>, with two doors and four. Today, the Land Cruiser sold in America comes in only one body style and a single trim level, an eight-seat SUV loaded with at least as many luxury features as off-road items. It's exactly the sort of vehicle we love having in our Four Seasons fleet, even if the price of gas conspired against it over the course of the year.
The newest Land Cruiser, introduced for 2008, continues the move away from mountain stream crossing and toward mainstream cruising. Still, the 200-series Land Cruiser has plenty to offer adventurers. The requisite hardware includes full-time four-wheel drive, a two-speed transfer case, and a locking center differential. From the cockpit, a host of buttons reminds you that the Land Cruiser continues to take off-roading seriously. This switchgear allows the driver to change stability control modes, lock the center differential, choose high or low range, set the transmission to sport mode, start in second gear, and even switch off the side curtain air bags so they don't unexpectedly deploy during extreme off-road maneuvers.
Like most <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/02/suvs/index.html">SUVs</a> in our hands, the Land Cruiser spent less time 0ff-road and more on pavement, where it proved less adept. The soft, long-travel suspension allowed the Toyota to float, bob, and pitch. Over broken surfaces, the ride became even more disheveled, leading technical editor Don Sherman to write, "The rear axle is not just live, but fully animated." The brake pedal had lots of do-nothing travel before engaging suddenly, a lack of linearity that failed to inspire confidence and made smooth driving a chore. When the brakes finally did grab, the Land Cruiser's soft suspension sent the nose into a dive, but stopping distances were commendably short.
With a trailer hooked up, the Land Cruiser's driving demeanor radically changed, and it came into its element as a true truck. Our <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/01/toyota/index.html">Toyota</a> made multiple long-distance trips to tow nonrunning automotive purchases to their new homes. With the extra weight out back, the floaty ride settled down and high-speed stability improved, enhancing passenger comfort. Senior Web editor Phil Floraday returned to Michigan with a <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/am/1995/ford/f_150/index.html">1995 Ford F-150</a> in tow behind the Land Cruiser, using about 7000 pounds of the 8500-pound towing capacity. After tackling Kentucky's sizable hills, Floraday praised the Prodigy trailer-brake controller and made ample use of the six-speed automatic's manual mode. "We never dropped below the speed limit while climbing, and we were easily able to maintain the limit while descending, which isn't always easy," Floraday noted. "The ability to manually select gears was very helpful."
Toyota's 381-hp, 5.7-liter V-8, which debuted in the new Tundra <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/02/trucks/index.html">pickup</a>, eagerly moves the Land Cruiser and received nothing but raves. The engine and the transmission work together seamlessly and perform with an impressive level of refinement. Providing thunderous acceleration anywhere in the rev range, the engine's thrust was more sports car than <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/02/suvs/index.html">SUV</a>. In our testing, the speedy Toyota sprinted to 60 mph in an incredible 6.4 seconds.
But moving 5920 pounds with that type of gusto doesn't come without a price. We averaged 15 mpg over our twelve months of driving, exactly matching the EPA's combined mileage rating. In Europe, Toyota offers the Land Cruiser with a 4.5-liter turbo-diesel that makes some 280 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque. Although it may not propel the Land Cruiser off the line as quickly, that engine still makes impressive power, and Toyota claims it returns 23 mpg. We want it.
Our Cruiser's 15-mpg habit meant spending plenty of dough at the gas station, but the Toyota's overly pessimistic range indicator had us stopping there even more than necessary. After filling the 24.6-gallon tank, the trip computer claimed about 290 miles to empty, but the SUV proved capable of traveling much farther than that. Creative director Darin Johnson drove forty-five miles on an indicated fifteen-mile range. But the less sanguine, or less Land Cruiser-savvy, were sometimes alarmed. "I risked truck and limb fueling the big Cruiser late at night in the bowels of Detroit because the display calculated my fuel range to be four miles," wrote copy editor Rusty Blackwell. "And then I had a hard time finding the release for the fuel-filler door."
That fuel-door release eluded many drivers and was one of several ergonomic quirks in the cabin. The driver is surrounded by a vast number of haphazardly grouped buttons - for audio, climate, navigation, and off-road mechanicals - labeled with indecipherable acronyms and abbreviations. Editor-in-chief Jean Jennings went so far as - gasp! - to recommend that everyone actually read the owners' manual. Despite the ergonomic issues, the interior materials earned praise for matching typical <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/01/toyota/index.html">Toyota</a> quality standards.
