2008 Toyota Land Cruiser Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
September 2, 2008

The 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser builds on a world-class reputation for hardy off-road performance and greatly improves its on-road performance, but don’t expect a plush ride or posh interior.

The car experts at TheCarConnection.com have incorporated comments from some of the most respected resources in compiling this review on the 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser. In addition, TheCarConnection.com’s editors have added their own firsthand assessments.

For the first time since 1998, Toyota’s legendary rugged off-road model has been completely redesigned for this year. The 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser remains about the same size as the vehicle it replaces, but it gets a much more powerful engine, a quieter and more refined interior, and some innovative mechanical and electronic solutions that improve the Land Cruiser’s on-road handling and its off-road capability.

The 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser is now powered by a new 5.7-liter V-8—the same one that’s used in the new Tundra pickup—making 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque. The engine is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, and of course, there’s standard four-wheel drive.

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The four-wheel-drive system provides a separate low range, along with a Torsen center differential that can be locked in either range. The system sends 50 to 70 percent of power to the rear wheels, depending on slip. The Land Cruiser’s key off-road specs, including approach, departure, and break-over angles, along with ground clearance, are also essentially unchanged compared with the outgoing model. The approach angle is especially impressive, at 30 degrees. Tough body-on-frame construction for the 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser allows more abuse than most vehicles, and the rear suspension is designed for nearly 9.5 inches of travel from normal to give good wheel articulation when off-roading.

Several electronic aids help the 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser maintain stability and gain traction off-road. In addition to Hill Descent Control and Hill Start Assist, which are offered on other Toyota SUVs, a feature called Crawl Control helps maintain a very low speed when off-roading, employing the throttle, brakes, and stability control to do so.

A new Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) is also adopted for the 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser. The system isn't electronically controlled; it instead uses hydraulic pressure between opposed reservoirs front-to-back, which function together, cleverly, as a stabilizer-bar system when front and rear pressure are similar but effectively detach the stabilizer bar when wheel movement varies, allowing more wheel articulation and a smooth ride.

These technology features allow the 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser to corner surprisingly flat during on-road driving, yet have the softer settings and wheel articulation needed for off-roading. The V-8 engine doesn’t give the nearly 5,700-pound Land Cruiser blistering acceleration, but there’s enough for very rapid takeoffs with an empty load and plenty for hauling or towing; the automatic transmission works perfectly with it, downshifting quickly. The ride can be quite firm, with larger bumps transmitted as jolts, but the new KDSS system works well to allow relatively responsive handling for such a heavy vehicle. Wind and road noise are remarkably absent.

The interior of the 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser is nicely appointed but not especially fashionable or luxurious—sort of in the same way that the Avalon compares to other luxury cars. Positively, it’s laid out quite simply and should stand up nicely to off-road knocks, with no major rattles and no especially delicate breakables. The first two rows of seating are comfortable, though not all that plush, with third-row seats that swing around to the side, rather than folding downward.

All the usual premium SUV features are either standard or available for the single 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser model, including a sonar backup aid and rearview monitor; a pre-collision system; a navigation system; a rear-seat entertainment system; Smart Key entry and ignition; remote start; Bluetooth hands-free; satellite radio; and a 605-watt, 14-speaker JBL audio system. A cooler box is also available for the center console.

Standard safety features on the 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser are extensive, including electronic stability control, active traction control, driver and front passenger active front headrests, driver and front passenger knee bags, first- and second-row outboard thorax side airbags, three-row roll-sensing side curtain airbags, and multiterrain anti-lock braking. The new Land Cruiser has not yet been crash tested.

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2008 Toyota Land Cruiser

Styling

The 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser appears sleek and subdued from the curb but perhaps a bit cluttered from the cabin.

A restrained, confident exterior clashes with a busy, tech-laden interior in the 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser.

