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When bigger is better, there's the Toyota Land Cruiser. Other crossovers and SUVs have downsized, and drivers are choosing more compact, more carlike wagons, more than ever--but for a few thousand drivers each year, nothing gets things done like the massive, and massively capable off-road, "Land Crusher."
Even by the standards of its class, the Land Cruiser's price tag is large, and its thirst for fuel is gargantuan. Over the years, the renowned Land Cruiser model name has morphed from a tough but basic Jeep-like vehicle to a huge, luxurious vehicle that competes with the high end of the German and English utility brands, hanging onto its off-roading abilities despite its many premium features. A past filled with desert treks, mountain climbing, and safaris has given way to a more refined exploration of high-end shopping malls and affluent suburbs.
Still, the Land Cruiser remains a highly capable vehicle that can do most things in most places. That's an enduring niche if a low-volume one, even if the values epitomized by the Land Cruiser stand in almost direct opposition to those of the rest of the Toyota lineup: sensible, reliable, un-flashy cars--including the uber-green Prius hybrid.
The universe of mega-SUVs is shrinking, especially when provided by a mass-market brand like Toyota. That makes it surprising that Toyota even bothered to bring the very expensive Land Cruiser back for an encore. Starting at just a smidge south of $80,000, it's not the luxury icon that Land Rover has in the Range Rover, and it's $30,000 pricier than Toyota's own, slightly more practical Sequoia. Unlike the Range Rover, its shape is hardly iconic, and the base price is extraordinarily high--but what other vehicle has inspired the "Land Crusher" nickname and lived (again) to tell about it?
In looks, the Toyota Land Cruiser isn't all that different from the far cheaper Sequoia or the Land Cruiser's near-twin, the Lexus LX 570. Its 381-horsepower V-8 powers the hulking, 5700-pound, body-on-frame utility vehicle through four-wheel drive with a locking differential that combines with rugged suspension design to provide hardcore off-road ability. It will both accelerate the 5700-pound Land Cruiser to highway speeds and beyond (though with a prodigious consumption of gasoline) and slip and slide over slick rocks far from any highway at all.
But this prodigious off-road talent compromises its usefulness as an urban utility vehicle. The steering's loose; the ride can be choppy unless it's fully laden with up to eight passengers. And three of them will have to ride in third-row seats that fold up to the sides of the cargo area--not into the floor like most modern crossovers, because that's where the rear axle lives. In this land of compromise, the latest electronics keep the Land Cruiser happier both on and off the pavement, controlling the way it trundles down and up hills, the way it traverses all kinds of terrain, keeping its hydraulic suspension at the proper stiffness.
To woo more buyers for the 2014 model year, Toyota's added as standard equipment all the Land Cruiser's previously optional safety and luxury options. To go with its standard 10 airbags, CD player, and leather upholstery, the Land Cruiser now gets a power moonroof; heated front and rear seats; a rear-seat DVD entertainment system; push-button start; Bluetooth; a rearview camera and parking sensors; a navigation system; HD radio; and Entune, the Toyota connectivity offering that enables mobile apps for use with its audio system, whether it's streaming Pandora audio or on-the-go Facebook updates filed by voice commands.