2010 Toyota Land Cruiser Expert Review:Autoblog
Once upon a time, if you were expecting company and they drove a Toyota Land Cruiser, you'd have Teva prints in your carpet and the smell of patchouli filling your house. Their refrigerator cheese selection probably included one with the word "Whiz" in it, and if things got too warm, your guests would unzip their Vatican pants at the knees and stuff the legs into their oversized shorts pockets. No more. With a starting price of $64,755, the 2009 Toyota Land Cruiser is a certifiable luxury proposition that only gets close to grime when tackling a grass-covered hill at the local little-league soccer field. Yet in spite of its juggernaut proportions and new personality, after a week in the 'Cruiser, it's obvious why Toyota's biggest SUV sells: it's a giant Camry that seats eight and eats volcanoes.
Before we begin we should probably put the eigth generation Land Cruiser in context. With a price matching that of a Cayenne S (once you option the Porsche comparably), U.S.-spec Land Cruisers are usually bought by people who won't treat it like U.N. peacekeepers. In fact, much the same way as its upscale Lexus LX570 cousin, not only do Land Cruisers not get dirty, they often look brand-new years after they've been bought. That encourages some folks to call them out for being one of the chosen chariots of suburban moms, the kind who fill their 5,700-pound, eight-person earth-mover with nothing more than a purse and a bottle of water.
But that's the wrong way to look at it, because the U.S. 'Cruiser isn't about utility anymore. Oh, it remains obscenely spacious and monstrously capable, but utility isn't the bulls-eye it once was. Crazy as it might sound, it's better to think of the Land Cruiser as a Range Rover, or even a Ferrari or Bentley. It's a halo vehicle by Toyota's own admission, cashing in on the decades of unstoppable credibility it earned back when wealthy mothers wouldn't have anything to do with it. It even sells in halo vehicle numbers: there were 3,801 examples sold in 2008. That's roughly three months of Range Rover sales, and about 500 fewer units than Ferrari and Bentley's combined sales. And with that comes halo-car reasoning – anyone spending $65K on an SUV isn't doing so because he or she really needs it...
So what does a Land Cruiser buyer get for all that dosh? Off-road, they get a vehicle that strides through the wilderness as ably Mother Nature herself. The 'Cruiser remains a body-on-frame truck, and the frame has been bolstered with beefier, high-strength-steel longitudinal sections. Between the frame and the road are double wishbones with coil-overs up front, and a four-link coil-spring with a solid axle and Panhard rod out back. Suspension travel is 9.05 inches up front and 9.45 inches in the rear.
The real coup, though, is the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS). Two interconnected hydraulic control cylinders are located in the front and rear of the vehicle. They take their inputs from the vertical positions of the front and rear wheels, and they control the engagement of the stabilizer bar. When the Land Cruiser is on the road and the front and rear wheels are level, the pressure in both cylinders is equal and the stabilizer bar remains engaged in order to cut down on body roll. Off-road, on uneven terrain, when the pressure in the cylinders is unequal, the mechanical movement of the hydraulic pistons effectively unhooks the stabilizer bars, allowing more roll, but giving the wheels a chance to stay in touch with the Earth. As we experienced during the Land Cruiser versus H2 comparo last year, the system works a treat; with 27 inches of vertical rear-wheel articulation, when we had the H2 rocking on two wheels, the Land Cruiser just stuck its leg out a little further and found solid ground. It's basic and extremely effective.
Another basic but extremely effective off-road feature is the CRAWL control. Put the truck in low-range and select one of three speeds, and the 'Cruiser will make its way over the most unseemly obstacles by controlling engine speed and braking. No need to figure out which differential button to press, no worries about your feathering technique with accelerator and brake. The crawl mode even works in reverse at three different speeds. Yet for all its convenience – and we admit to using it a couple of times – if you enjoy off-roading, it really does kill the thrill. Successfully navigate a nasty stretch of impediments and all you can really congratulate yourself on is that you managed to keep breathing and stay alive, because otherwise you did absolutely nothing. Frankly, unless there's a risk of getting beached or going over a cliff, you don't even need to steer. The truck will find its way through. Admittedly, in other countries at least, that's exactly what a Land Cruiser is for: to get you through whatever stands between you and the goal. It does it now just as well, and much more simply, than ever.
On-the-road and coddled inside is where the 'Cruiser makes its case to the moneyed matron. It might as well be an immense Camry that's nicer to be in, albeit one that has a lot more features along with an "it's safer because it's bigger" feeling.
