After a month of toodling around in my cheap Lexus Land Cruiser, I have to conclude that it’s the best SUV in the world. In general, I’m really impressed with how well-rounded this Lexus is — but last weekend in particular, I really put the "sport" in "sport utility vehicle" to the test.
I’ve taken a lot of heat for choosing to install a snorkel on my Lexus, as most people who install a snorkel never intend to actually use it. I sort of agree with this, as it’s a style choice more than anything else — but think about it for a second. Would it be more stupid to install a snorkel on your luxury SUV and not use it, or to dunk your luxury SUV deep enough to require a snorkel? At this point, I think everyone knows that I always take the "even more stupid" route.
>To test my newly installed snorkel, I traveled 200 miles away to my family’s lake cabin, a feat easily accomplished by my Land Cruiser, despite its 351,000 miles. Nearby is a fantastic off-road park, located on the other side of the dam that created the lake. Its terrain is mostly rocky, with a few shelf walls I was able to easily tackle — but my main goal for the day was to climb a waterfall … in my Lexus.
The last time I did this, the water level was much higher, so I was kind of bummed that mounting the waterfall wasn’t much of a challenge. Obviously, a normal Land Cruiser could handle knee-deep water — but I knew the water was much deeper over by the camera I had set up to capture my climb. I had driven around on dry land to set up the camera — but this time, I was going to drive straight at it to retrieve it. The problem is, once I started, there was no turning back.
The murky water made judging the depth and underwater obstacles very difficult, and the first drop was a doozy, putting the water level lapping against my headlights. I was also slightly high-centered — but the Lexus, even with one wheel paddling away like a riverboat, managed to free itself. With the water level halfway up the doors, water quickly began creeping into the cabin. If it were possible, I would have turned around at this point, but there was no place to turn around, and it was too steep to make the climb back.
So I had no choice but to see this mission through — and as the water began lapping at my brake pedal, I almost got stuck again. I was forced to navigate a narrow space between two boulders, as the next shelf down would have put the water level up to the windshield, and sent the Land Cruiser dangerously close to getting high-centered again. I repeatedly rammed one of the boulders as I tried to position the nose to clear the obstacle, and I scraped against another boulder as I crept by. With my forward progression, the invisible terrain became uneven, tipping my Land Cruiser dangerously towards the drivers side.
Since I couldn’t see where I was going, I chose to leave the Lexus, and survey the terrain myself. Mercifully, I discovered the water became shallower and the terrain was less steep as it made its way to shore — so my Land Cruiser and I were able to make the final leg without much drama. Back on dry land, I could finally survey the damage, and it was pretty surprising.
The rock sliders had done their job, absorbing the impacts of the underwater boulders — but I did scrape one of the decorative wheel hub covers. Despite repeated impacts, the front bumper appeared to be totally undamaged. The only real victim was my Nakamichi premium stereo system, which refused to power on. After changing the popped fuse, the radio faceplate powers up, but all I hear is a single click from under the passenger seat. I assume that’s where the radio amplifier lives, and it probably didn’t like getting dunked in lake water.
So really, I got off from this adventure pretty unscathed. Sure, there are plenty of other SUVs that could have done this — but not many that have this much off-road credibility while still managing to be a comfortable and practical daily driver. While it has similar cargo space, seating, towing capacity and luxury features as an old Escalade or Navigator, neither of those vehicles could climb a rock wall or a waterfall like this Lexus. Of Course, a Jeep Wrangler or Land Rover Defender could accomplish this with ease — but they’re not as good at being all-around comfortable daily drivers. Perhaps a Range Rover and a Mercedes G-Wagen would be more comparable — but the ridiculous maintenance costs make them very impractical as they age.
So that’s why I’ve decided that the Land Cruiser is the greatest SUV in the world. Unfortunately, my great SUV now smells like a swamp — but I’m hoping that another thorough detailing fixes that …
Tyler Hoover went broke after 10 years in the car business and now sells hamburgers to support his fleet of needy cars. He lives in Wichita, Kansas.