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Toyota Land Cruiser Wrap-Up

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on September 1, 1999 Comment (0)
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Back in our February Four Wheeler of the Year test, we had the new V-8 Land Cruiser sized up as an extremely versatile, all-purpose, large SUV with exceptional all-terrain capability. What we’ve learned in the interim allows us to add the terms well built and extremely reliable to that mix.

We’ve gushed over the ’Cruiser’s off-highway aplomb enough already. We’ve detailed the remarkable ramp travel index number of 539, the high ground clearance (9.5 inches), and the high air intake and extended axle vent hoses that add up to good waterproofing. We assume everyone by now knows what a difference the addition of a real, honest-to-God locking differential makes in the rear axle. We’re prepared to sum it up by saying we will follow you wherever you choose to go in your SUV as long as we drive the ’Cruiser. When you get stuck, we’ll be there to pull you out. It’s the real deal in a world of 4x4s styled to look rugged.

The characteristics of this ’98 land shark’s full-time 4WD system illustrate the integrated luxury/utility format. Full-time 4WD is more convenient than part-time 4WD, because there are no hubs to turn, and it’s never necessary to make a decision to move into 4WD. Full-time systems earn their keep in certain situations. Driving up to a mountain cabin in the spring when there may be patches of black ice on the road is one example. Or when sand or gravel is on a corner. Or when rain turns to sleet. Or on frozen bridges. These are all times when Land Cruiser drivers have the luxury of ignoring mixed-Mu surfaces.

However, in situations when it is best for both axles to receive equal amounts of torque—deep snow, for example, or on loose sand—the center differential can be locked, supplying the tractive advantages of part-time 4WD. This provides the 50-50 mix of torque front to rear that maximizes control on a consistently slippery surface. A plowed road frozen overnight with a light dusting of snow blowing is a place that calls for locking the center diff. Increasing traction still more is the locking rear differential. In combination with low range, the rear locker will enable the ’Cruiser to crawl out of that which would render most SUVs stationary. This can be the snow bank, the ditch, or the algae-covered boat ramp. Whatever—the gearing and traction are there as tools that maximize utility. So we have an advanced 4WD system that delivers the advantages of part-time and full-time in one package. The only setting the ’Cruiser’s system does not offer is 2WD, a mileage enhancement we’re beginning to see on some of the most advanced 4x4s.

As it stands, mileage is not all that bad for a V-8–powered vehicle weighing nearly 3 tons. And it appears to be getting better. We consistently exceeded the 13/16 EPA estimates, frequently logging tankfuls over 16 mpg in heavy traffic. For one stretch in August, with the air conditioning running constantly, we used the ’Cruiser to commute in Los Angeles traffic, where highway driving is stop and go. We averaged 15.8 mpg over 10 tankfuls of gas. Our best mileage came on a January 15 trip from Los Angeles to the southern desert town of El Centro, when we achieved 17.3 mpg on the lonely two-lane highway drive. The gas tank actually holds 25.4 gallons, but the low-fuel warning comes on so early no tester ever had the nerve to drain the tank down much beyond 22 gallons. On one occasion, a tester covered 356 miles, burning 22.6 gallons, on a highway cruise across the country. That was the max, leaving us to understand the ’Cruiser to be the kind of 4x4 that will not let its driver run out of gas.

Our gas/maintenance logs are revealing also in what is not on them. Since we last reported (See FW, June ’99), maintenance has been limited to an oil change. Now at the 28,000-mile mark, give or take a few, it’s overdue for another. But we’ve had no warranty issues at all—zero—which is unusual. Other than the bit of side cladding we scuffed following the judges about at Top Truck Challenge, we’ve had nothing to fix either. We have no interior squeaks or rattles despite our off-highway use. Realistically, the brakes—always the first component to wear on a vehicle this heavy—are probably going to need to be turned before the next 28,000, especially if we keep getting dust on them, plus the sand and grit from stream crossings. And tires and batteries will inevitably follow. But we have every indication the Land Cruiser exemplifies Toyota’s highest build- quality standards.

We have grown to appreciate the private, sheltered interior our Land Cruiser provides. Slam the door and enter a protected environment, isolated from the noise and haste of the outside world. Take for granted that you are immune to extreme climate. The reason is not any one thing—it is everything. Tinted privacy glass in the rear three-quarter windows suits our southwestern deserts, where the sun blasts down painfully upon unprotected skin. Inside, it is cool and quiet even when the outside temp indicator gets into triple digits. Air conditioning is powerful enough to cool the entire interior, although cooling does take up to half an hour in a heat-soaked situation such as when it’s left out in the summer sun all day. We should note that our test Land Cruiser’s cooling system has never puked in punishing heat. We have seen outside temperatures of 121 degrees, recorded in Bullhead City, Arizona, while comfortably returning home from a weekend on the Colorado River. You can tow a trailer through this kind of hell, quietly listening to CDs, without ever really noticing the heat.

In the winter, the Land Cruiser supplies warmth in the form of heated seats—two settings: high and low—that warm up within a few city blocks. The heater with front and rear controls takes a minute longer to achieve cabin-filling warmth on a really cold day. But the driver’s heat duct vents directly on the feet, where we like it. Defrost/defog functions work as they should across the entire windshield, not just sections of it. And the sure-footed full-time 4WD system negates slick sections of pavement. These features appear in other SUVs, even those that cost less. But rarely do we see them so seamlessly integrated. It’s all one perfectly molded package, a blend of comfort, safety, and no-kidding gut-check truck performance. Luxury SUVs with legitimate backcountry prowess are rare enough. Heavy tow vehicles precise enough to make good rush-hour commuters are equally rare. The build quality is what it should be. These are the factors that make the Land Cruiser, $55,000 as tested, worth the money for those who can shop this price range. Since the value equation tips in the owner’s favor as miles accumulate, the Land Cruiser is one of those SUVs you buy rather than lease. A smart guy would buy someone else’s 2-year lease vehicle—and keep it for 10 years.

It should be understood there are some things the Land Cruiser is not. It’s not as big as a Suburban, nor will it tow as much. Yet it is far more precise. It is not as wide as a Hummer, but it can seat more—and costs less. It is not as light or quick as a Grand Cherokee around town, but it can melt away highway miles with the best of them. A Land Cruiser is not an economy car, but then again, it’s not a criminal waste of potential driven without a full load, as some of the biggest 4x4s can be. It is the quintessential Magic Bus, a wand to wave against any automotive need.

In 28,398 miles, ours never let us down.

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