The engine, with 381 hp and 401 lb-ft, is massively overpowered for off-road duty. But we couldn't help thinking that on-road it wasn't going to be enough for a 16-foot-long vehicle with a gross weight rating of 7,275 pounds. We were wrong. The six-speed adaptive transmission is quick to downshift, after which the truck simply picks up and goes. It's a bit like sitting on the back of an elephant and wondering, "How fast could this behemoth possibly go?" Then when it takes off, running faster than you ever could, you think "Oh. Well. That's not bad."
The controls are cotton candy light. Toyota seems to have geared them on the chance that you had only one finger and one toe available to drive the vehicle. You could probably turn the steering wheel by blowing on it, but there is enough slack between it and the wheels turning that you wouldn't hurt yourself doing it. The accelerator, like the crawl mode, appears to have three settings: nothing; okay, we're moving; and go, go, go, go, go! There isn't much in the way of feel while driving, but again, Land Cruiser buyers aren't in the hunt for feeling. When they want to change lanes, they really only care about turning that round thing in front of them and then turning it slightly the other way when the task is accomplished. The 'Cruiser passes that test, and the KDSS keeps things admirably level while doing it.
The Land Cruiser is also pleasantly quiet. The A-pillar has been filled with foam to reduce wind noise. The bushings between the body and the frame have been redesigned to keep road noise and vibration in check. A molding between the windshield and hood keeps air flowing over the vehicle and away from the windshield wipers. When stationary, it is genuinely hard to tell if the engine is running without checking the tachometer. Even when moving, it will only make its presence known when you punch the gas. From the driver's seat, the only thing you'll is the 14-speaker, 605-watt JBL sound system and, perhaps, a bleating child roaming somewhere among the prairie-sized cabin.
Full Disclosure: Toyota's own Sequoia is actually bigger than the Land Cruiser, but the latter is still expansive enough that it should have its own Department of the Interior. Three rows of leather-wrapped seating fit inside, and there remains room for some soft-sided bags even with the third row in use. The first two rows are warm and welcoming; the third – while much better than some ill-thought-out offerings from other makers – is still no place to put your adult friends if you can help it. If they do get sent back there, however, they'll at least have an easier time making the trek because the second row slides forward four inches, and the passenger side has a one-touch tumble mechanism so you can get it out of the way quickly. And when you decide to stack luggage back there instead of your friends (as it should be), the seats fold up and flip away courtesy of another one-touch button.
Up front, the center console has a reduced button count because of the touchscreen, but don't let that fool you – it's mission control and you're the NASA engineer. The screen has excellent resolution and all-condition visibility – the rearview camera is like watching television -- and provides controls for the aforementioned sound system as well as the telephone, calendar, navigation, maintenance, HVAC, and entertainment system. Beneath that are push-button controls for the four-zone climate system, the effects of which will be issued from the 28 vents spread like buckshot throughout the cabin.
Nor will the Land Cruiser be left out when it comes to whipped cream conveniences and safety. It's got keyless go, a moonroof, HomeLink and heated, power front seats, and you can get a heated second row, back-seat entertainment, parking sensors, headlamp washers, and a towing convertor to power trailer lights among numerous other options. Then there are the 11 airbags, active headrests, three-point seatbelts for all eight positions, traction control, stability control, brake assist and electronic brake force distribution.
So, is it worth the $65,000 cover price plus options? With a vehicle like the Land Cruiser - specifically, this American-spec model - that isn't really the issue. But if the Porsche Cayenne is too flashy, the Mercedes GL too dainty, and the Lexus LX570 too... Lexus, then the Land Cruiser is probably hulking over your sweet spot. It's ability to haul anything anywhere and let you forget you're doing it is a fine feat, and there are other vehicles that charge more to do less. The question is: Do you want to buy a Kilimanjaro on wheels that comes with a built-in lair that seats eight? If so, the mountain has come to you. All you'll need now are henchmen...
The world's maddest battles usually earn a brief sobriquet: Red vs. Blue, Holyfield-Tyson, Lingerie Bowl. Although the battle we'll describe today isn't finished, the clash of HUMMER vs. Any Decent Off-roader – especially HUMMER vs. Jeep – has made so much noise on Autoblog alone that we decided it was time to investigate. Not having a Jeep at our disposal, we pitted an H2 against the Toyota Landcruiser on three trails in the California desert to find out if either of them had any quit – or if they'd keep going but complain about it. Follow the jump for the answer we came up with, and check out the gallery of off-road shenanigans below.
