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Video review: 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser

by Drew Johnson

The Land Cruiser is still one of the best in the biz.

My watch can survive an ocean dive to 500 meters. I have a pen that can write in outer space. My running shoes were designed for four-minute miles. I'll never actually use those capabilities, but it's nice to know I could.

And that same sentiment can be applied to the 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser. The vast majority of Land Cruiser owners will never come close to exploiting their SUV's full abilities -- they'll never scale a mountain, cross a desert or ford a river. But it's comforting to know your vehicle is that capable during the first snowy commute of the season.

Curious to learn what it's like to have that kind of confidence in a vehicle's abilities, we ordered up a new Land Cruiser for a week-long evaluation.

What is it?

The 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser is a near-luxury full-size SUV. And when we say SUV, we mean in the classic sense of the term.

The Land Cruiser utilizes rugged body-on-frame construction and a solid axle at the back rather than an independent setup. You can only get the Land Cruiser with full-time four-wheel drive and it uses a big, naturally aspirated V8 for motivation. It also has true off-road hardware -- think locking differentials -- and the software to make the most of it.

What's it up against?

When it comes to the Land Cruiser, that's a tricky question.

Both in terms of price and capabilities, the Land Rover Range Rover is arguable the Land Cruiser's closest rival. However, the two aren't exactly on equal footing when it comes to brand image -- Land Rover is a purveyor of luxury vehicles and Toyota will sell you a Yaris for $15,450.

The Nissan Armada comes close to the Land Cruiser in terms of brand and capabilities, but it's nowhere close in price. For the base price of a Land Cruiser you could have a Nissan Armada and a Titan pickup truck.

So while there are various ways to draw parallel lines to other vehicles, the Land Cruiser really is in a class of its own.

What does it look like?

The Land Cruiser's general appearance has remained largely unchanged since it was redesigned in 2008, but Toyota has at least attempted to keep the SUV looking fresh with a couple of updates over the years. The most recent update came in 2016 and included a new grille, hood, headlights, lower front bumper and taillights.

The Land Cruiser isn't what you'd call pretty, but it is purposeful. Every styling cue on the Land Cruiser is chunky and solid, reflecting the SUV's durability and go-anywhere capabilities. A Land Cruiser dressed up in a car-like body just wouldn't work (here's looking at you, Lexus LX570).

And the inside?

The current Land Cruiser is entering its 11th model year, and that advanced age is starting to appear in its interior.

Like most modern vehicles, the Land Cruiser has a big touchscreen infotainment system in the middle of its dash, but resolution isn't the greatest and its lacking Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. Likewise, the Land Cruiser has a digital display in its gauge cluster, but it's not all encompassing like you'd find in a Range Rover. And when was the last time you saw an actual handbrake in a flagship vehicle?

But the overall design of the Land Cruiser's interior is contemporary enough, incorporating the same blocky motif as the outside, along with all the requisite knobs and buttons to operate all of the latest electronic.

Materials are what you'd expect from a Toyota, but not an $85,000 vehicle. The interior of the Land Cruiser still feels nice, but more like $45,000 SUV nice. But you have to keep in mind that the Land Cruiser was built for maximum durability, and that means using longer-wearing plastic in places where other luxury SUVs might use leather or suede.

There's no compromising when it comes to the Land Cruiser's seats, however. All seating surfaces are covered in supple leather, and the first two rows of the Cruiser offer all-day comfort. There's also plenty of head and leg room in either of the first two rows.

The third-row is a bit of a different story. Unlike most modern utility vehicles, the Land Cruiser's rear seats fold up toward the sides of the vehicle rather than into the floor. That means there's no cutout for your feet, so third-row passengers must endure a face full of their own knees. There's also not much headroom to speak of. On the plus side, the Land Cruiser's third row does provide three additional seats, so it's well prepared for impromptu carpool duties.

The Land Cruiser doesn't offer class-leading cargo capacity, but there's plenty of room for a family trip to the lake with the third row stowed. Cargo room is cramped with the third row in place, but that's not an issue unique to the Land Cruiser.

But does it go?

The Land Cruiser may look as athletic as an elephant, but it really can giddy-up and go. That surprising oomph comes courtesy of a 5.7L V8 that delivers 381 horsepower and 401 lb-ft of torque. Power comes on strong and steady throughout the rev band, so the Land Cruiser is just as comfortable passing on the highway as it is scooting away from a stop light.

Unfortunately all that power does come at a price. Even with an eight-speed automatic transmission, the Land Cruiser can only muster 15mpg in mixed driving. That's about what we averaged after a week of driving.

Despite being designed for off-road excursions, the Land Cruiser is incredibly well suited for driving on-road. You do get a hint of body jiggle from its separate frame, but overall the Land Cruiser's ride is luxury car comfortable. It may sound like hyperbole, but you really can run over a pothole in the Land Cruiser and not even feel it.

Handling is also sharp for an off-road vehicle. Body roll is very well controlled, and the Land Cruiser's steering is direct with good weight. The Land Cruiser doesn't encourage you to hustle it, but its handling instills a good deal of confidence.

And that good handling is partially down to size. There's no doubt that the Land Cruiser is a full-size SUV, but it's not as large as you might imagine. The Land Cruiser is only about 2-inches longer and 2-inches wider than the Toyota Highlander.

Those relatively compact dimensions make the Land Cruiser easy to park. It also helps that the Land Cruiser comes with parking sensors, a 360 degree camera and a blind spot monitoring system with cross path detection.

And while we're on the topic of driving aides, the Land Cruiser also comes standard with adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning. However, those systems aren't on the cutting edge as there's no stop-and-go feature and the Land Cruiser won't guide you back into your lane should you wander out.

The Land Cruiser also has plenty of electronic gadgets for off-road driving. There's hill descent control, a turn assist feature and Toyota's Crawl Control. That last bit is the Land Cruiser's party piece -- Crawl Control uses all of the vehicle's various systems (ie traction control, ABS, etc.) to ensure forward motion at all times. And if you're a fan of doing things yourself, there are different levels of Crawl Control, or you can turn the system off altogether.

Leftlane's bottom line

The Toyota Land Cruiser is truly a special vehicle, with capabilities far beyond the reach of the average commuter. And that, along with legendary reliability, is what makes the Land Cruiser such a desirable vehicle (at least for about 3,000 people per year).

Of course the Land Cruiser isn't without fault. It swills gas at a rate that would make most supercars blush, and it also costs the same as a three-bedroom house in rural Indiana. But as long as you have deep enough pockets, the Toyota Land Cruiser is a jack-of-all-trades that's more than worthy of a spot in your garage.

2018 Toyota Land Cruiser base price, $83,665. As tested, $85,185.

Floor mats, $225; Destination, $1,295.

Pictures by Drew Johnson.

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