With a history going back decades, the Land Cruiser has evolved significantly since its days as a utilitarian, two-door Japanese Jeep. Nonetheless, a desire for function over style and a physical presence that evokes competence are still solidly in the Land Cruiser’s aesthetic repertoire. “There are no heroic Nissan Murano-like experiments with the styling here,” says Car and Driver, just a clean modernization of the concept. Motor Trend assures us that “outside, it’s unmistakably ‘Land Cruiser.’” Compared to its straked and bulging-fendered competitors, Kelley Blue Book remarks of the Land Cruiser, “when you’re confident of your ability, you don’t have to pretend.”

Inside, however, a clutter of 21st-century technology makes itself known perhaps too well. While Edmunds reports that “Toyota has updated the cabin with a fresh design and enhanced features,” Kelley Blue Book laments that “the instrument panel, dash and console are awash with switches, gauges and displays; it will take owners some time to figure out what they all do.”

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2008 Toyota Land Cruiser

Performance

The 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser possesses remarkable performance that truly justifies its name.

Fleet acceleration, a plush ride, responsive handling, and startling off-road prowess give the 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser performance that’s hard to beat.

Toyota’s new 5.7-liter V-8, shared with its other full-framed trucks and SUVs, churns out 381 horsepower and 401 pound-feet of torque, enough to move this 5,900-pound SUV to 60 mph from rest in just 6.5 seconds. Car and Driver describes the power delivery as “velvety” and explains that it invokes the magic of variable valve timing, a variable-volume intake system, and an electronic fly-by-wire throttle to give performance that is “silky smooth and quiet”--until you ask it for max urge, at which point “you hear a muted yet mellifluous snarl from the engine bay.” Replacing last year’s five-speed auto, “an imperturbable six-speed automatic manages this output,” according to Automobile. Remarkably, this athletic, serene combination yields less emissions and better EPA numbers, at 13/18 mpg, than last year’s less powerful Cruiser.

Also impressive is the way the Land Cruiser comports itself on the tarmac. “Expect unflappable nonchalance over acned asphalt,” assures Car and Driver. “Body lean is fairly well controlled,” comments ConsumerGuide, who also find “responsive steering, combined with a fairly tight turning radius, results in good maneuverability for such a large vehicle.” A trick technology, KDSS in Toyota-Tech-Speak, increases roll-stiffness when both shock absorbers on a given side of the vehicle are compressed, giving this big, cushy boat surprising resistance to body lean on paved roads. Kelley Blue Book says its “ride comfort comes close to...luxury sedans” and calls its handling “precise and confidence-inspiring.”

That same system, KDSS, increases suspension compliance dramatically when only one wheel on a given side is forced upward, allowing for excellent suspension articulation necessary in true off-roading. That feature, a live rear axle (long known to be optimal for rock crawling), a locking Torsen center differential, and the new-for-’08 Crawl Control make the Land Cruiser “a mountain goat with stitched leather upholstery,” according to Motor Trend. Crawl Control takes the driver’s feet completely out of the equation when off-road, both accelerating and braking as needed to keep the Cruiser crawling at a predetermined speed, either uphill or down. It's an impressive display of microprocessing wizardry, no doubt, but one that Automobile cites “at once cause for wonder and dismay,” pointing out that true off-roaders like to do it themselves.

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2008 Toyota Land Cruiser

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser provides a stellar way to coddle five occupants to the supermarket or on a safari, not seven.

Provided you keep to the first two rows, the 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser offers considerable comfort and unmistakable Toyota quality.

Up front, the Cruiser offers “large, comfortable seats with lots of adjustments” that “combine with a tilt and telescopic steering wheel and ample headroom and legroom for first-class accommodations,” according to ConsumerGuide. Entry into those comfortable chairs can be a bit challenging due to the Land Cruiser’s height and lack of available running boards. “The glass area feels big, the view panoramic. The seats are thrones,” commends Car and Driver.

The second row offers luxurious accommodations, as well. ConsumerGuide terms them “impressive,” citing “plenty of headroom and legroom on comfortable seats that can fit three across in a pinch. However,” they note, “foot space is tight unless the front seats are raised.” Passengers get their own audio and climate controls, and seats slide back and forth roughly three inches.

