Toyota Land Cruiser: It's known by many different names

Friday, December 23, 2005

In China it is called "Shamowang," or "King of the Desert." In Latin America it is the "El Macho." In these parts it is simply the "Land Cruiser." because it doesn't need a road -- ordinary muddy, rocky, hilly land will do just fine.

The first Toyota to challenge the famous WW-II Willis Jeep was called the "Toyota Jeep BJ." That 1951 design was not very impressive, but two years later, after many improvements, the Japanese National Police Reserve Forces were buying hundreds. The following year it was renamed "Land Cruiser" when the Willis Company claimed their trademark had been violated.

Since then nearly 4 million Land Cruisers have been sold and exported to 127 countries. It's been around for nearly half a century, and coincidentally that's about how much one of these things cost -- around $50,000. But it is laden with expensive technology, impressive off-road hardware and desirable creature comforts. Its loyal following of hard-core enthusiasts wouldn't think of venturing far from a paved road in anything else.

But don't confuse "hard-core" with "hard-riding." Despite an old-school body-on-frame design, this is one of the most pleasant-driving SUVs you can find. If you want to be pampered during your weekly family chores, but demand go-anywhere capability on weekends, this is your vehicle.

In this price range there are several newer designs from Europe that challenge the Land Cruiser's domain. Recent arrivals such as Mercedes' M-class, BMW's X5 and Volkswagen's Touareg are proving that off-road capability doesn't necessarily mean a bone-jarring ride on the highway. Those who buy 4x4s now expect their SUVs to ride more like cars. The new Land Cruiser lets you tune your suspension to your environment with the optional adaptive suspension system with automatic load leveling and adjustable height control. Simply turn a knob on the console to select "soft" for the highway or "sport" for the back roads, or anything in between. Push a button on the height ride control and this luxurious people-mover rises several inches to give you nearly 10 inches of ground clearance.

The Land Cruiser comes only one way -- loaded, ready to haul eight-passengers and all of their stuff. Yes, it's expensive -- thousands more than the larger, better selling Toyota Sequoia -- but the Land Cruiser gives you leather seating, power-adjustable heated front seats, a JBL 300-watt audio system with in-dash CD changer, remote keyless entry, a moon roof and separate automatic climate controls for front and rear passengers. My test vehicle included a large screen for the GPS navigation system that automatically displayed the backup camera scene when I shifted into reverse. I loved this feature! The wide-angle view angled downward to include the parking lines on the pavement. It makes backing into your parking space a snap. Land Cruisers also have a power tilt/telescoping steering column, heated power mirrors, a tire-pressure-monitoring system and power rear quarter windows.

Standard seating is for eight people via two front bucket seats and second- and third-row benches that split and fold for maximum versatility. The 50/50-split third row is removable or can be stowed against the sidewalls. Cargo volume totals nearly 91 cubic feet when the center-row seat is folded down and the rear seat is removed. Cargo space behind the third row is nearly 21 cubic feet. Thankfully Toyota chose to mount a conventional tailgate at the rear. I think liftgates are fine for minivans and soft-core SUVs, but a tailgate is more appropriate for a truck like this.

Power comes from a smooth 4.7-liter V-8 that has been upgraded to produce 275-horsepower and 332-pound-feet of torque -- 40 horsepower more than in 2005. It is coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission. There are more powerful SUV engines out there, but I haven't driven one that offers more smoothness or flexibility. The power flow is very satisfying. A console-mounted lever allows you to select high or low-range gearing. Its full-time all-wheel drive features electronic skid control and center differential lock. Properly equipped, it can lug up to 6,500 pounds.

The Land Cruiser is a pleasure to drive. In "soft" mode, the suspension is good at soaking up the daily driving irritations. Noise level is muted even at interstate speeds. Sitting in the big comfortable leather seats, we were able to converse as if we were chatting in our living room. It was exciting to imagine traveling hundreds of miles cross-country in such comfort before blowing onto a rugged trail for a backwoods adventure.

My test vehicle had an MSRP of $64,011 which included the optional $3,350 navigation/backup system, the $1,620 adjustable suspension system, side curtain airbags for $650, roof rack and running boards for $565, and satellite radio for $486. It was rated for 13-mpg/city and 17-mpg/highway.

Steve Robertson of Robertson's Creative Photography is a car enthusiast and former staff writer/photographer for the Southeast Missourian. Contact him at Steve@RobertsonsPhotography.com

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