Keepers of public imperatives claim sport-utility vehicles have the social acceptance of a Sicilian hit man. Or a slight case of anthrax.
It follows that these well-meaning folk obsessed with keeping us safe from ourselves will consider the 1998 Toyota Land Cruiser to be politically obscene.
It weighs almost 3 tons, which is twice as heavy as a Ford Escort. Guess who gets to call the paramedics when this rhino smacks into an 1,880-pound Geo Metro?
A Land Cruiser (sailors will recognize the category as one grade smaller than a battleship) is longer than two Michael Jordans stretched end to end, tall enough to be measured in stories, and roomy enough for eight people and their own ecosystem. Feather-footed drivers just might eke 15 miles per gallon from this four-door studio apartment–a concern even if you owned Dubai.
And for such serious, albeit bloated, automotive capabilities–plus some leather upholstery, a roof rack and running boards–expect to pay around $52,000, give or take a grand. That may leave you with just enough change for a long weekend at a Santa Barbara B&B, where your new Land Cruiser–with four-wheel-drive, sod-squashing radials, full-locking differential and a 230-horsepower V-8 ripped-off from the Lexus LS400–will find few primal lands worthy of cruising and conquering.
Still, a lack of everyday purpose while risking the wrath and voodoo chants of the green and earthy people is not the signal problem of the fifth-generation Land Cruiser.
Nor is this car in truck cladding a boob.
Forget the politics for a moment, and forgive its excesses.
This larger, quicker, heavier, sturdier Land Cruiser has an automobile’s pace and grace of handling, with roll and float dampened to a minimum. Technology factored into the stiffer chassis, a new and independent front suspension and mightier powertrain feels refined and of superior intelligence. All systems work with seemingly endless reliability, and off-road ruggedness is that of a heavyweight in class. Fit and finish is to the uncompromising, zero-tolerance levels of luxury cousin Lexus.
Here’s the problem: Toyota’s latest vehicle could be the first of the Mohicans, the single sport utility that brings an entire industry to its saturation point. For all its fine qualities, the Land Cruiser is really no more, although certainly no less, than a dozen other companions in price, equipment, abilities and looks.
Standing almost 10 inches off the turf, and more than 6 feet across the shoulders, the Land Cruiser shows a toughness implying crash-resistance that is sometimes the only reason for owning a full-size sport utility. But a Dodge Durango and the Acura SLX have much the same qualities for considerably less money.
The Cruiser has a V-8 engine with low and high gears and 320 pound feet of off-road pulling power. But so do a Chevy Tahoe and Ford Expedition.
You can tow 6,500 pounds and carry a total of 97 cubic feet of cargo with a Land Cruiser. A Land Rover Discovery will haul more, and a GMC Yukon will hold more.
There’s no doubt that, with its optional leather lining, roof rack, moon roof, third rear seat, anti-lock disc brakes, seat warmers, seven-speaker sound system, smoked glass and automatic air, the Cruiser isn’t light on heavy-duty luxuries. But then the majestic Range Rover and Mercedes-Benz ML320 have greater social acceptance at Aspen.
And we haven’t even included the Lincoln Navigator, Lexus LX470, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Explorer, Mercury Mountaineer, Isuzu Trooper, Mitsubishi Montero and Chevy Suburban in these comparisons. Nor, until now, have we noted that many V-6 sport utilities offer just about all the protection, towing power, lofty superiority and bog-thick driving talents required by the average owner. Nor that this year’s buyers are drifting toward less complicated, smaller, less-expens ve, all-wheel-drive vehicles that are hybrids of station wagons, vans and light off-roaders. Such as the Honda CRV and Subaru Outback.
In fact, the only benefit of a Land Cruiser may be to disciples who loathe making messy car-buying decisions, and prefer the cradle-to-grave conveniences of sticking with Toyota. In high school, they can add a puppy-cute RAV4 to their Beanie Baby collection; a 4Runner will suit the early career years; a Sienna and a Land Cruiser will survive those family and middle executive years. Or a Supra Turbo, which is guaranteed to satisfy any midlife crisis.
There is an awful lot to like about the new Cruiser. It is two seconds faster to 60 mph than the old truck, which was squarer, softer, even thirstier, carried one body less and was definitely uglier.
Wind noise has been reduced to heavy breathing. Length and width are increased. And there are enough storage spaces, from a half-dozen cup holders to cargo nets and an overhead cubby for sunglasses or garage remotes. It will hold more stuff than a back room at Price Club.
Larger doors ease entrances and exits. The luxury level is higher. And standard equipment includes adjustable steering wheel, power seats, door locks and windows, anti-lock brakes, automatic climate control, three power outlets, cruise control and engine immobilizer.
But what does a Land Cruiser offer that others don’t?
1998 Toyota Land Cruiser
The Good Larger, wider, roomier and much better looking, with ample V-8 power to handle all the extra weight. Traditional quality and reliability of Toyota throughout. Long list of desirables as standard equipment.
The Bad Still a very thirsty puppy. Politically, more incorrect than G. Gordon Liddy. Pricey for a full-size sport-ute that may find itself hidden among the herd.
The Ugly All that political incorrectness.
Cost Base, $45,950 (includes dual air bags; seven-speaker sound system with CD; four-speed automatic; full-time four-wheel drive; anti-lock brakes; engine disabler; heated seats; cruise control; power windows, seats and door locks; keyless entry; smoked glass; alloy wheels). As tested, $52,680 (adds leather seats, third rear seat, power moon roof, roof rack, running boards, wind deflector and trailer hitch).
Engine 4.7-liter, 32-valve, V-8, producing 230 horsepower.
Type Front-engine, five-passenger, full-size, four-wheel-drive sport-utility vehicle.
Performance 0-60 mph, as tested, 10.1 seconds, with four-speed automatic. Top speed, 114 mph. Fuel consumption, EPA, city and highway, 14 and 16 mpg.
Curb Weight 5,225 pounds.