Toyota Land Cruiser: Chops to Hack the Wilderness

By Frank A. Aukofer, November 28th, 2015

strong>Every automobile creates opportunity for adventures: It might even be a misadventure, like a flat tire on a dark and stormy road. Or, with the 2016 Toyota Land Cruiser, an adventure could happen anywhere in the world.

Manufacturer photo: The Land Cruiser is Toyota's ultimate-capability, ultimate-luxury SUV, and for 2016 Toyota is ratcheting up the meaning of that term
Manufacturer photo: The Land Cruiser is Toyota's ultimate-capability, ultimate-luxury SUV, and for 2016 Toyota is ratcheting up the meaning of that term

Usually when we think of traversing a vast savannah in Africa, the image is that of a British Land Rover with a truck-like demeanor and few creature comforts. That's the movie view.

But Toyota's Land Cruiser has been around almost as long -- following World War II -- as the storied Land Rover, and has the same orientation. Though now a luxury all-terrain vehicle, not unlike most Land Rovers, the Land Cruiser has the same chops for negotiating trackless wilderness. Moreover, because of its legendary durability and reliability, along with modern comfort and convenience, aficionados have testified many times that it is the one vehicle they would choose to take around the world.

Yet, likely because of its high price, Land Cruiser is not a machine for the mass market. U.S. sales in 2015 have been running at an annual rate of fewer than 2,400 units. But for that small number, nothing else will do.

strong>It doesn't offer any choices: the base price is $84,920. Carpeted floor mats and a cargo mat add $235, for a suggested delivered price of $85,155. That's it -- but for that price you get a fully equipped SUV that is at ease plying the boulevards of Beverly Hills or the steppes of Kazakhstan.

Manufacturer photo: The Land Cruiser is Toyota's ultimate-capability, ultimate-luxury SUV, and for 2016 Toyota is ratcheting up the meaning of that term

If you have the bucks to buy one, or can afford the payments, the Land Cruiser is analogous to owning a super car like the Bugatti Veyron, recognized as the fastest street-legal car in the world with a top speed of more than 267 mph. Likely most of its owners would never try. But they know that they could.

That's the Land Cruiser in a different realm. You might never have the inclination or wherewithal to take it around the world. But you know you could.

At first look, the Land Cruiser is as unassuming as a greeter in Walmart. The styling is handsome but not neck snapping. It is unmistakably a Toyota but to many eyes not much different than a host of other three-row SUVs and crossovers that vie for the hearts and dollars of the buying public.

As lawmakers often say about legislation, the devil is in the details, and this is where the Land Cruiser distinguishes itself. Start with heritage: It was born from a desire of the defeated Japanese to build something to rival the American Jeep, that stalwart of World War II built by Willys and Ford.

Over the years, it evolved from an open scout vehicle into a covered utility vehicle and then a station wagon, which is what it remains today -- but, of course, as a luxury cocoon with all-terrain talent and credentials.

Manufacturer photo: The Land Cruiser is Toyota's ultimate-capability, ultimate-luxury SUV, and for 2016 Toyota is ratcheting up the meaning of that term

strong>Next, consider the drivetrain: The Land Cruiser's power comes from a 381-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 engine with 401 lb.-ft. of torque, enough to clamber over drumlins and rocks, and tow loads weighing up to 8,100 pounds. Power transfers to all four wheels through an all-new eight-speed automatic transmission with a sequential manual shift mode.

Fuel economy, at a city/highway/combined EPA rating of 13/18/15 mpg, won't impress the neighbors -- or anyone else, for that matter -- but gas mileage is not what the Land Cruiser is about.

With all the seats in place, the Land Cruiser can carry up to eight people, so it could be the answer for know-nothings who shun minivans. However, there's only 16 cubic feet of space for cargo behind the third row. Get rid of the extra people, flip the third row seats up sideways, and drop the second row, and you likely could have enough room to take that water buffalo carcass back to camp. (Though, it's more likely that you would haul that sofa you're delivering to the Salvation Army).

When not engaging in hauling or towing duties, or plying Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, the Land Cruiser will deliver serene comfort and every safety and convenience amenity available in modern automobiles and SUVs, from multiple apps for navigation and entertainment to adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning.

Oh, and by the way, it drives just fine with competent handling, solid straight line tracking, and long-distance comfort. It is the complete 21st century automobile.

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