by Don Fuller
A bank vault with four-wheel drive.
In the world of sport-utility vehicles there are big and not-so, luxurious and mildly-so, capable and so-so. Then there's the Toyota Land Cruiser. The Cruiser, and its Toyota family near-twin, the Lexus LX450, has few peers when it comes to a supreme level of all-around competence, from tuxedo night at the country club to bashing through the very worst of off-road nightmares.
If you're looking for ruggedness, consider this: The Cruiser is sold in over 180 countries throughout the world, and most of those places don't have the infrastructure of, say, Dallas, Texas.
Most of what's said about the Cruiser also applies to the Lexus LX450. But there are a number of distinctions, including a substantial difference in price. For example, the LX450's suspension is tuned for a smoother ride and it has specific wheels and tires.
In addition, the LX450 includes many features as standard equipment which are optional on the Cruiser, such as seven-passenger seating. And there are some items standard on the Lexus which are simply not available on the Cruiser: the LX450 has LS400-level leather, wood-grain interior trim inserts, an exclusive 195-watt sound system, a couple of unique colors, automatic climate control, cell phone pre-wiring, the Lexus multi-function remote entry system, and an optional in-cabin six-disc CD changer.
Last, the Lexus has some specific exterior trim details, such as the grille, headlamp design, body side cladding and color-keyed bumpers.
Our tester was a Land Cruiser, but in operation and general feel the two vehicles are virtually identical.
The Land Cruiser is built on a robust ladder frame and rides on solid axles, with coil springs, front and rear. The front axle is located by two enormous arms that look fit for a locomotive. The rear axle is positioned by multi-link arrangement and there are front and rear anti-roll bars. Ground clearance is no less than 10.8 inches.
Power is supplied by an in-line six-cylinder of 4.5 liters, and it's a very rugged item, delivering 212 hp at 4600 rpm and 275 pound-feet of torque at 3200. Nearly 90 percent of its torque is available as low as 1400 rpm; it's equally capable for an Interstate highway cruise or walking-pace slogging through mud. The four-speed automatic transmission has a second-gear start feature for use on slick surfaces.
The Land Cruiser and LX450 share a drivetrain that is among the world's most capable. It's a full-time all-wheel-drive system, with low-range four-wheel drive. In addition, it offers the option of locking front, rear and center differentials for maximum four-wheel-drive traction.
Normally, the system acts as a full-time all-wheel drive, with the front and rear differentials open and the center transfer case differential acting through its viscous limited-slip unit. Shift the transfer case lever into Low range and the viscous coupling locks up, delivering equal power, front and rear. The driver can then lock the rear differential, or both the front and rear differentials together.
If there's any traction available, this rig will find it.
Brakes are massive four-wheel discs, ventilated both front and rear, and ABS is standard. Wheels are 16 x 8-inch, P275/70R-16 mud and snow tires.
Standard equipment includes dual airbags, carpeting, power windows, mirrors and locks, air conditioning, cruise control, separate rear-seat heating, intermittent wipers, intermittent rear wiper, and an AM/FM/cassette sound system with nine speakers.
Options include aluminum alloy wheels, power moonroof, third seat package, leather, a premium sound system with a CD player, and those locking differentials.
The Cruiser weighs close to 5000 pounds, depending on how it's equipped. But the engine makes tugboat-style torque, so it will handle a 5000-pound trailer and has a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 11,700 pounds.
The Cruiser's base price is $41,488, but most go for close to $50,000 because nobody takes the base version. Base price on the LX450 is $48,945.
The Inside Story
The Land Cruiser doesn't offer the interior room of the full-size American sport-utilities. And if it's equipped with the third seat, getting into it will require athletic ability. Seating comfort is really good in front, reasonably good in the middle, marginally acceptable for adults in the back. Front and center seat passengers benefit from very generous headroom. For all passengers, step-in height is on the high side, as you'd expect with all that ground clearance.
The driver is faced with a comprehensive set of instruments and controls. It's a definite Toyota family look -- a little plain, but certainly functional. There is only one cupholder in front, augmented by a console cubby that can double as a drink repository.
Access to the rear is through a liftgate and tailgate, and even with the optional third seat in place there's plenty of grocery room in back. The center seat is split and each half can be folded forward against the back of its respective front seat.
The optional third seat is split down the middle, but exploiting it to expand stowage is less than a snap. To gain cargo room you fold one seatback forward, pick up the whole unit from the center and fold it up against the side, then hold it while hooking the end of a strap (attached under the seat), over the overhead grabhandle with your free hand. Then do the other side in similar fashion.
One thing about the inside: This thing is built as tight as a drum and once inside it feels like the doors are welded shut. Like all Toyotas, it's exceptionally solid goods.
Ride & Drive
The Cruiser is a substantial vehicle but it's not a monster, and will probably feel fairly modest in size, for all its mass. Ride comfort is good; it's a great vehicle for a long highway drive, providing all-day comfort and a strong sense of security.
Performance is mild, because 212 hp can do only so much with 5000 pounds. But the engine is smooth and quiet and its overall response is more than merely acceptable. Fuel economy probably isn't a big concern if you're willing to step up to this price, which is good, because moving all this iron gives the Cruiser a full-size thirst.
Handling, within the context of size, height and weight, is sure, stable and precise, albeit ponderous. Off-road or on the slippery stuff, the Cruiser is simply awesome.
As for the differences between the Cruiser and the LX450, we prefer the Cruiser's firmer suspension tuning. If you encounter a pothole or similar one-wheel bump, the Cruiser is better at minimizing annoying side-to-side motions, and conveys a generally better sense of control and stability. But the distinctions are small, and the Lexus is more luxurious inside. Take your pick.
Unless you're a survivalist and find the militant Hummer appealing, there's no argument the Toyota Land Cruiser is one of the most capable mass-produced sport-utility vehicles on the planet. Others are bigger, more powerful, will tow a bigger load, carry more people, are more nimble, faster, and more stylish.
But if you want the all-round capable, with lots of luxury, the Land Cruiser is it. And it is built like a bank vault.
Order our 200+ page magazine of reviews. Send $8.00 (S&H included) to New Car Test Drive, 2145 Crooks Rd. Suite 200, Troy, MI 48084
© 1997 New Car Test Drive, Inc.