The Toyota Land Cruiser is a specialized machine built with off-roading in mind. It’s like that one knife in your kitchen that you only bring out once a year, when the occasion demands.
The problem with this type of SUV is that you’re stuck with a specialized machine during your commute, grocery store runs and date night, and that’s what lessens the Land Cruiser’s appeal. That, and its sticker price of $77,955.
While refinements to the interior, ride comfort and noise intrusion all make the eight-seat Toyota Land Cruiser a better SUV for 2013, it still isn’t for everyone.
Even off-road enthusiasts might want to look at something more affordable. Say, a Land Rover.
What I’m glad Toyota didn’t change for 2013 is the 5.7-liter V-8 engine. It’s a tremendous power plant that sends the mammoth Land Cruiser off the line faster than an SUV of this type ought to go. On the highway, you’ll cruise and pass with authority. Add to this an extremely high riding position — level with neighboring motorists in work trucks — and the Land Cruiser definitely gives drivers a sense of command.
Unfortunately, the extreme height leads to some body lean and roll in sharp corners that erases that straight-ahead confidence. Large SUVs have been known to exhibit this trait, but I’ve tested many recent competitors of similar girth and they seemed to mitigate it a bit better.
While straight-ahead performance is a positive and taking curves is a negative, ride quality is inconsistently in the middle.
Over smooth stretches, the Land Cruiser seems to glide along nicely, like a Lexus LX 570. Road noise is muted and everything is tranquil. Hit rougher patches, though, and the suspension will begin to pitch the SUV back and forth rather severely. It’s hard to call any pitchiness “smooth,” but your neck isn’t snapping back and forth wildly as the suspension does its work. It’s just that there’s so much more of the back-and-forth motion than you’ll find in other SUVs in this class.
There’s a payoff, though: I would take the Land Cruiser and its soft-bucking style over a sport-oriented SUV like the Dodge Durango R/T I drove a day later. The Durango’s unforgiving suspension, designed for sporty handling, sent sharp jolts through the seat and my spine.
A few days later, I piloted a Chevy Tahoe — which hasn’t seen an update in nearly six years — on the same route home, and it seemed a better blend of both worlds.
The Land Cruiser bested both in terms of fuel economy. I observed nearly 16 mpg over the course of my test, which consisted mostly of congested highway commutes. The Land Cruiser is EPA-rated at 13/18 mpg city/highway. The Tahoe returned 13 mpg over a similar period; it’s rated 15/21 mpg. And the Toyota’s engine was far superior in every way.
But nobody gets a Land Cruiser for daily commuting; they get it because it can go off-road and tow a decent-sized boat.
The Land Cruiser’s suspension system automatically adapts to on- and off-road terrain with hydraulically variable stabilizer bar resistance. Toyota says it reduces body sway on the road, yet allows for maximum independent wheel travel when off the beaten path.
There’s also a lightweight transfer case with a 2.618:1 ratio low range and a limited-slip locking center differential. There’s also a selectable “Crawl” control that features five low-speed settings for tackling a variety of off-road terrain.
Ground clearance is 8.9 inches, but the competition has more: The Land Rover LR4 has up to 9.5 inches.
The standard Land Cruiser can also tow up to 8,200 pounds, which is equivalent to the Chevy Tahoe and more than the LR4’s maximum of 7,716 pounds, which requires an optional tow package to reach. The Toyota also comes standard with a trailer-sway control mode for the stability system.
Some Toyota and Lexus models cross over more than others. The Land Cruiser is based directly on the Lexus LX 570’s platform (or vice versa), and there are some similarities inside. The Land Cruiser’s exorbitant price tag still isn’t easy to swallow, though.
The Lexus LX is just $3,000 more, but it looks and feels more than $3,000 more refined to the eye and skin. Still, the Land Cruiser has a lot going for it in terms of comfort.
In the Land Cruiser, front- and second-row seats are exceptionally comfortable over long hauls, with plenty of room in every direction. The third row is tight and uncomfortable, like most third rows I encounter.
The Land Cruiser also has seating for eight, where most luxury SUVs are seven-seaters. This may be a deal-breaker for shoppers who are considering an alternative like the seven-seat Land Rover LR4.
Otherwise, I’d say the LR4 is on another level of luxury refinement inside without sacrificing much off-road capability or towing.
Another problem is the Land Cruiser’s scant cargo space for such a large vehicle. The third-row seats fold up to the side — a nifty maneuver — but the resulting cargo area is just 43 cubic feet. That’s decent, but not for a vehicle this large. The smaller Land Rover LR4 has 44.3 cubic feet behind its second row.
The Land Cruiser’s $77,955 starting price is going to trip up many interested shoppers. It’s close to $20,000 more than a top-trim Land Rover LR4 HSE Lux, though it does include a long list of standard features: high-intensity discharge headlights, a power moonroof, running boards, skid plates, four-zone climate control, a navigation system, a 14-speaker JBL sound system, USB, HD Radio, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, four exterior cameras for 360-degree Multi-terrain Monitoring, a rear entertainment system, heated and ventilated front seats, dynamic cruise control, and keyless entry and start.
Load up that Land Rover LR4 HSE Lux with similar equipment — even the equivalent of Multi-terrain Monitoring — and it’ll only cost you $64,195.
I’ve driven a new LR4 and the Land Cruiser is no Land Rover. You can compare the two yourself here.
If you’re a shopper trying to decide between the two, the only features that would sway you toward the Toyota are the extra passenger you can carry and the higher towing capacity.
The Land Cruiser has not been crash-tested by either the federal government or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
It comes standard with a full complement of safety features and airbags, which you can find listed here.
There’s a lot to like about the Land Cruiser’s capabilities and its more refined driving environment for 2013. But even for luxury shoppers, its price tag is going to be almost impossible to swallow. We expect most buyers will be Land Cruiser loyalists, as it’s hard to draw attention to a model with such a high starting price no matter how specialized it may be.