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Quite a few folks out there don't believe that HUMMERs are fully capable off-road vehicles. Most of those who have actually driven HUMMERs off-road believe the opposite is true... and they often get called names because of that. We've owned an H2 that saw dirt once, driven the H3 and H3T, ridden shotgun in an H3 Alpha at the Baja 500, and pre-run the first section of the Baja course in an H2 modified with nothing other than bolt-on shocks. We've not only seen what HUMMERs can do, we did it. We're believers.
But just to make sure, we threw the H2 in with a venerable off-roader, the Toyota Landcruiser, on neutral ground. True, the U.S. Landcruiser isn't sold the same way, nor to the same crowd, it once was. But beneath the running boards and mudflaps and parking radar and leather interior and Lexus-like steering, it's the same truck that the U.N. still uses to lumber all over Middle-of-Nowhere-stan. That means: it's still one tough Beverly Hills pastry shop cookie.
This was the brief: two trucks, two days, three trails. To ensure objectivity, our companions were a writer and a photographer from one of the major buff books, both experienced off-roaders and HUMMER-dissers. The photographer, on getting in the HUMMER, said "I can feel my sperm count rising. I think I should go impregnate my wife."
The point wasn't to put the trucks to the ultimate test. Besides the fact that there were time and safety limits, having to call Toyota and say "You can pick your truck up in Satan's Ditch, don't worry, it'll be there whenever you get to it..." is not the kind of thing that makes you friends with press fleet coordinators.
The point was to run the trucks over 4WD-required trails and see how they did. Although the Southern California desert offers a range of terrain, since neither truck is made for Rubicon lumbering or tight spaces we were dealing with mostly wide open tracks, albeit ones that offered a huge number of dips, ruts, rocks, sand, tight approach and departure angles, some serious sideways leaning, and a couple of giggle-inducing inclines.
We also ended up dealing with Nightmare Gulch, but we'll get to that in a moment.
In one corner, we have the Toyota Landcruiser. Its 5.7-liter V8 puts out 381 hp and 401 lb-ft. through a 6-speed automatic. The scarlet steed rides on double wishbones with coil springs and a 43-mm stabilizer bar up front, and a 4-link suspension with coil springs and a 25-mm stabilizer bar out back. The total package comes in at a gross vehicle weight of 7,257 pounds.
The H2 uses a 6.2-liter V8 with 393 hp and 415 lb-ft. running through a 6-speed automatic. It gets an independent front suspension with torsion bars, monotube gas shocks and a 36-mm stabilizer bar up front, while the backside gets a 5-link suspension with self-leveling air springs, monotube gas shocks, and a 32-mm stabilizer bar. Gross vehicle weight: 8,600 pounds.
The first major difference between the trucks were the tires: the H2 came with 315/70 R17 all-terrain rubber. The Landcruiser, luxury boat that it is, came with 285/60 R18 mud-and-snow rated tires. Though it might not look like an equitable challenge, surprisingly, the tires really weren't a factor.
The other major difference was the Get Out of Trouble mode each truck employed. In fact, the whole thing came down to a battle of two dials: the locking rear diff dial in the H2 and the crawl dial in the Landcruiser. The H2's central and rear lockers combine to get all the power down on the ground that they can in order to get the truck unstuck. The Landcruiser's system uses the brakes in a way akin to ABS, but this time they prevent wheelspin, not wheel lock. Instead of feeling the pedal's dull thud as you do when ABS kicks in, you hear the brakes rapid-fire clamp-and-disengage. It sounds like a giant spring has been given a tremendous whack and is flopping back into position. Or like the truck is about to break in half.
But it works, and it got the Landcruiser out of every tender position we put it in. In fact, you could turn the dial – it has three speed settings – and let the truck do all the work. All you need to do is stay alive. And steer.
The three trails we covered are in the El Paso Mountains of Red Rock State Park: Last Chance Canyon at 10.6 miles with a Difficulty Rating (DR) of 5, Cudahy Camp at 7.2 miles with a DR of 4, and Opal Canyon Road at 6.3 miles with a DR of 5.
The first section of Last Chance Canyon is soft sand and gravel. Neither truck liked it, but if you were judicious with your lines and able to hold your speed, you made good time. If you stopped, you got your first lesson in the two trucks' different throttle responses. The H2's throttle has an even, steady progression and a comfortable measure of travel between wheels stopped and wheels turning. You knew when the power was about to be laid down, and there was even enough pedal movement to accurately modulate wheelspin.