The only comfort/convenience demerits in the interior belong to the third row (or Way Back, in station wagon vernacular), into which “entry is a jungle-gym climb, and once you arrive—typical of SUVs with rigid rear axles—the cushion is barely off the floor,” according to Car and Driver. Regarding those “iconoclastic side-folding third-row seats,” says Motor Trend, they “either leave you feeling like you're sitting in a barrel due to the elevated floor or are smack in the way of stowing wide cargo when folded away.” Seemingly not able to decide between decent cargo storage or third-row seats, Toyota does a mediocre job with both.

Refinement is excellent. “Wind, road, and engine noise are well controlled, even at highway speeds, making the Land Cruiser as quiet as some luxury cars,” enthuses ConsumerGuide. There is not one complaint of a harsh ride or untoward chassis motions, no small feat in a large, live axle SUV. The combination of navigation system, some HVAC controls, and the radio in one panel has the effect of “seriously complicating what should be simple adjustments,” also according to ConsumerGuide, though they acknowledge that “materials are generally luxury grade” and “workmanship is likewise impressive.”

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2008 Toyota Land Cruiser

Safety

From tire to roof and nose to tail, the 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser is about as safe an SUV as you can purchase.

The 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser is chock-full of active and passive safety features but has not yet been crash-tested.

Neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has crash-tested a 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser.

“As one might expect,” says Car and Driver, “the new Cruiser is replete with safety equipment including a barrage of airbags.” That’s 10 airbags, to be exact, including knee airbags for both front occupants, two rows of side impact airbags, and three-row curtain airbags. Active headrests for front seat occupants, tire pressure monitoring, anti-lock brakes, stability and active traction control, brake assist, and Toyota’s VSC (Vehicle Stability Control) round out the list of features that keep the Land Cruiser safe and secure.

Toyota’s optional precollision system, “which cinches the front seatbelts when the various electronic sensors detect skidding or sudden hard braking,” adds yet another layer of safety to the Cruiser should it be involved in a mishap. A stiffened frame that enhances crashworthiness, says Edmunds, provides a foundation for all of these safety items.

All SUVs, with their inherent higher center of gravity, are more prone to rollovers than cars, but the Land Cruiser’s stability control mitigates this tendency considerably.

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2008 Toyota Land Cruiser

Features

Everything but the proverbial kitchen sink (not enough cargo room for it) is included in, on, and under the 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser.

The 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser is packed with features that make it supremely capable and comfortable.

A number of go-anywhere features set the Land Cruiser apart from its luxurious SUV competition. “Unlike many SUVs on the market today,” says Motor Trend, “the Land Cruiser is fitted with a proper transfer case.” In conjunction with a Torsen limited-slip locking center differential, a live axle in the rear, a “stout new frame with fully boxed sections and no fewer than eight crossmembers,” KDSS (adjust roll stiffness on the fly), and CRAWL (foot-free crawling over rough terrain), the Land Cruiser’s off-road capabilities are prodigious.

“Gizmos and abbreviations abound,” says Car and Driver, speaking of the Land Cruiser’s standard HAC, VSC, EBD, A-TRAC, and DAC. In order as mentioned, that would be Hill Assist Control, Vehicle Stability Control, Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Active-TRAC, and Downhill Assist Control. Some of these systems help keep the Land Cruiser on the road (VSC, EBD), while the others help it perform flawlessly off.

Edmunds points out “there is only one trim level.” In addition to an over-equipped chassis, Automobile notes that “the rest of the Land Cruiser is equally overdone,” and Car and Driver states “every convenience item known to the driving public has been integrated.” Standard equipment includes 18-inch alloy wheels, power and heated front seats, leather upholstery, four-zone automatic climate control, a 14-speaker JBL audio system with a six-CD changer and auxiliary audio jack, a sunroof, auto-dimming mirrors, keyless ignition, and parking sensors. The Upgrade Package includes items like a rear-seat entertainment system with 9-inch screen, a nav system with Bluetooth and backup camera, heated second-row seats, and a center console refrigerated compartment.

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Styling 7
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