We'll be kicking it old school today. So old school, in fact, that this Toyota Land Cruiser I just drove is a 2010 model year SUV-emoth. What? Is that going to be a problem?

The 200 Series hasn't changed much since its debut as 2008 model. Senor Land Cruiser is one of the biggest, baddest vehicles in the Toyota lineup. It was last seen stampeding its way through our 2008 Sport/Utility of the Year roundup, where its off-road chops and surprising straight-line speed (0-60 mph in 6.5 seconds) left a fine impression on the editors, although it didn't have quite enough overall to take home the golden calipers.

When this Salsa Red Land Cruiser showed up for a brief visit, I just had to have it. This was my first Land Cruiser drive, so I wanted to do more than push it up and down the freeways. There was still snow on the ground in southern California's mountain regions, so I loaded up the snowboard gear for a day's romp in the waning white stuff. The drive wasn't short -- the entire roundtrip took close to 300 miles and called for about 18.5 gallons of 87-octane gas. I averaged roughly 16 mpg through a combination of freeway and mountain driving with some wasteful idling periods thrown in, which is in line with the EPA fuel economy estimates of 13 city/18 highway mpg.

The drive up and down the mountain was terrible, but that wasn't the Land Cruiser's fault. Horrific visibility kept drivers honest and slow, and the road was slick, especially during the early 30-degree Fahrenheit morning commute. Despite of the low speeds, one bend loosened the SUV's Bridgestone Dueler tires from their original path of travel. Yet it only took a brief moment for the vehicle stability control system to intervene, beeping at me in a chastising manner as it corrected the trajectory. I had only begun to realize the entire vehicle was starting to rotate a little too much when the safety systems had already stepped in. Potential crisis averted.

At my snowy destination, it didn't take long to realize the Land Cruiser's rugged heritage and character didn't extend to the interior. It's a rich array of luxury and opulence, with very nice, soft leather swathing the cabin. Woodgrain-style trim pieces offer just the right shade of brown, while soft carpeting and plush floormats line the footwells and cargo area. Personally, my favorite touch was the hand-operated parking brake, an honest-to-goodness reminder of a bygone era when levers were the norm. There's something romantic about being able to pull a parking brake in a big sport/utility.

The third-row seats in this eight-passenger hauler lift up to the sides and easily lock into place to open up the cargo hold, and redeploying the seats is just as simple. With the third row stowed, there's room for three adult-size snowboards and more, though I'd suggest bringing a tarp or sheet to avoid dirtying the mats.

The same apprehensions about keeping the interior clean resurface from the driver and passenger seats. The light-colored floormats and carpeting will easily show dirt, and it almost feels wrong to drag nature into the cabin of this $70,000 SUV. Could this really be a Land Cruiser?

To get some extra perspective, I called upon the evaluation services of executive editor/authentic Land Cruiser owner Edward Loh. His Land Cruiser is a little (okay, a lot) older, and possibly a little wiser, but Edward's views probably echo the sentiments of fellow aficionados who are disenchanted with the 200 Series.

"The thing looks soft, with rounded edges and curves too reminiscent of the Highlander," he said. "It needs to be more chunky and trucky; more Tonka, less Lexus (leave the smooth lines for that one). Get back some of that FJ55 pig-ugly in the mix."

After all, the Land Cruiser undeniably relies on its name as much as its features list and spec sheet for sales. It has split into three distinct lineages in its history, but the U.S. only receives the 200 Series descended from the primordial BJ Series some 60 years ago. And in its past as a simplistic off-roader, it has mostly been sharp and jutted. Now, how did it drive, Edward?

"Smoothes out the road as good as a massively capable, body-on-frame truck can," continues Loh. "You feel some juddering comeback through the seat and wheels, but that tells me more that the body is rigid and unyielding, and that this one can be bashed pretty hard. It corners fairly flat for such a high rider and the powertrain response is good, but not great."

The body-on-frame is a solid building point for any good off-roader, and the Land Cruiser's suspension and steering has been properly tuned straight from the factory. The double A-arm suspension does a swell job holding up the front. Steering feel is direct, linear, and, most importantly, natural at low and high speeds. Riding at the back is a multilink live axle assisted by a Panhard rod. The fore and aft anti-roll bars are managed by Toyota's Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which automatically adapts to the driving surface. Planning on crawling over some boulders? KDSS will, in essence, loosen up the bars to allow for greater wheel articulation. In more sedate driving, the bars will be left untouched to reduce body roll. Overall, there's no question that this is one level ride.

The day after snowboarding, I took the big Toyota to a setting where it'd probably feel more at home: southern Orange County. In suburbia/well-kept beachside heaven, the Land Cruiser coasted and glided over what few road imperfections existed. Calling upon the 5.7-liter V-8 brings forth 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque, which is more than capable for expeditions to Whole Foods and picking up the trendiest living room set from Z Gallerie.

Full-time four-wheel drive and devoted off-roading features like Crawl Control, a lockable center differential, and an ECT switch for the six-speed automatic transmission presumably make the Land Cruiser a formidable opponent off the beaten path. But, like Mr. Loh, I was unable to sample the finer points of a vehicle that would ideally be defined by name alone.

"The last time I drove this model it was at SUOTY in 2008?" Loh rhetorically asks. "That was a lot of fun because I let the thing creep up a hill real slow using ascent control and then promptly got it in a dangerous sideways condition. No such excitement this time around because I wasn't able to play with any of the cool toys. All I did was drive home..."

In its current package, we're looking at a dedicated full-size luxury SUV that will no doubt see more street than trail time. It certainly pushes all the right buttons and has all the latest in fancy doodads from the driver's seat. But it's simply not the Land Cruiser we'll remember 60 years from now.


2010 Toyota Land Cruiser
BASE PRICE $66,780
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, 4WD, 8-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 5.7L/381-hp/401-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 5700 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 112.2 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 194.9 x 77.6 x 74.0 in
0-60 MPH 6.5 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 13/18 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 259/187 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)
CO2 EMISSIONS 1.31 lb/mile (est)
ON SALE IN U.S. Currently
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