2008 Toyota Land Cruiser

About as often as federal bureaucrats are stricken by conscience or the map of Europe is redrawn, Toyota subjects the Land Cruiser to vigorous gym workouts and charm-school sessions and again sends it forth into the world. And a world vehicle it is, sold in 130 countries, among which, as far as we can tell, Vanuatu is included, if not Kyrgyzstan.

The U.S. market gets only the top-of-the-line version, now equipped with Toyota's wonderful 5.7-liter V-8 that utilizes variable valve timing to emit 381 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque. An imperturbable six-speed automatic manages this output. With an independent front suspension and variable-ratio rack-and-pinion steering, highway performance is superb.

The new rig--Toyota has offered the Land Cruiser since the company launched stateside in 1958--is an expensive, heavy, comfortable, highly capable vehicle that many people will acquire as a status symbol and let go after a couple of years, surrendering theirs to savvy enthusiasts who would never pay full ticket for something to punish on the rocks.

Those enthusiasts will likely feel ambivalent, though, recognizing 2008 as the year when the Land Cruiser thumbed its nose, not only at them but at all humanoid drivers. We refer to the Crawl Control system that essentially is cruise control in cahoots with traction control for low-range off-road conditions. Crawl's rotary selector offers the choice of three speed settings, from a very slow walk to a modest canter. Once you,'ve dialed in, the system takes over operation of the Cruiser, requiring only that you steer: it indefatigably sets off, as though proving a point to the Mars Rover. Rarely does a wheel spin or an occupant,'s noggin bob as Crawl Control guides this Highlander look-alike over daunting obstacles. Individual brakes are applied as necessary and clatter away self-importantly, interchanging with judicious commands from the engine control module. Only the very best driver could emulate such fine inputs and the smoothness that results, and this is at once cause for wonder and dismay.

The rest of the Land Cruiser is equally overdone. Chief engineer Toshihiko Kanai really ought to be flagged for piling on. A four-zone climate system with twenty-eight air vents? Couldn't we Americans have done with just twenty-six? A 605-watt, fourteen-speaker JBL audio system when all we Yanks listen to is fife-and-drum music? Ten air bags? Where will this ever end? In fact, it won't end, and much trickle-down will occur throughout the Toyota lineup, even to the RAV4.

Don't like it? Kyrgyzstan beckons.

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