When you buy a Land Cruiser, you sign into a colorful heritage that extends back 49 years to when Toyota first debuted its rugged, go-anywhere answer to the American Jeep and British Land Rover. Like those legendary 4x4s, early Land Cruisers were the trailblazers of the world's wilds, places like Borneo, the Kalahari, or any where primitive roads-or lack thereof-stopped conventional vehicles dead in their tracks. Fast forward to the eve of the new millennium, and the "Cruiser" is still going strong, although, other than the nameplate, today's version bears little resemblance to that small, boxy, utilitarian, tinbox-on-four-driven-wheels predecessor.
The 2000 Land Cruiser stands as one of the truly elite sport/utilities in a world that now expects much more from an SUV than simply taming a jungle. In addition to its proven all-weather, all-terrain capabilities, this Toyota blends in one of the most comfortable, liveable, and well-balanced packages on the road. Like its ancestor, the Land Cruiser will still tackle the gnarliest of trails, except that now at a starting price of $46,618, you'll probably want to be a little more careful about scratching the paint.
Thoroughly redesigned for '98, this fifth-generation Land Cruiser is the first Toyota vehicle to pack a V-8 engine. Its ultra-refined 4.7-liter 32-valve DOHC V-8 is shared with the Lexus LX 470 and based on the engine used in the Lexus LS 400 and GS 400. Smooth, quiet, and well-mannered, this engine delivers 230 horsepower-middle of the pack in this group-although the real strength lies in its 320 pound-feet of torque, which gives the over-5000-pound SUV a spirited launch, good hill-climbing power, and the oomph to tow up to 6000 pounds. On the test track, the Toyota hustled 0-60 mph in 9.4 seconds, better than all in this group except the Jeep Grand Cherokee (7.2), Mercedes-Benz ML430 (8.2), and GMC Yukon XL (9.1).
The V-8 routes power through a seamlessly shifting four-speed automatic transmission and full-time four-wheel-drive system with a low-range transfer case and optional locking center and rear differentials to help out in the tough stuff. We're happy to say Toyota's sophisticated four-channel ABS attempts to address some of the problems we've had off-road with other ABS designs. In low-range, this system automatically decreases ABS influence both as the road becomes rougher and as a downhill slope becomes steeper.
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.