Toyota now sells five different sport-utility vehicles, but Land Cruiser remains at the top of the heap when it comes to luxury and off-road capability, and not necessarily in that order. This is one of only a few truly elite off-road vehicles.
Few vehicles offer the off-road capability of the Land Cruiser, and fewer still combine this with its level of luxury. If this doesn't do it for you, then you'll have to step up to the Lexus LX 470 or the new Range Rover.
The Toyota Land Cruiser can transport up to eight passengers over the toughest terrain, but it's also a comfortable long-distance cruiser. Inside, you'll find all of the features normally associated with top-level luxury sedans, including heated leather seats, power sunroof, automatic climate control, and every power accessory under the sun.
It comes with Toyota's impressive level of quality control, ensuring excellent durability and reliability. While the price is high, the Land Cruiser maintains its value over the long haul with minimal depreciation.
Land Cruiser ($52,595)
The Land Cruiser is readily identified with its square-shaped two-box design. It's an attractive SUV, but it is starting to look a bit dated.
The Land Cruiser is big inside. The leather seats, which come standard, are firm, supportive, and nicely adjustable.
The front seats offer a commanding view of the road ahead. The fenders are easily visible, which is a benefit when picking your way along a narrow mountain trail. Getting up to that commanding view entails more of a climb than it does in a Ford Expedition or Chevrolet Tahoe. That's the price of a ground clearance of nearly 10 inches, but it's well worth it when driving off road. Large door openings assist getting in and out.
There's plenty of legroom in the second row. It doesn't match the interior room of full-size domestic sport-utilities or the Toyota Sequoia. Full-size SUVs offer more leg and knee room in the second row, but most buyers should find the Land Cruiser's second-row seats habitable by adults.
The third-row seat is quite cramped; it's mainly useful for children. You're better off without it if your family is five or fewer, or you aren't regularly in charge of carpool duties.
The interior looks contemporary with a dashboard design that closely resembles the one used in Toyota's smaller 4Runner. All controls are logically placed, well marked and easy to use.
Storage space abounds for odds and ends. Compartments include a big glove box, a cubby in the front console, and front and rear door pockets. An overhead console provides three storage boxes plus a compartment for sunglasses or a garage door opener. Separate compartments in back hold tools, a jack and a first aid kit.
Toyota's V8 engine is powerful and quiet. It delivers good performance for passing maneuvers. The Land Cruiser is capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph is less than 10 seconds, not bad for a vehicle that weighs more than 5,000 pounds.
The 4.7-liter V8 uses dual overhead-cams and four valves per cylinder to generate 230 horsepower and, even more significant, 320 foot-pounds of torque. Torque is the low-end thrust that gets you moving when the light turns green. This torque helps give the Land Cruiser a towing capacity of 6500 pounds; the full-sized domestic SUVs offer higher tow ratings, but 6500 pounds is a hefty trailer.
Ride quality is smooth and supple on the road. Interior noise is relatively low.
An independent front suspension produces predictable handling, though the steering could use more road feel. The chassis is extensively reinforced with nine crossmembers in the ladder-type frame.
Venture off the highway and the Toyota Land Cruiser can go just about anywhere. Only Land Rovers and Jeeps can compete in terms of off-road capability. Toyota designed the Land Cruiser to take a lot more punishment than most owners will ever dish out. Ground clearance is among the best in the class at nearly 10 inches; the exception is the new 2003 Range Rover with 11 inches of ground clearance. The Land Cruiser boasts lots of suspension travel and articulation to traverse rocky or stump-strewn terrain. A massive skid plate protects vulnerable elements of the suspension. Skid plates also cover the transfer case and fuel tank.
The Land Cruiser's front differential can no longer be locked, but it had now trouble clawing its way through deep sand and clambering over small boulders. When something did scrape, we continued, confident that the skid plates protected all the vulnerable mechanical elements. In spite of its improved ride quality on pavement, the current Land Cruiser offers better off-road capability than the previous-generation (pre-1998) model.
Toyota's full-time four-wheel-drive system is capable of splitting torque evenly front to rear, with the rear wheels turning in unison while the front wheels bias torque to the side with the best traction. To achieve this, simply turn the selector switch to full-lock mode and shift the two-speed transfer case into low-range four-wheel drive.
Land Cruiser's ABS senses the slope and roughness of the terrain and reduces the anti-lock influence over the brakes; this improves stopping performance off road and avoids early activation on steep slopes.
Several technologies come standard that improve the driver's ability to control the Land Cruiser in emergency maneuvers: electronic brake force distribution, active traction control, and vehicle skid control.
Electronic brake force distribution (EBD) evenly distributes the braking force to the front and rear wheels. This reduces stopping distances. A brake assist function has been developed to help drivers who may not be depressing the brake pedal hard enough in an emergency braking situation. The system can detect when you're trying to slam on the brakes to stop; it then uses full braking force even if you relax your foot on the brake pedal. The Land Cruiser comes standard with ABS, which allow the driver to maintain steering control of the vehicle in an emergency-braking situation. All that technology, along with the Land Cruiser's excellent braking performance, results in a vehicle that's prepared to handle an emergency-stopping crisis.
Toyota's active traction control (Active TRAC) improves control when a tire is spinning or slipping during acceleration. Active TRAC senses when a tire is spinning and directs that power to the other three wheels. A vehicle skid control (VSC) system orchestrates the ABS and Active TRAC sensors and electronics to help the driver maintain traction in skids caused by adverse driving conditions.
Few sport-utilities offer more off-road capability and none offer higher all-around quality than the 2002 Toyota Land Cruiser. So, while you may pay a premium price, you'll get a premium vehicle.