The Landcruiser accelerator, in 4W High, was binary – sitting in the sand at a stop, slowly depressing the accelerator would result in churning rubber and flying sand. Nothing in between. That's apparently the "Road" setting. But put the truck in 4W Low and the throttle response is much more elastic, giving you more control over the power. All you have to do is then remember to put the 'Cruiser back in 4W High when you're up to speed again.
That sand also gave us a first test of the 'Cruiser's crawl system. Coming around a slow corner, the scarlet pimpernel bogged itself when the back wheels dug into the sand – in 4W High – after traversing some rocks. Coming up behind in the H2, we put the great white hope into 4W Low and took a different line through a run of boulders. Before we figured out what to do with the 'Cruiser, one of our companions said of the H2, "It really is the off-roader for idiots. You can just point it somewhere and run over things."
But he didn't mean it as a compliment. It was then we realized this is simply how it was going to be with the HUMMER. It does everything you want it to, but instead of "capable," it's "the off-roader for idiots."
We put the 'Cruiser into crawl mode, listened to the rapidfire springing action of the brakes, and what do you know, the truck pulled itself out of the mire. Contrary to how it might sound, the 'Cruiser doesn't lurch while this is happening – it's all quite steady, like riding a horse as it picks its way up a rocky slope. Again, all you have to do is not fall off. It's electronics vs. mechanicals in this case, and assuming the electrics don't go fritzing, it's cheaper, lighter, and less expensive than putting a differential back there to achieve the same effect.
This would be the experience for most of the two days: H2 grunt vs. the Landcruiser softshoe. Because the 'Cruiser is really sold for road duty, the running boards took a beating on the rocks (sorry, Toyota), and the smaller tires meant traversing ruts and obstacles was an affair requiring constant attention and finesse that we mostly managed to pull off without incident – key word being "mostly" (again, sorry, Toyota). The 'Cruiser's approach and departure angles are almost a full ten degrees less than the H2's. But the 'Cruiser is still the badass dirt runner that it was created to be.
Proof of such came at one point on Opal Canyon Road, when the trail made a dropoff 90-degree left turn. The H2's rear right wheel came a fair ways off the ground, but the 'Cruiser – making the same turn a couple of times, just to make sure – with its solid rear axle and Panhard rod, lifted up only a couple of inches. Although it doesn't look like it, the travel is immense, and the vehicle is stupendously sure-footed.
On the cliff-like incline facing that descending turn, yet another demonstration occured of how the two vehicles deal with nature. Throw the H2 into 4W Low and listen to the V8 rumble as it clobbers the hill. Throw the 'Cruiser into crawl and listen to Puccini while pretending you're Don Quixote atop Rocinante. Everybody wins.
But remember, we did say that this was the experience for most of the two days. We went a gulch too far at the end, winding up in a zig-zagging wash right out of a The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. Only this wasn't merely ugly, it was hideous, gorgon-like. We would find out later that we were in Nightmare Gulch.
The Gulch is nothing but rocks, was probably carved out by a god made of rocks, and meant as a natural limestone and granite womb that would give birth to new families of rocks every few hours. And the entire thing is coated with sand. It's like Disneyland. If Disneyland were made of rocks. And coated with sand.
It was the kind of thing we meant to avoid, but since we were there, and the trail's end was just one sweet mile-and-a-half through the maze, we tried it. And yes, we came face-to-face – or rather, body-panel-to-rock-wall, with the full-sized SUVs' kryptonite: skinny places.
The H2's castle-like girth makes it ill equipped for a slot like Nightmare Gulch. But frankly, before you call out the H2, Nightmare Gulch is a place you couldn't take a lot of vehicles: none of the multi-shocked high-rise 4x4s with NASA light arrays could have made it; any stock crew-cab long bed would have suffered a couple of scrapes at the very least; even the Landcruiser took a beating. Yes, you could take a Wrangler Rubicon with little problem, but only because it's smaller.
The H2 and the Landcruiser tip-toed through it admirably, both drivers scrupulously following the spotter's directions. But the rocks would not be mocked, and they certainly weren't going to allow these leviathans to pass without paying a paint and metal tax.
One slippery turn was our undoing. Coming to a bottleneck formed by the gulch wall and a massive boulder, the left side of the H2 rose up over a couple of boulders half buried in the trail... and then the truck slid into the wall. Try as we might, the sand and gravity said "We'll take it from here," and every time we got a bit of clearance the great white whale would slide again when we tried to move it (sorry, HUMMER...).
