A Thoroughly Modern Relic

September 22, 2018

Fun fact: The Land Cruiser is Toyota’s longest-running model. With its roots dating back to the early 1950s and the company’s efforts to mimic war-era models from Willys and Jeep, the current version of this full-size SUV continues to offer serious off-roading capability, albeit with a cabin wrapped in luxury and leather, and carrying a price tag marked accordingly. Though it sells only the merest fraction of the number of units as, say, the Highlander crossover or Camry sedan, the Land Cruiser is arguably Toyota’s halo product — a statement of the company’s past and, given the model’s established bulletproof reliability, reputation for superior engineering. It pays not to mess with success, which might explain the longevity of each generation of Land Cruiser, the last update of which came nearly a decade ago. And unlike other Toyota models that are offered in myriad trim levels and with long lists of options packages, the Cruiser comes in one flavor only and with but one factory option available — a rear-seat video entertainment system. All Land Cruisers are powered by Toyota’s 5.7-liter V-8, tuned to produce 381 horsepower and a generous 401 foot-pounds of torque. Power is channeled to a full-time AWD system via an eight-speed automatic transmission. A full complement of off-road-ready systems — locking differential, the company’s Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (which includes a decoupling stabilizer bar), low-speed off-road cruise control, Multi-Terrain Select settings for various surface conditions, hill-start assist and more — helps round out the vehicle’s rock-hopping resume. Standard gear includes 18-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, four-zone automatic climate control, 50/50 split-folding third-row seating, powered liftgate and self-stowing side-view mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, Toyota Safety Sense pre-collision and pedestrian sensors, rear cross-traffic alert and parking assist systems, blind-spot monitoring, rain-sensing wipers, 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with memory (eight-way for front passenger), Entune premium 14-speaker JBL audio system with satellite radio prep, satellite navigation and lots more. I spent a recent week piloting a 2018 Land Cruiser (2019 models are largely unchanged) in Scranton and environs, coming away impressed by the big rig’s comfortable and quiet ride quality, surprisingly quick acceleration, stiff and tightly screwed-together chassis, luxurious and smartly arranged cabin and old-school sense of style. Pricing starts at a heady $83,665, or roughly $5,000 less than the mechanically identical Lexus LX 570 we tested in 2016. With the addition of a few dealer options and the hefty $1,295 delivery tab, the bottom-line asking price for our tester came in at a luxury-level $86,094, or about 8 grand less than its upscale sibling. At this price level, I suspect most buyers won’t quibble over a few thousand one way or the other. Whether one prefers the Lexus’ amped-up bling factor over the more understated Land Cruiser is a matter of taste. I, for one, would opt for the latter’s subtle and less-fussy sense of taste. In keeping with its dear price tag, the Land Cruiser certainly goes through its motion in a luxurious manner. The cruising quality is supremely quiet and comfortable, although lumpy pavement can make for a busy ride due to the vehicle’s height. The surprisingly heavy-effort steering is nevertheless precise and predictable, while handling is fairly nimble for a nearly 3-ton sport-ute (all that mass makes itself felt going through corners). The four-wheel disc brakes are strong and fade-free. There’s plenty of room for adults in the first- and second-row seats, and enough to keep younger kids happy all the way in the back. There’s 16.1 cubic feet of cargo space with all seating in place; volume swells to 81.7 cubic feet with the rear seats stowed (points were deducted here for the old-school side-folding third-row design that robbed cargo space). Towing capacity maxes out at 6,500 pounds. Instrumentation and gauges are logically placed and easy to read and use. The 9-inch high-resolution LED touch-screen infotainment interface also is a breeze to operate and doesn’t wash out in direct sunlight like the one we sampled in our recent RAV4 test drive. And while we didn’t venture past where the pavement ends, all the switches and dials controlling off-roading systems are conveniently located on the center console. 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser Vehicle type: Full-size four-door, eight-passenger AWD sport-utility vehicle. Engine and transmission: 5.7-liter V-8 (381 horsepower, 401 foot-pounds torque), eight-speed automatic. Base/as-tested prices: $83,665/$86,094. EPA estimates: 13 mpg city, 18 mpg highway, 15 mpg combined. The good: Iconic good looks and expected brand reliability; nicely appointed and attractively designed cabin; smooth and comfortable cruiser; stout V-8 power; plenty of room for adults up front and in the second-row bench; full array of off-roading systems make this one of the most capable full-size rock-hoppers on the market; surprisingly quick and easy to maneuver for a nearly 3-ton behemoth; 6,500-pound towing capacity. The bad: Lousy fuel economy; curiously heavy steering effort; busy ride quality over lumpy pavement; 86 grand for a nonpremium brand. Bottom line: Toyota’s continual updates keep the halo-model Land Cruiser in the full-size sport-ute hunt without dinging its presence and cachet.

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