Yet the Land Cruiser wasn't totally faultless. From the day it arrived, our Four Seasons example suffered from a disconcerting driveline clunk when accelerating from a stop. During the first oil change, the driveshaft was lubricated to address the problem, but the noise continued for the truck's entire stay. We wrote it off as a design matter rather than a mechanical defect when we experienced the same issue in a <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/am/2011/lexus/lx570/index.html">Lexus LX570</a>, the Land Cruiser's under-the-skin twin.
The bland and bulging styling earned few fans, and almost everyone agreed that the softer curves belie the vehicle's off-road heritage. While its hardware and history imply that the Land Cruiser was built to crush rocks and cross deserts, its styling pegs it as a typical mall-going, kid-toting <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/02/suvs/index.html">SUV</a>.
Carrying large loads was made difficult, however, by inefficient packaging. The Toyota's exterior gigantism isn't evident in the interior, where cargo room is dismal. "Anything this big and heavy should have a log cabin's worth of room inside," opined Sherman. "This one does not." Although most modern <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/02/suvs/index.html">SUVs</a> fold the third-row seats into the floor for cargo-hauling duty, Toyota chooses to flip the seats up against the sides of the cabin (a longtime Land Cruiser tradition). Stowed like this, the seats seriously eat into storage space. Packing for weekend getaways with four people proved surprisingly tricky, as bags quickly filled the narrow rear cargo hold. Removing the third row is possible, provided you're willing to break out a tool kit. Second-row seats tumble forward or fold, but they don't sit level with the load floor.
Although our Land Cruiser was delivered with leather, a fourteen-speaker audio system, keyless ignition, a moonroof, navigation, and a rear DVD player, many of us had a hard time justifying the $71,252 price tag. For that money, road test editor Marc Noordeloos wished for rain-sensing wipers, xenon headlamps, nicer leather, and a heated steering wheel. Inevitably, the Land Cruiser drew comparisons with significantly cheaper domestic competitors. Toyota's Sequoia may be the true parallel for the large SUVs from <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/01/ford/index.html">Ford</a> and General Motors, but our logbook was filled with comparisons to <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/01/chevrolet/index.html">Chevrolet</a>'s Suburban. Consensus says that a Suburban will carry more, tow almost as well, and return the same or better fuel economy for about $20,000 less.
Having said that, our Land Cruiser was not only drop-dead reliable, it was also inexpensive to maintain, with routine maintenance costing less than $600 over 30,000 miles. And despite our quibbles with fuel economy and utility, the Land Cruiser was extremely popular with the staff and was in very high demand for road trips and vacations.
With <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/01/toyota/index.html">Toyota</a>'s FJ Cruiser rumored to be on its way out, senior editor Joe Lorio contends that the Land Cruiser should drop in size and heft while maintaining its price and rebuilding credibility as a high-end off-roader. That's certainly an interesting proposition, because the Land Cruiser currently lacks a secure identity. As a family hauler and a suburban carryall, it's short on interior functionality. The price and equipment put it in the luxury category, but it's let down by its on-road manners and its pedestrian nameplate. (Perhaps that's why the <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/01/lexus/index.html">Lexus</a> version now outsells the Toyota.) Our experience towing and traversing, however, provided a glimpse of the tough truck that remains underneath. After all, there's a reason the Land Cruiser is prized wherever roads are hardly roadlike. Unfortunately, legendary off-road capability isn't an attribute that's at the forefront of what most Americans want today from a $70,000, eight-seat <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/02/suvs/index.html">SUV</a>.
PRICES & EQUIPMENT
Price as tested
ABS; traction and stability control; aluminum wheels; four-zone automatic air-conditioning; keyless ignition; power windows, mirrors, and door locks; power tilting/telescoping steering wheel; cruise control; heated front seats; moonroof; two-speed transfer case; hill-start assist; crawl control; front, side, and side curtain air bags
Upgrade package (navigation, Bluetooth, rearview camera, six-disc CD/DVD player, rear entertainment system, rear spoiler, headlight washers, cool box, second-row heated seats), $7245; carpet floor mats, $109; seven- to four-pin trailer wiring adapter, $13
*Estimate based on info from Manheim auctions and edmunds.com
<a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/am/2008/toyota/land_cruiser/index.html">2008 Toyota Land Cruiser</a>Rating: 3.5/5 Stars