After a couple of hours of digging and hammering and tow-strap-earthmoving in Mercury-like heat, just a half mile from the trail end, we gave up, backed the truck up off the wall – it wasn't pretty – and backed both trucks out of the gulch, then turned around and fled for the closest thing to civilization, which was Denny's.
In this blogger's version of the debrief after a Moons Over My Hammy, the finding was that the H2 and the Landcruiser will go anywhere you point them. Period. Anyone who says otherwise is, quite simply, incorrect. The only difference is in how they do it. The H2 is a thoroughly mechanical machine that overcomes obstacles with locking diffs and brute force. The Landcruiser substitutes some of that rawness with an electronic aid that will achieve the same end. The only thing we would change on the Landcruiser for off-road work is the steering: it really is Lexus-light, no matter what you're doing. Unless the wheels were positively stuck, you could always turn the wheel with two fingers. But we would take either truck anywhere.
Well, anywhere they could fit.
Still, the co-drivers would not be swayed. "The H2 is still absurd," they said, "but it had the right tires, and that's what this is really all about." The H2 could not get a fair trial; it had just done everything we wanted it to do, but now it was only because of the tires. We rebutted: Hogwash. The H2 covered every trail and had plenty left over, and that's what this was really all about.
It was in the parking lot afterward that the smackdown came. We were walking to the H2, about to enjoy the long drive home, when we heard: "The Jeep Rubicon is really the best off-roader out there because it's got locking front and rear diffs and 33-inch tires." We turned and said "So does the H3T."
They looked at your humble Autoblogger like you look at a fish floating oddly at the top of the tank – "Is he dead or just kind of messed up?" Speaking like they wanted me to read their lips in case my primitive brain weren't developed enough to process their language sounds, they asked, "Are you saying you want to do it?"
Stay tuned next month for Rubicon vs. H3T on a 7-rated, 23.6 mile monstrosity of a trail. The battle rages.
New Car Test Drive
Capability and luxury.
The Toyota Land Cruiser delivers serious off-road capability, towing capability and people-hauling capability. The Land Cruiser seats up to eight people. It can transport large amounts of cargo over any kind of road or primitive trail, in any kind of weather, with speed, comfort and security. It can tow up to 8,500 pounds. And it offers luxurious levels of comfort.
The Land Cruiser looks pretty much the same as Land Cruisers have looked for years, but in fact it was completely redesigned and re-engineered for the 2008 model year. The current version boasts an impressive list of safety features, state-of-the-art electronics, more-than-ample power with reasonably good fuel economy, and innovative engineering advancements that permit outstanding performance in contrasting circumstances.
More than just all-weather, the Land Cruiser offers legitimate all-terrain capability. Among the innovations making this possible is a brilliantly designed suspension that enhances performance on irregular terrain yet does not compromise cornering or braking on paved roads.
Land Cruiser's high-utility, capability-driven design doesn't come cheap, however. Its impressive capabilities require more expensive materials, extensive developmental testing, and more engineering innovation. That makes the Land Cruiser the vehicle of choice for well-heeled customers who have a cabin in the woods, an adventurous vacation routine, or perhaps a whole lot of highway and dirt road between the family home and a camping trip. For their investment, Land Cruiser owners enjoy an exceptionally secure, comfortable SUV that can make extreme use seem routine.
Then there is the matter of quality. All Land Cruisers are built in small volumes in Japan. Production is shared between the Yoshiwara plant, in Aichi, Japan, (now manufacturing Prius, LX470 and 4Runner) and Toyota's vaunted Tahara plant, which mostly manufactures Lexus vehicles. These are Toyota's flagship manufacturing facilities. Standards at the Tahara plant, in particular, have been described in American newspapers as untouchable, approaching fewer than 10 defects per 1 million parts. As a result, the Land Cruiser's reputation for durability and long-term value is likely to be continued. It is normal for four-wheel-drive vehicles to require unscheduled repairs due to greater complexity, and exposure to dust, water, and vibration. However, in the case of the Land Cruiser, we would be surprised to encounter many significant problems beyond normal maintenance.
Because of its iconic exterior design, Land Cruisers never look dated or go out of style. Used Land Cruisers are scarce and command high prices.
For 2010, the biggest change is the offering of Toyota's Safety Connect telematics system that provides a number of vital services, including the ability to dispatch emergency responders in the event of a severe collision and tracking of a stolen vehicle. Included with Safety Connect is the first year of service. Also offered is XM NavTraffic as part of the Land Cruiser's newly added satellite radio feature that includes a 90-day trial subscription to XM Satellite Radio.
