For 50 years, the Land Cruiser has been Toyota's icon, the rock-solid off-roader leading its SUV lineup. But what is Toyota going to do with it now? The Land Cruiser is seen as being behind the curve in an ever-changing market and continues to face strong competition within its own company: It's smaller and older than the Sequoia, yet more expensive. This has been a problem ever since the Sequoia went on sale in fall 2000, and it's only going to get worse when the all-new larger Sequoia is introduced late next year. But Toyota can't discontinue its classic SUV, even if it only sold 3700 of them in 2006. Toyota's response all along has been that the Land Cruiser is a different beast, one that focuses more on capability and understated luxury. And for 2008, the new Land Cruiser adds refinement, comfort, and enough horsepower to make it the most powerful sport/utility in the lineup-at least until the new Sequoia comes out, anyway.

Unlike Land Cruisers of the past, the 2008 isn't an FJ-a designation based on the engine used in the vehicle. Since the new model now features the Tundra's 3UR-FE 5.7-liter V-8, the 2008 Land Cruiser is labeled URJ200. With that engine upgrade comes 110 more horsepower (now 381), 91 pound-feet more torque (401), and a huge towing capacity improvement. The stronger engine is supported with a new six-speed automatic that gets a rather heavy sport/utility up to speed quickly, making the Land Cruiser feel like a lighter vehicle, even though it weighs nearly 300 pounds more than the outgoing model. We haven't taken the Land Cruiser to the track yet, but you can expect this full-size will hustle to 60 mph much faster than the previous-generation (a sluggish 9.4 seconds).

Although the physical size of the vehicle didn't change much, the frame is now fully boxed, with two of the rear hydroformed cross-members now thicker and stronger. Additionally, the frame rail cross-sections are larger. The result: Torsional rigidity increased by 40 percent. The overall body length is 2.4 inches longer, which means there's slightly more front and rear overhang. (We don't expect this to be a deal-breaker for any Land Cruiser buyers.) Towing capacity increased by 2000 pounds to 8500, due in large part to the strengthened frame and bigger engine. GCWR is now 15,775 pounds. To its credit, Toyota includes a prewired connector for a brake controller, just like the Tundra's.

The 2007's torsion-bar front suspension has been replaced by a double-A-arm coilover setup for improved control and wheel travel. The rear suspension layout is essentially the same, but now uses a version of the Tundra's rear axle to handle heavier loads and torque outputs. These improvements, combined with larger body mounts, result in a noticeably more comfortable ride and better handling; however, on the highway, the suspension delivers an odd mix of feedbacks. For example, on our drive route, we found the Land Cruiser offers a soft, compliant ride, yet also makes the driver aware of various road irregularities and expansion joints. At the heart of the Land Cruiser suspension is the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension, a system new to this vehicle but already seen on the 4Runner/GX 470. In a nutshell, the active stabilizer bars react to hydraulic pressure changes, adjusting softness and stiffness when needed, creating better handling at higher speeds and improved articulation off-road at lower speeds.

Inside the vehicle, traditionalists may not like what they see. Not only does the Land Cruiser use a pushbutton start, but the floor-mounted 4WD lever has been replaced with a dash-mounted knob located just below the ignition's start/stop button. The new full-time system uses a Torsen limited-slip in the center differential, which under normal conditions sends 41 percent of power to the front and can be "shifted" on the fly up to 62 mph, but the separate Lock button can only be engaged when stopped and in neutral. Also of note, the Land Cruiser has hill-start assist and downhill assist control, both of which are welcome additions when you find yourself in a difficult off-road situation. However, the most impressive feature of the four-wheel-drive system is what Toyota calls Crawl Control, a feature that allows the driver to focus on steering while computers control throttle and brake inputs (see sidebar). It might not be as impressive as the Lexus LS self-parking feature, but this is a close second.