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2008 Toyota Land Cruiser

Torturing Toyota's flagship

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating

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2008 Toyota Land Cruiser

Impressive and puzzling.

Photo © Aaron Gold

The Land Cruiser has been part of the Toyota lineup since the early 1950s, evolving from Jeep beater to family truckster and finally to luxury SUV. 2008 sees the newest version of the Land Cruiser, with a bigger engine and more fancy off-road hardware than ever before. The 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser can cross deserts and navigate jungles -- but does it deserve a place in your driveway? Read on. The 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser comes with a 3 year/36,000 mile warranty with 5 year/60,000 mile powertrain protection, EPA fuel economy estimates of 13 mpg city/18 mpg highway, and a price range of $63,885 to $71,130.

First Glance

Larger exterior photos: Front Rear

Back in 1965, the Land Cruiser was Toyota's best-selling vehicle in the US. By 2006, the Land Cruiser was Toyota's slowest seller -- 3,376 units, or one for every 132.8 Camrys sold. Part of the problem is the Land Cruiser's position as a luxury SUV -- a position that has been steadily eroded ever since Lexus, Toyota's luxury division, got into the SUV business. In fact, Lexus will soon launch their own version of the Land Cruiser, the LX570. Despite that, Toyota hopes the sales of the 2008 Land Cruiser will more than double the 2006 figure.

To introduce us to the new Land Cruiser, Toyota brought my fellow journalists and I out to Big Sky, Montana, where they'd set up a mountainside off-road course as varied and rigorous as any I've ever seen. I drove the Land Cruiser into (and out of) trenches, sideways across steep hills, and down precipitous slopes covered in loose rocks. The Land Cruiser never got stuck, never hesitated, never even hiccupped (Which is more than I can say for myself). I came away convinced that when it comes to off-roading, the Land Cruiser can do darn near anything. I also came away convinced that if I spent $64,000 on a new SUV, there's no way I'd subject it to the sort of torture I put the Land Cruiser through. Check out this photo of the damage to the bumper covers. Is this any way to treat a brand-new high-buck SUV?

In the Driver's Seat

This is a top-of-the-line Toyota.

Photo © Aaron Gold

Larger interior photo

Inside, the Land Cruiser is trimmed out in such a way as to remind the occupant that while this is the top-of-the-line Toyota, it's still just a Toyota. The Cruiser's leather, wood and silver trim are all top-notch, just a bit plain in their arrangement. Standard equipment includes power-adjustable and heated front seats, four-zone climate control, keyless entry and ignition, and a 605-watt JBL audio system. Also standard are ten airbags: Driver and passenger front airbags, driver and passenger knee airbags, seat-mounted side airbags for first and second rows and side curtain airbags that protect all three rows.

So let's talk about those rows. Up front, the seats are comfy as can be. The second row is fairly roomy, though headroom is a bit shy and if you're stuck behind someone tall -- as I was for one section of our on-road drive -- you'll find leg and foot room in short supply. The cramped third row seat sits right on the floor and best left to small children.

Said third row seats fold sideways against the side of the Land Cruiser. They take up a lot of room, but still leave decent cargo space. With the seats in place, however, cargo room is a pitiful 16.1 cubic feet. And what's with the ridiculous split tailgate? The lower half is hinged at the bottom, which means you've got to reach over it to load up your cargo. Short folks like me have to be extra careful not to brush up against the edge of the tailgate, or else you'll wind up with a line of dirt on your clothing (At least that'll make it easy to spot fellow Land Cruiser owners).

On the Road

2008 sees the biggest engine ever installed in a Land Cruiser, the 5.7 liter V8 from the Tundra pickup. Its output of 381 hp is an increase of 116 hp over last year's Land Cruiser. A 6-speed automatic and four-wheel-drive come standard, and EPA fuel economy estimates are 13 MPG city, 18 MPG highway -- not pretty, but an increase over last year's Land Cruiser (12/15 as measured using the new 2008 formula). Towing capacity also increase by one ton to 8,500 lbs.

The Land Cruiser has a couple of innovative features that improve its off-road skill. The first is Crawl Control, a sort of off-road version of cruise control. Turn it on, select one of three speeds (ranging from just under 1 mph to just over 3 mph), and Crawl Control automatically works the power and brakes at each individual wheel to maintain that set speed over whatever obstacle you point it at. It's similar to Land Rover's Hill Descent Control, except it works uphill or on flat terrain as well. It works pretty well, though at the lowest speed setting the Land Cruiser rocked back and forth like a hobby-horse, leading me to wonder if the constant fore-and-aft weight transfer might get me into bigger trouble.

The second is the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which automatically disconnects the front stabilizer bar from the axle to give greater axle articulation (up-and-down travel) for better off-road traction. KDSS allows the engineers to use thicker stabilizer bars, and as a result the Land Cruiser was far more agile than I expected on-road, especially considering its nearly three-ton curb weight.

Journey's End

Land Cruiser's split tailgate creates a long liftover.

Photo © Aaron Gold

The Land Cruiser left me both impressed and puzzled. It's an amazing beast off-road -- but taking the Land Cruiser onto the rocks is like diving to 100 meters with your $12,000 Rolex. Yeah, it'll work -- but so will a $40 Timex, and I'd worry a lot less about scratching the cheap one on the rocks.

So why buy the Land Cruiser? It's not the roomiest Toyota SUV; that title goes to the new Sequoia, which also offers the same 5.7 liter engine and more space. Want to go off-road? Toyota's FJ Cruiser lacks the fancy off-road electronics but off-roads nearly as well and costs less. And if I just wanted to haul a family of five in comfort, I'd go for a top-of-the-line Toyota Highlander or a Lexus RX350, and save myself a bundle of money in fuel bills. And many more choices await those who venture out of the Toyota dealership: The Land Rover LR3 costs less and does just as well (if not better) off-road, while the upcoming Lexus LX570 is basically a more luxurious (and undoubtedly more expensive) Land Cruiser.

Bottom line: The 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser is an impressive vehicle. It drives nicely on-road and will go just about anywhere off-road. But if I was going to spend this much money on an SUV, I'd want something more luxurious. And if I wanted to go off-road, I'd take something cheaper. As good as the Land Cruiser is, it's just not the SUV I'd buy.

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