The 2010 Toyota Land Cruiser ($65,970) comes standard with leather upholstery; CFC-free automatic climate-control and independent automatic rear climate-control system; four-spoke leather-wrapped power tilt and telescoping steering wheel with memory and audio, telephone, and voice-recognition controls; power door locks and windows, including power rear quarter windows; Smart Key keyless entry; HomeLink; variable intermittent front and rear wipers and washers; cruise control; 12 cup holders; combination meter with Optitron electroluminescent instrumentation; JBL 605-watt AM/FM/6CD/MP3/WMA system with auxiliary mini-jack and 14 speakers; tilt/slide power glass moonroof with sunshade and one-touch open/close operation with jam protection; auto-dimming rear view mirror with compass; multi-information display; rear window defogger; digital outside temperature display; and Intuitive Park Assist (back-up sonar). Standard seating arrangements include 10-way driver and eight-way front passenger power-adjustable heated leather-trimmed seats and adjustable headrests; tumble, foldable and reclining 40/20/40 three-section split second-row seat with fore/aft slide and three-point seatbelts; and folding 50/50 third-row seat with headrest and three-point seatbelts on all three seating positions.
Options include a touch-screen DVD navigation system with eight-inch display ($3,150), which integrates the standard audio system and climate control plus a back-up camera and Bluetooth. The Upgrade Package ($7,120) includes all of the navigation package content plus simulated wood and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, pre-collision system, rear seat entertainment, cool box, second-row seat heaters, rear spoiler and headlight cleaners. A rear spoiler ($200) is optional.
Safety features that come standard include multi-terrain ABS with Electronic Brake Force distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist; VSC electronic stability control with cutoff switch; Active Traction Control (A-TRAC); dual-stage advanced airbags, seat-mounted side-impact airbags and front knee airbags for driver and front passenger; second-row seat-mounted side airbags; three-row roll-sensing side-curtain airbags with roll-sensing cutoff switch; and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
The Toyota Land Cruiser, with its upright bodywork and wide, flat hood, is unmistakably linked to the historic Land Cruiser line. The exterior design has the traditional distinct flare on the front fenders, horizontal four-slotted grille and rear liftgate. In front are compound headlamps, and LED tail lights are another contemporary touch.
The effect is to stay with the Land Cruiser lineage. There is no bling factor in the Land Cruiser design, which is solid, stable and grounded in every sense of the word. It is designed to be impressive more for what it is, than how it looks.
The Land Cruiser is the result of efforts to reduce wind noise and clean up the coefficient of drag. The wipers use an aero blade design for quiet operation, sweep a large area, and retract low on the windshield to reduce wind noise. The mirrors are shaped and mounted so as to keep whistle to a minimum, and the tow hitch has a cover to clean up the rear bumper. Overall, it has a modern appearance, yet it is unmistakably a Land Cruiser.
Land Cruiser owners will feel perfectly at home, yet there is a modern, technical feel to the cabin that integrates features that have trickled down from the Lexus LX 470. The overall sense is of conservative design tastes, with all features smoothly integrated, prioritizing value and quality over style. Every aspect of the interior reinforces a sense of security.
Much of this feeling exists on an unconscious level, generated by an unusually quiet cabin, a distinct lack of clutter, and the characteristic scent of leather. While the interior is not opulent in design, there is nothing cheap or garish about it. Attention to detail can be seen in the stitching on the leather and the tight seams between the components of the dash and console.
Front-row seats are medium-firm, supportive and highly adjustable. The driver's seat has 10-way adjustability with power lumbar support, and the steering wheel itself has power tilt and telescopic adjustments with generous range. The front cabin is spacious enough, with ample legroom and headroom for all but the tallest drivers. Between the seats is a roomy center console, which has two levels inside. The Upgrade Package converts the center console into an air-conditioned cooler box.
Chrome-accented Optitron style gauges are mounted in a deeply shaded instrument pod, flanked by a multi-information display and shift-position indicator. Subdued gray leather trim with slim silver accents and wood grain moldings are used throughout the cabin.
Second-row seating is comfortable and well appointed.
Third-row legroom and headroom is at a premium, however, so these seats are best occupied by smaller people. Access to the third row, via a tumble-forward passenger-side seat, is not easy for adults.
Most of the time, it's likely that the third-row seats will be folded sideways and stowed on their mounts to allow for cargo. It's an arrangement that looks makeshift, but works quite well in practice. The mounting setup holds the seats tightly, braced with straps so they don't vibrate, and with the seats stowed quite a bit of room becomes available. If you really need all the room back there, you can remove the rear row altogether. While the Land Cruiser is not as spacious as, say, a Suburban, it is versatile enough to accommodate 81 cubic feet of cargo.
