From the July 1998 issue of Car and Driver.
With all the tribute that is heaped on the Toyota brand in this country—its near-legendary quality, the bestselling-car status of the Camry—an interesting fact has been lost. No car or truck bearing the Toyota nameplate has ever been sold in this country with a V-8 engine—the iconic powerplant that defined Detroit’s offerings for decades.
That changes this year as Toyota rolls out its new Land Cruiser sport-utility vehicle, which now comes with V-8 power. The Land Cruiser needed that engine if it was to have a fighting chance in its marketing niche among SUVs that cost more than $40,000. Its rivals—the Lincoln Navigator and the Range Rover—have had V-8s all along. The previous Land Cruiser’s 212-hp inline six was as smooth as any V-8, but even when flogged, it never accelerated the 5150-pound Land Cruiser with any enthusiasm.
The new engine was worth the wait. The aluminum heads on this iron-block engine feature double overhead cams and 32 valves, making this truck—and its twin at Lexus, the LX470—the only ones with a four-valve-per-cylinder V-8 available in North America. With 4.7 liters of displacement, it makes 230 horsepower and an even more impressive 320 pound-feet of torque. Of all sport-utility V-8s, only the Range Rover’s 4.6-liter has a better power-to-displacement ratio. In torque-to-displacement, Toyota’s truck V-8 beats all others by a significant margin.
So endowed, the new Land Cruiser’s acceleration is back in the hunt. Sixty mph is 9.4 seconds away, on par with the Range Rover 4.6HSE (9.2 seconds) and the Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited 5.2-liter (9.1 seconds). The Toyota will walk away from the four-wheel-drive Lincoln Navigator, at 10.3 seconds. The Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited, at 7.0 seconds, will maul this Toyota, but we can’t think of an SUV it won’t slaughter at a stoplight.
Acceleration, however, is hardly this engine’s strongest suit. This may be the smoothest truck V-8 we’ve ever driven. It winds to its 5200-rpm redline almost without vibration, with the same delectably crisp whine of the Lexus LS400’s V-8—the engine that spawned this truck version.
The standard Toyota four-speed automatic is as familiar as bar soap. Its shifts are so seamless that you don’t notice them unless you hear the change in engine pitch. A “power” button on the console orders more aggressive upshifts and downshifts. We’ve always thought the transmission should do this automatically in response to throttle application. There’s also a second-gear start mode for better winter and mud traction (selected by another console button), which strikes us as superfluous on a wagon with full-time fourwheel drive—the only way the Land Cruiser is equipped. These are minor quibbles about a polished driveline that otherwise makes this Toyota feel expensive.
The Land Cruiser’s no-brainer four-wheel drive does not require any action on the part of the driver. That is, if you’re not getting stuck. Additional equipment is on hand to deal with that situation. There’s a low range, selected by a lever on the center console, for careful off-road creeping. If that doesn’t do the trick, the Land Cruiser’s open center differential can be locked via (yet another) button to ensure a 50/50 front-to-rear torque distribution in slippery situations. Our Land Cruiser offered even more traction thanks to an optional lockable rear differential, controlled by one more dashboard switch. With the center and rear diffs locked, the Land Cruiser had ample traction in some muddy dirt piles we discovered in one of metro Detroit’s many new farm-eating housing developments.
You could get a locking front differential on last year’s Land Cruiser, but that’s disappeared along with that SUV’s rigid front axle. In its place are unequal-length control arms sprung by torsion bars. Toyota says that they promise not only better traction over difficult terrain, but also more precise handling on-road. The live axle in back remains, but with refinements that allow more suspension travel.
Yet the Land Cruiser is no nimble road dancer. This is a big SUV, between a Range Rover and a Chevy Tahoe in length and width. In weight, at 5320 pounds, it’s closer to the last Tahoe we tested, and after some time behind the wheel, it’s difficult to ignore its substantial mass, contrary to our earlier impressions. There’s little urgency to the Land Cruiser’s responses, from stepping off at a green light to changing direction. Cornering grip of the Michelin LTX tires is a modest 0.68 g, and it takes 208 feet to stop the Land Cruiser from 70 mph, with standard anti-lock brakes. Not bad on either count, but smaller SUVs can do better.
