BIG SKY, Mont., – Toyota brought us here to debut its 2008 Land Cruiser. It seemed like they wanted to position it as the ultimate rock crawler and in many ways it certainly fits that bill.
But in a way, Toyota also brought us here to defend why the full size Land Cruiser is still on sale in this country. Toyota's full-size Sequoia has annual sales of about 30,000 while the Land Cruiser sells about 3,500 vehicles a year.
However, the Land Cruiser symbolizes Toyota more than any other model in its lineup. It was first introduced in Japan in 1951 as military vehicle. Several years later, the Toyopet and the Land Cruiser were the first vehicles that Toyota sold in the U.S. That was in 1958.
On a global basis, the Toyota Land Cruiser ranks up there with Land Rover as a truly go anywhere anytime vehicle. In fact, there are five different configurations of the Land Cruiser that are sold internationally and they account for 130,000 sales per year in 130 countries.
Still, only one model is sold in the U.S. and compared to its competitors the Land Cruiser doesn't amount to a ripple on the pond of full-size sport utility sales here. So why is it still here? The Land Cruiser played a leading role in establishing Toyota across the world and in the U.S. market. And it is still a global icon for the Toyota brand. It's about heritage. Say Land Cruiser and just about anybody knows that you're talking about Toyota.
It may be coincidental but the new 2008 Land Cruisers marks the 50th anniversary of the big SUV's introduction to this market. And to celebrate the event, the newest iteration of the Land Cruiser has been improved in three areas.
Its fabled rock crawling characteristics have been enhanced. The most significant of the Land Cruiser's improved off road prowess is its automatic crawl capability. Just like hill descent, engage automatic crawl and the land cruiser will traverse the toughest rock infested terrain without any input from the driver. Just steer.
The powerplant has been beefed up. The 2008 Land Cruiser is equipped with a 5.7-liter V8 that makes 381 horsepower and 401 pounds-feet of torque mated to six-speed transmission. On a run to Yellowstone National Park, we found the engine more than sufficient to move the Land Cruiser, which weighed 5,690 lbs, effortless in the 80 mph range.
What's more when we needed to pass, there was plenty of pep left to get the job done. And the vehicle's towing capacity had been increased to 8,500 lbs. And this performance can also be had using regular gasoline.
On that same run to Yellowstone, we found the Land Cruiser's on road manners greatly improved. There was little road or wind noise and the vehicle's ride was sedan-like. Handling was pretty responsive. Still, the Land Cruiser was a big, three rowed sport utility and we drove it with respect. It was not the sort of vehicle that you whip around corners, do fast lane changes in or stop on a dime. In fact, we found the brake pedal a bit cushy. That was about our only complaint.
With a $63,885 base price, it goes without saying that the Land Cruiser was chock full of off road capability and on road creature comforts. But what really caught our eye was this: it takes Toyota twice as long to develop a new Land Cruiser than it does a passenger car. That's probably why of the 320,000 Land Cruisers sold in the U.S. during the last 50 years almost half of them, 156,000 are still on the road.
But the annual volume is so low that Toyota will not use traditional advertising to sell the 2008 Land Cruiser. Instead, they'll use the Internet, direct mail and special events. In other words, you'll have to look for the Land Cruiser.
It seems to us that the 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser is worth the effort. Although $64K is a lot of bucks, the numbers tell us that if you spend them on a Land Cruiser and simply service it according to its specs, you'll never have to replace it.