The air conditioning system supplies four climate-control zones with 28 vents located throughout the cabin. First- and second-row passengers have individual controls, so they can stay comfortable if one side of the vehicle is exposed to the sun. The fan has seven speeds.
The JBL audio system does not produce perfect surround sound but, with 14 speakers, it fills the cabin well. The head unit is a Pioneer item, and the system is MP3 and WMA compatible. With the optional navigation system, which we had on our test unit, the audio system is controlled via the eight-inch navigation touch screen. We're familiar with the way the audio and HVAC controls work with Toyota navigation systems but, even if we weren't, the touch-screen arrangement seems reasonably intuitive. Almost every menu is accessible with one or two touches and there are no joy-stick controls that require push-and-turn sequences. Our only beef with the navigation system is that Toyota does not permit changing a route or any other input while the vehicle is being driven; you have to pull over, bring it to a stop and put the gear selector in Park. The optional nine-inch LCD rear-seat entertainment system plays DVDs and has audio/video jacks for video games.
Keyless entry, a feature we have come to like, is available with either of the two available options packages. With the Bluetooth key fob anywhere on your person, doors click open at a touch of the handle.
To drive a Land Cruiser is to feel secure and in command. Especially on long trips, the Land Cruiser is relaxing to drive.
Press the start button and the gauges light up, needles bounce once, the steering wheel and mirrors return to previously-set positions, and the V8 quietly hums to life. A gentle but insistent chime prompts seat-belt use.
Find Reverse, and the back-up camera displays on the navigation screen what's behind you. It's a welcome option, helping to make this SUV easier to park and safer for kids to play around.
In everyday driving, the Land Cruiser feels and behaves just like any other well appointed, full-size SUV. Civilized ride quality is achieved by use of coil-over spring-and-shock combinations in the front, and a four-link/coil spring setup in the rear. There is a fair amount of travel at the rear, which translates into decent ride quality for passengers closer to the rear axle.
Steering, a rack-and-pinion setup, feels light at low speeds, which aids in maneuvering and parking. Because it is a variable-ratio system, at higher speeds it feels solid and progressive, not twitchy in any sense, with a distinct return-to-center tendency. We found it tracked well at cruising speeds along the scenic two-lane highways heading into Yellowstone National Park.
The driver's seating is generous and relaxing. If you get tired of one position, as we did after a few hours, the seat and wheel adjustability allowed us to rotate through a variety of driving postures. Because of a 24.6-gallon fuel capacity, theoretical range is somewhere between 320 and 440 miles per tank.
On the highway, the Land Cruiser offers sharp handling (for an SUV) and a secure environment. More precise than bigger trucks, and immune to smaller traffic on sheer bulk alone, the Land Cruiser driver will rarely feel threatened no matter how competitive the morning commute may become.
Throttle response is quite good from the 5.7-liter V8, a 381-horsepower engine shared with the Tundra full-size pickup. This powerful engine delivers 401 pound-feet of torque, and decent fuel economy (for the vehicle's size and weight), especially on the highway, where it is rated to deliver up to 18 mpg. Toyota has incorporated the latest variable valve timing technology, cam lobe design, and intake manifold tuning to optimize the engine for power output, fuel economy and reduced emissions. Like any good truck engine, the 5.7-liter allows the Land Cruiser to loaf around at low rpm and still offer ready throttle response.
A good part of the drivability improvements are due to use of a slick six-speed automatic transmission. The transmission offers a very low first gear for heavy loads, and two overdrive gears at the top, including a super overdrive top gear that accounts for the smooth, efficient highway cruise mode. As we drove on a variety of highways and mountain roads, the transmission always seemed to be in the right gear, and without hunting back and forth. The automatic is computer controlled, constantly cross-checking with the engine to determine a shift pattern based on driving conditions. We noticed that, when decelerating down a long highway incline in sixth gear, the transmission would automatically downshift to fifth or even fourth gear to supply engine braking. It felt good and made it easier to drive.
While the Land Cruiser is a full-time 4WD truck, with a nominal torque bias of 40/60 front/rear, it drives and feels more like a rear-wheel-drive vehicle in normal conditions, with stable tracking and light, easy steering with no apparent torque steer. Should front wheels begin to slip, up to 70 percent of engine torque can be instantly biased to the rear. On the other hand, should the rear wheels begin to slip, the torque ratio changes to a maximum of 50/50, for ideal stability and balance. We did not encounter these kinds of conditions on our summer-day test drive, but our experience is that these types of drive-system transitions can be routinely handled by modern 4WD systems without most drivers taking notice.
