Toyota Land Cruiser – a modernized classic in a changing market


By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The flags at the top of the ski slope directed us straight down hill, about 2,000 feet of rock-strewn mountain side during the off-season at Big Sky resort near Bozeman, Montana.

It looked daunting, even from the front passenger seat, but with the Toyota Land Cruiser’s Downhill Assist Control locked in, the big sport utility edged down the slope at a steady, sure-footed pace. No driver intervention needed. A fellow journalist simply had to steer toward a couple of flags in the distance at the bottom of the mountain.

Once we safely arrived at our destination we were faced with more boulder-strewn, muddy, rutted pathways that would have proved difficult for most four-wheel drive sport utilities that don’t have Wrangler, Land Rover, Hummer or Mercedes GL emblems attached to the fender.

Toyota wanted to show that its all-new 2008 Land Cruiser had not lost any of its historical off-road prowess while gaining a full-range of modern amenities that would make it a grand addition to any suburban driveway. And raised its price by 10 grand.

It’s hard to find fault with any aspect of the new Land Cruiser’s on and off road credentials. We saw first hand that it had lost little if any of its famous off-road capability that has made it a vehicle of choice since the early 1950s for people navigating the Sahara Desert or an African jungle. And it’s as powerful, comfortable and quiet as anything in the luxury SUV class when driven on pavement.

It’s also large enough to swallow up three rows of seats and 82 cubic feet of cargo with the seats folded out of the way.

Sounds like SUV paradise.

Perhaps, but beware. Toyota’s flagship bruiser is not for the average family, and it shouldn’t be. It’s sold in small quantities — about 3,200 a year in North America — for those people who want the best of both worlds and who have large disposable incomes.

And that was before $5 per gallon gasoline.
First, it carries a jaw-dropping pricetag, especially for a Toyota. The ’08 Land Cruiser starts at $63,945 well equipped. About the only options available are DVD navigation and rear entertainment that can take the bottom line to around 70 grand.

If you can successfully hurdle the sticker price, then there’s mediocre gas mileage to consider. And with an EPA-rated 13 mpg city and 18 highway should send pocketbook alarm bells ringing. The EPA says combined city/highway mileage is 15. Based on 15,000 miles a year, the government agency says it would cost $4,500 a year at $4.50 a gallon on regular gas.

Bottom line — this is not the best vehicle for hauling the kids to school or shopping at the mall and supermarket. Even if you have a lot of kids the more thrifty Sequoia does a better job.

But if you need off-road capability, an 8,500-pound towing capacity and room for up to eight passengers, the Land Cruiser fits the bill. Although 10,000 pound towing can be found on lighter, more economical vehicles most can’t go where the Land Cruiser goes.

It continues to feature a body-on-frame architecture and an upright boxy no-nonsense SUV stance; albeit with rounded, more aerodynamic edges. And all Land Cruisers come with a full range of four-wheel drive functions including full-time all-wheel drive.

The new Land Cruiser gains about 265 pounds over the last generation, which has been sold since 1998, but it also gains 116 horsepower and 91 pound-feet of torque. The ’08 version comes with Toyota’s 5.7-liter V-8 pumping out 381 horsepower and 401 foot-pounds of torque mated to a new six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift feature.

The engine is capable of moving the 5,700-pound beast from a dead stop to 60 miles per hour in about 6.5 seconds. That kind of performance is bordering on Porsche Cayenne territory.

We enjoyed the massive performance under the command of a heavy right foot, and if it’s any consolation in a vehicle that will never climb out of the teens in fuel economy, the new Land Cruiser’s massive V-8 is actually as fuel efficient as the smaller 4.7-liter it replaces thanks in part to the new six-speed transmission.

The Land Cruiser bristles with the latest in off-road technology.

Even the most inexperienced driver is turned into an expert with Toyota’s electronic intervention, Crawl Control. Think of it as a cruise control for off-road adventures. 
It has three speeds, the lowest of which is about one mile an hour. When engaged, the truck’s computer will move torque around as needed to get through mud holes and over rocks using the brakes and engine to maintain a constant forward speed. The driver simply has to steer the vehicle.

The most innovative feature is something Toyota calls the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), which automatically stiffens or loosens the front and rear antiroll bars depending on the driving situation. This gives the Toyota a better ride on pavement without compromising optimum articulation off road.

We discovered how comfortable and quiet the big Toyota is on road with a 150-mile round-trip dash from Big Sky to Yellowstone Park. Our Land Cruiser companion could just as well have the big Lexus “L” embossed on the steering wheel. The dash is standard Lexus grade with such upscale items as four-zone climate control with no less — count ’em — 28 air vents, and a JBL premium surround sound audio system with 14 speakers. 
We found the seats extremely comfortable. But while spending time in the second-row seat we found leg room on the tight side despite a seat that slides 4.1-inches fore and aft because of a lack of foot space under the front seat.

Like many SUVs its size, the third-row seats are best inhabited by children. And Toyota still uses third-row seats that fold up against the sides of the cargo bay. Since these seats are not completely removable, rear cargo space is compromised.

Safety is paramount in the Land Cruiser with all the off-road aids, antilock brakes, stability control, traction control, front and second row side airbags, and full-length side-curtain airbags with rollover detection.

The Land Cruiser comes in only one very well-equipped trim level. You can get virtually every option in one $7,245 package that includes DVD navigation with a nine-inch screen, rear backup camera, Bluetooth connectivity, heated second-row seats, rear entertainment, a center-console cooler box and wood trim. Navigation can be ordered separately. That’s the way our test vehicle came for a bottom line price of $67,743.

If you want to pay the price, the Land Cruiser rivals anything on the market for luxury off-road vehicles including the vaunted products from Land Rover and Mercedes and sister division Lexus.

While we were in Big Sky, Toyota thought they could grow the market for the Land Cruiser, maybe as high as 9,000 per annum. That was before the market for big SUV’s went south while the price of fuel went north. Today they would be happy to sell their average 3,200 per model year in the U.S. And probably at a discount.


Base price, $63,935; as driven, $67,743
Engine: 5.7-liter V-8
Horsepower: 381 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 401 foot-pounds @ 3,600 rpm
Drive: four-wheel
Seating: 2/2/3
Wheelbase: 112.2 inches
Length: 194.9 inches
Curb weight: 5,690 pounds
Turning circle: 38.7 feet
Towing capacity: 8,500 pounds
Luggage capacity: 16.1 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 82 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 25.4 gallons (regular)
EPA rating" 18 highway, 13 city
0-60: 6.5 seconds (Motor Trend)
Also consider: Land Rover Ranger Rover, Mercedes GL-Class, Cadillac Escalade

The Good
• Exceptional off-road prowess
• Powerful V-8 engine
• Most features come as standard equipment

The Bad
• Limited cargo space for a vehicle this size

The Ugly
• With gas reaching $4 a gallon stay close to an ATM machine