PUGET ISLAND, Wash. -- On a blacktop strip of Washington state route 409 threaded across an island in the Columbia River, Toyota's mighty Land Cruiser sport utility vehicle lurches down the road with a massive engine motivating all four of the 18-inch tires.
This hefty full-size SUV has a high-strength and super-rigid frame structure, a powerful yet efficient V8 engine tied to an electronically controlled 6-speed automatic transmission, extensive on-board safety equipment including standard ten air bags and high-tech vehicle control systems, plus a plush passenger compartment to accommodate as many as eight adults on three tiers of seats with multiple zones for climate, comfort and road-time audio-video entertainment.
And the 2014 Land Cruiser carries even more standard gear as Toyota stacks aboard all of the wagon's previously optional safety and luxury equipment. The list of new standard content ranges from a navigation system and power moonroof to a Smart Key with push-button starter, heated front and rear seats, a rear DVD entertainment kit, rearview camera and parking sensors, HD radio and Bluetooth connectivity.
As with past issues, the goal of Toyota engineers for designing and developing the Land Cruiser remains consistent: "We aim to develop the world's best sport utility vehicle," one designer confides. "We want to create the largest, heaviest, best-equipped, most technically advanced and most luxurious Land Cruiser ever, but also with the highest level of on-road and off-road performance."
With its high stance, torque-heavy engine and a 4WD traction system capable of crossing the sands of a Kalahari Desert or mud mires of an outback Borneo swamp, Land Cruiser has always been able to carry you there and get you back in safety and comfort. It's the preferred vehicle we've observed scaling red-dirt hillocks on the Serengeti of Tanzania, dodging rhinos in the bush of South Africa and tracking Bengal tigers in the Ranthambore of India.
A classy external design enables Land Cruiser to stand out in a crowd of vehicles, not only from the tall stance but a visual character that looks sturdy and muscular.
The window-wrapped greenhouse rises high, and the prow houses halogen parabolic high-beam and HID low-beam headlamps plus new LED daytime running lights.
Below the bulging hood Toyota installs the big and powerful Tundra truck engine to create a substantial boost in firepower. The 5.7-liter aluminum V8 engine features dual independent VVT-i (variable valve timing with intelligence) and teams with a heavy-duty 6-speed automatic transmission to deliver 381 hp at 5600 rpm and truck-hauling torque of 401 lb-ft at 3600 rpm.
Despite its strength, Land Cruiser's engine runs on 87-octane regular unleaded gasoline stowed in a 24.6-gallon fuel tank and shows EPA fuel economy figures up to 18 mpg for highway travel.
Every Land Cruiser stocks full-time 4WD equipment. The chain-driven transfer case has a high-range mode for speed work on pavement and a low-range mode for slow-go crawling over rough terrain. High and low modes are managed from a rotary dial located in the dashboard center stack.
A push-button switch locks the Torsen limited-slip locking center differential, which can vary the power to front and rear wheels. It normally channels 40 percent of the torque to the front wheels and 60 percent to the rear ones, although these proportions may change depending on the steering angle and slippage of the wheels.
Standard on every Land Cruiser is Toyota's Star Safety System, which includes an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and electronic brake assist (EBA), plus a vehicle stability control (VSC) device and an electronic 4-wheel traction control system labeled active traction control (A-TRAC).
Also included is Toyota's CRAWL controller, which works with the transfer case set in low range regulating engine speed and output as well as brakes to send the vehicle forward or backward at a low speed. It incorporates downhill assist control (DAC), which aids in a steep descent without driver intervention.
Land Cruiser's vast cabin feels plush and luxurious, and multiple means to control noise and vibration result in a quiet compartment that's rare for a sport-ute.
The layout shows a pair of bucket seats on the front row, a 40/20/40-split folding bench on the second row that slides fore/aft by four inches, and 50/50-split seats on the back row which fold down or fold sideways and stow on mounts.
There's a 4-zone climate system aboard with 28 air vents, chrome-accented Optitron electroluminescent gauges, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, perforated leather seat upholstery and a JBL 605-watt AM/FM/6CD/MP3/WMA audio system with SiriusXM, HD Radio, USB port and 14 speakers.
Land Cruiser for 2014 has more of everything aboard, but Toyota marks the MSRP to $78,755.