Brakes are stout four-wheel discs, as they need to be with a vehicle of this size and weight. Pedal travel allows for a slight squish before the brakes begin to grip, at which point large calipers progressively haul down the Land Cruiser's nearly three tons with minimal effort. The ABS also works on non-paved surfaces, and the brakes are improved by Toyota's Brake Force Distribution (to equalize braking forces between front and rear wheels) and Brake Assist (which can shorten distances in panic stops).
And for those moments when push does come to shove, the Land Cruiser lives up to the capability requirements of a traditional, authentic four-wheel-drive truck.
We had the opportunity to drive the new Land Cruiser on challenging off-highway trails. These were to be found on and around the ski slopes of the Big Sky resort in Big Sky, Montana, devoid of snow in mid-summer. To safely demonstrate the capabilities of the Land Cruiser in difficult terrain, a series of long, deeply rutted uphill trails were utilized, punctuated by sections of very loose, sharp-rock glaciers and tight, man-made obstacle courses.
We were surprised at the degree of risk; some of the trails we took were difficult, some frightening. One part, a breathtakingly steep, 300-foot downhill plunge across fractured shale, allowed for a test of electronic enhancements that control speed and stability. Considering that it could be very dangerous to lock the brakes on steep, loose surfaces, this situation did elicit some doubt in our minds. After a moment of debate, we dropped over the edge and found that a new Toyota system, Crawl Control, acts like ABS on steep downhills. It keeps the vehicle from rolling too fast, allowing the driver to select from three speed settings, depending on the surface condition and steepness of the hill. No braking is needed; the driver simply steers the vehicle. With practice, we found we could select from the three Crawl Control settings on the fly, using the system to maintain a comfortable speed as steepness varied.
We have seen similar systems on Land Rovers and other authentic 4x4 SUVs, but Toyota's Crawl Control seems to have evolved beyond what other SUVs have currently incorporated. The system does make a disconcerting noise as the brakes are selectively modulated, wheel-to-wheel, but we can vouch for the fact that it holds the vehicle to safe speeds even on the steepest downhills.
Other reasons why a Land Cruiser excels in rough terrain are more fundamental. It is proportioned with a wide track and very little body overhang, so it can climb slopes up to 45 degrees, sidehill up to 43 degrees without rolling over, and drive in and out of a 30-degree ditch, head-on. There are skid plates under the engine, transfer case and fuel tank, and two stout tow hooks in the front. The spare tire is a full-size tire, not a temporary spare. Frame strength, a fundamental durability requirement, has been increased by 40 percent over the previous model.
An example of build quality can be found in the exhaust system. It's stainless steel (expensive) to resist mud and water without rusting. It is hung using two additional ball joints located just forward of the main muffler that reduce vibration in the exhaust system, so it will be a long time before the exhaust will crack, fatigue or rattle.
The suspension includes a robust stabilizer bar that enhances handling on smooth, paved surfaces. Yet, under variable wheel movement, such as driving on deeply rutted surfaces, the stabilizer bar permits enhanced suspension articulation, allowing the rear wheels to move as much as 27 inches to stay on the ground. The system is not electronic, but hydro/mechanical, and requires no power source. The significance is that the benefits of a taut suspension can be available for everyday driving, without sacrificing the need for a very flexible suspension off road.
In Low range, there is the firm throttle response of torque on demand, but the throttle is not touchy at low speeds. This is the result of electronic throttle control that accounts for the lower gearing, so accelerator tip-in is more progressive. Power gets to the ground through stout axles with large ring gears and double-row bearings. The full-time 4WD system has a generous low-range ratio of 2.618:1, and a locking center differential that can be engaged in high range or low range. Between the low gearing, the Torsen center differential, the variable-roll-stiffness suspension and large tires, the Land Cruiser's design envelope offers the ability to get to any rational destination, regardless of conditions.
The Toyota Land Cruiser is distinguished by a rare mix of effortless highway performance, everyday comfort, and authentic, industrial-strength four-wheel-drive capability.
John Stewart filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after driving the Land Cruiser in Montana.
Toyota Land Cruiser ($65,970).
Tahara, Japan; Aichi, Japan.
Options As Tested
DVD navigation system ($3,150) includes 8-inch monitor, back-up camera, Bluetooth.
Toyota Land Cruiser ($65,970).
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