To the Toyota’s credit, though, there’s little of the Range Rover’s cornering tippiness, and the rack-and-pinion steering feels more connected than the recirculating-ball system in GM’s Suburban. The ride is supple, particularly at lower speeds, and there’s none of the Expedition/Navigator’s jittery ride motions on the freeway. It may not drive like a lithe 4Runner, but the Land Cruiser offers probably the best ride-and-handling combination among the big SUVs.
Chalk up some of this to the Land Cruiser’s beefy structure. Toyota says the steel ladder frame is 50-percent more rigid overall than its predecessor. With this SUV’s rubber-mounted steel body, pavement joints are a distant thup-thup-thup away from your eardrums. We detected no flex in that body, even when we sunk one wheel into a ditch. This stout-feeling sport-ute feels like it will remain so for some time.
The Land Cruiser can tow up to 6500 pounds, a 1500-pound improvement over the last model. That matches the capability of the lighter Range Rover but falls short of the four-wheel-drive Navigator’s 7700-pound towing capacity. Admittedly, there aren’t many trailers on the road weighing more than 5000 pounds. Consider this: A Land Cruiser could happily tow a Navigator all day long.
Lift the rear window and drop the tailgate, and the Land Cruiser can swallow 39 cubic feet of cargo with the middle seat up and the rear seat removed, and 97 cubic feet of cargo with the rear seats folded. That’s more than the Range Rover, at 31/58 cubic feet, but not more than the Navigator’s 39/112 cubic feet. Just 21 cubic feet can fit behind the Land Cruiser’s optional third seat, which beats the 12 available behind the Navigator’s third seat. The Toyota’s third seat is split, and it flips up like a drawbridge from the middle and can be removed.
Three seatbelts are included with that third seat, but with no footwell, it’s best suited for children. Only a sadist would stick even one adult back there. The same can’t be said of the front- and middle-row seats, which can accommodate five people quite comfortably. The passenger compartment is now 2.8 inches wider and 3.5 inches longer, most of which goes into middle-seat room, although that still trails the Range Rover’s and the Navigator’s somewhat. The middle seat split-folds forward for cargo versatility.
Toyota has managed to excise any lingering Japanese quirkiness from its interiors. The Land Cruiser’s is both functional and attractive and seems to meet Toyota’s lofty fit-and-finish standards—an accomplishment in a SUV of this size. The unadventurous outer flanks aren’t much of a stretch, but at least they incorporate the distinctive fender bulges from the previous Land Cruiser. The prominent grille is defined by big jeweled headlamps.
The Land Cruiser follows a pricing trend set by most other Toyotas this decade—meaning bargain hunters are in the wrong place. The $46,370 base price is $4762 more than last year’s model, but that includes power front seats, aluminum wheels, and a CD player, which were options previously.
At least that not-insignificant sum buys a significant amount of vehicle. The new Land Cruiser may not be the flashiest sport-ute on the market, but it offers an unequaled combination of solid refinement, driving ease, and hauling ability. If Toyota’s track record is any predictor, it should be impeccably reliable, too. Will Toyota have any problem unloading 1000 of these a month, as it hopes? We doubt it.
1998 Toyota Land Cruiser
Vehicle Type: front-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 8-passenger, 5-door wagon
Base/As Tested: $46,370/$51,639
Options: leather seats, $1820; power sunroof, $1155; third seat, $1100; security system with keyless entry, $695; rear differential lock, $410; floor mats, $89
DOHC 48-valve V-8, iron block and aluminum heads, port fuel injection
Displacement: 285 in3, 4664 cm3
Power: 230 hp @ 4800 rpm
Torque: 320 lb-ft @ 3400 rpm
Suspension, F/R: control arms/rigid axle
Brakes, F/R: 12.2-in vented disc/12.9-in vented disc
Tires: Michelin LTX
Wheelbase: 112.2 in
Length: 192.5 in
Width: 76.4 in
Height: 73.2 in
Passenger Volume, F/M/R: 60/47/36 ft3
Cargo Volume, seats up/folded: 21/91 ft3
Curb Weight: 5320 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 9.4 sec
100 mph: 39.0 sec
1/4-Mile: 17.2 sec @ 80 mph
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 9.8 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 4.8 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 6.5 sec
Top Speed (gov ltd): 109 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 208 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 0.68 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 15 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
City/Highway: 14/16 mpg
C/D TESTING EXPLAINED