Of course, the majority of the Land Cruiser's life will be on pavement. And here, too, it shines. Toyota engineers have tuned the independent-front, coil-spring-rear suspension to deliver a plush, well-controlled ride, without the floatiness of the Ford Excursion. Plus, despite its large size and considerable weight, the Land Cruiser handles a snaking mountain road with the confidence-inspiring control of many smaller SUVs.
Inside, the Land Cruiser is about comfort, refinement, and the roominess to carry up to eight passengers (with optional third-row seats). Considered a "small" full-size sport/utility, the Toyota strikes a comfortable balance between the compact cabins of the Jeep and Mercedes and the imposing exterior dimensions of the Excursion or GMC Yukon XL. It feels spacious, yet won't give you fits in a tight parking lot.
Shortcomings? When those same third-row seats are being used, storage room behind them shrinks to a meager 20.8 cubic feet, so don't plan on carrying seven or eight people and luggage, too (at least, inside). Ergonomics are a mixed bag of fair to very good. And like other full-size SUVs, the Land Cruiser's size and height compromise its agility in quick-response handling situations. At the test track, its slalom results are right where you'd expect them: not as good as the smaller vehicles, but better than the larger ones.
Like its ancestor, today's Land Cruiser still draws a cult following, allowing Toyota to sell nearly every one it brings into the country. Still, if you balk at spending in the mid- to upper-$40,000 range for a Toyota, consider that this is the bargain version. For about another 10 grand, you can pick up the ultra-luxo Lexus LX 470, basically a Land Cruiser upgraded in features, luxury quotient, and exclusivity. Of course, that one doesn't come with the pedigree name badge.