1994 Toyota Land Cruiser
By Professional Test Driver
IntroductionMany a giraffe has had its day on the Serengeti interrupted by the sight of a Toyota Land Cruiser bounding across Africa's plains. For more than 40 years, the Land Cruiser has been one of the world's definitive, tough-terrain, wild-and-woolly vehicles-a classic sport utility wagon designed for landscape that's usually off-limits to all but the hooves-and-hides set.
Its colorful character helps explain why the Land Cruiser is so revered. Only about 10,000 vehicles each year make it to the United States, and they're swallowed up as if they were rare coins, which you might want to have a few of if you're planning on buying this brute-its base MSRP is a whopping $34,268.
A logical question emerges: Why would there be such devotion to a vehicle so costly, especially considering the typical U.S. driver is hardly faced with jungle-like conditions?
The answer is that few vehicles in the world have built such a reputation for outright muscle and maneuverability. And you don't have to be on safari to appreciate the value there.
A Midwest driver will find the Land Cruiser worthwhile on a winter weekend at the lake. The driver in Tennessee or Colorado will say thanks on a slippery mountain slope when this vehicle's front and rear locking differentials take the shivers out of a steep, snowy situation. Even the suburban commuter can enjoy the Land Cruiser's blend of brashness and charm. Although at 12 mpg in the city and with an option package that can take the Land Cruiser past the $40,000 mark, this clearly is a sport utility wagon for the well-heeled.
It's also for those who like lots of horses under the hood. A 4.5-liter, inline six-cylinder engine, with dual overhead cams, 24 valves and electronic fuel injection, packs 212 hp at 4,600 rpms. Add to that the locking differentials (for tough, slow-road situations), the optional anti-lock brakes (ABS) with rear disc brakes instead of drums and the standard four-speed electronically controlled transmission with overdrive, and this is a world-class road wrestler that also brings design, spaciousness and interior pluses to the overall picture.
WalkaroundA vehicle as tough as the Land Cruiser implies a certain tank-like appearance, but in this case what you get is definitely beauty and the beast. Our vehicle showed the kind of rounded, streamlined design that makes it so appealing even to picky suburban drivers.
In essence, the Land Cruiser's heft shouldn't scare anyone. Lots of other sport utility vehicles are bigger and bulkier than our test workhorse, which dolled itself up just enough with optional silver aluminum-alloy wheels, tailored headlights and taillights, and liberal use of glass-right down to the optional moonroof.
Gentle touches were in nice supply on our test vehicle: hydraulic lifts that made opening the hood a breeze, a beneath-the-hood leveling bulb that enabled us to accurately aim high- and low-beam headlights, husky running boards, a handy roof rack, parking-lot protection and more.
Interior FeaturesRemembering that this is a vehicle designed for the bush, not for the boulevard, the Land Cruiser gets the job done. Its interior is sturdy and practical, and there's enough comfort to remind you that in 1994, engineering is such that a ride in a covered wagon could be made tolerable.
Bucket seats in the front and back were fine, a center-floor gearshift lever was perfectly positioned at our driver's right hand, analog instrumentation was clear, and everything from stereo to dashboard selections met our discriminating driver's needs.
One lingering question: Why no driver's armrest, when most people aren't going to be two-handing this vehicle as they drive for the most part, on conventional roadways? Also, while it perhaps is an example of technology having spoiled us, power seats would have been nice.
One feature we definitely liked was the mounted climb-in handles that helped us swing from the running board directly into the front and back seats. Speaking of seats, the rear seat was the optional split-folding unit that packed to the sides neatly. It could also be removed in the event we wanted space for cargo rather than passengers.
Should passengers be your option, they'll appreciate the sound of the Land Cruiser's premium electronically tuned audio system with Dolby noise reduction. Nine speakers ensure that everyone will enjoy the music, even if you're trekking across tough country with brush banging against the vehicle's sides.
Driving ImpressionsCombine the Land Cruiser's body, suspension and design with the force of a 212-hp, in-line six-cylinder engine, and you've got a vehicle that feels as if it could climb Mount Everest. just remember once again what this bull on wheels was designed to do, and its verrrrry firm ride makes a bit more sense.
Four-wheel drive is not a choice on the Land Cruiser-it's a permanent fixture. And, should you decide to engage the front and rear locking differentials, there's added muscle for handling serious, slow-speed mud, muck or snow, the kind of terrain that the Land Cruiser devours with amazing ease.
It helped that our vehicle was blessed by a two-speed transfer case and four-speed electronically controlled automatic overdrive transmission. We got a power boost when we needed it, and a welcome lower-rpm ride when we hit a stretch of open road. The flexibility and efficiency of this system is one of the Toyota Land Cruiser's big, big pluses.
Behind the wheel, there was also a certain feeling of what it might be like riding atop an enclosed, glassed-in stagecoach. We felt our share of bumps with a suspension this stiff, but the ride was quiet and offered excellent visibility.
Acceleration was acceptable-0 to 60 mph in about eight seconds-and even while towing a load the Land Cruiser will scoot when it must. But don't think of this as a long-distance, enjoy-the-scenery vehicle. Its mpg is 15 on the highway; if it's comfort you're seeking, you might as well consider a plush conversion van.
We certainly had no quarrel with the Land Cruiser's steering and handling, which was precise even in tight-parking or sharp-turn situations. Same for the braking: We had to slam on the brakes at 35 mph on a miserably bad stretch of washboard road that was little more than a ribbon of mud and slush. The Land Cruiser came to a reassuring stop and, because of the ABS, never wavered or slid from a straight-ahead path.
SummaryAlthough this vehicle's heritage suggests that it belongs on untamed terrain, it's easy to understand why 10,000 American buyers-many of whom won't drive a Land Cruiser on anything but urban pavement-gobble up these animals.
Yes, the Land Cruiser is one tough hombre, enabling a driver to maneuver off the beaten path with absolute confidence. But its makeup, design and comfort level all combine to bring style and security to any on- or off-road scenario-just about anywhere that people and wheels mingle.
In other words, on safari or in suburbia, it's a vehicle that does the job with panache.