New Car/Review

Toyota

Simply the Best
The Toyota Land Cruiser

by Larry Weitzman

Toyota Full Line factory footage (15:01) 28.8, 56k or 200k

This week I had the extreme pleasure of spending a day with the new 1999 Toyota Land Cruiser (LC- not to be confused with a Letter of Credit that may be required for purchase). The only thing that is the same as the prior model is the 112.2 inch wheelbase dimension, otherwise it is all new including the frame, which now has nine cross members instead of the previous six.

This is such a complete vehicle, it's hard to decide where to begin. This fifth generation LC started it's genesis in the 1950's as a stout, go anywhere and back vehicle. It was devoid of real creature comforts other than a couple of "seats" (more like the pilot and copilot seats from a B-24), and a windshield. Air conditioning was provided by a spritz bottle and 40 mph.

The folks at Toyota realized that there was gold in them thar hills in the high-end sport ute market and the fourth generation LC was a pretty nice vehicle. Loaded with about every luxury feature known to mankind and a 4.5 double overhead cam (dohc) straight six engine, it was very capable and popular. But the new LC has raised the bar a very big notch.

Although the new exterior design is evolutionary instead of revolutionary, it is the most beautiful of all LC's and one of the best looking sport utes on the market. Along with the new frame structure, new construction techniques in welding and body formation makes this LC 50% more rigid than its predecessor. This is a ground up redesign. It is so solid, shutting a door could lead one to believe they are shutting the door to Fort Knox.

The new LC has grown 2.6 inches in length and 1/2 inch in width. All that new size was put in the passenger compartment, 3.5 extra inches longitudinally and 2.8 inches laterally. Middle seat passengers get to enjoy nearly three new inches of legroom and as a result there are an additional two inches of front seat travel.

The new engine is a Lexus derived 4.7L, dohc, 32 valve V-8 developing 230 hp at only 4,800 rpm and 320 pound-feet of torque at 3,400 rpm. That's an increase of 18 hp and 45 pounds of torque over the 1997 model and its very evident. Large engines are not necessarily "polluters". This new engine is one of the very few to meet California stringent Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) standards. It's coupled to an ultra smooth four speed automatic transmission, which drives through a locking, two-speed, center differential to all four wheels all the time. There is an optional rear-locking differential for $410, which I recommend.

There is a new fully independent double wishbone front suspension. The rear suspension is a solid live axle located with a four link system and coil springs. Both ends have stabilizer bars.

It all works too well. This rig is so quiet and smooth, you have to confirm its running with the tach. And run it does. This new engine puts the LC in a new performance realm. It propels this 5000 plus pound luxury vehicle to 60 mph in just under ten seconds. Passing performance is stellar, going from 50-70 in 5.4 seconds. Going up a hill slows that time to 9.1 seconds. I think the engine is very conservatively rated considering the avoirdupois this motor is pushing around. Now to the really good stuff.

The EPA rates the engine at 14 mpg city/16 mpg highway. I used only an 1/8 of a 25 gallon tank in 75 enjoyable miles. I am sure I used more than three gallons, but I think 15-16 mpg is probable in El Dorado County.

It didn't take but an initial U-turn and a left turn onto Main Street when I said "wow". I knew at that point this was the finest sport ute I had ever driven and one of the finest cars I had ever driven. It was so smooth and quiet it felt like being in a bank vault on air suspension. Not even a creak. It moved with incredible precision. It does exactly as its told and the method of input, the steering, engine response and brakes work in complete harmony. It's a wonderful ride.

And ride it does. It isolates its occupants from wind noise, road noise, road disturbances and other environmental nuisances as if it were a world class luxury car. But wait, that's what this LC actually is and more. Ponderosa Road felt like a freeway and Green Valley was a breeze. This LC begs to be driven on El Dorado County roads. This SUV handles Carson Road, North Canyon and its tributaries in such an effortless, confident manner, driving becomes an absolute pleasure and fun.

It's not that it can do it faster than other vehicles, it does it so easily and with a feeling of complete safely and control. If you hurry, you will just shorten your enjoyment time. It doesn't feel large and unwieldy. It drives much smaller than it is. In negotiating Mosquito Road to the bridge, it demonstrated tremendous road grip. It has a tight 39-foot turning circle, cat-like maneuverability plus incredibly strong brakes. The front binders are large 4-piston ventilated disks, the rear has two piston ventilated disks. They are power assisted and have standard ABS.

The new interior emulates the rest of the car. It is tasteful, elegant, spacious and very comfortable. The materials used appear to be of the highest quality leathers (worth every penny of the $1,820 option) and woods (an optional $549). Nothing in this car is cheap looking or feeling. It exudes quality. I immediately noticed the infinitely adjustable power driver's seat. It completely reclines and could replace my Simmons Beauty Rest. If it gets really cold, just turn on the seat heaters. The door paneling is soft leather and rich.

The dash is beautifully laid out with full instrumentation and a convenient dash mounted ignition key. The center portion contains the radio, C/D and cassette and the climate system. They are most pleasing to look at and use. The sound system is one of the best I've heard including the one at the Los Angeles Music Center. Robert Palmer never sounded better. The rest of the controls, such as doors and windows are intuitively placed.

The second row of seats are as good as the front. They have lots of leg, hip and shoulder room (about 62 inches) with deep soft, supportive seat cushions and seat backs. A great place to spend several hours. It is comfortable for three adults. Access to the third row of seats is really a simple process. The 60/40 second row flip out of the way very easily and there are even step pads for entry. The third row seats have an unusual design feature. They fold flat and then up as well as being totally removable. It provides comfortable seating for two and three in a pinch. It's only deficiency is that they are low. But the cushion is long and seat back is well shaped. And there is still room for a row of grocery bags behind the third row.

There are the customary plethora of cup holders for the front and rear with plenty of door pockets, cubbyholes and storage space. Most everything is standard except for the few options that I already mentioned. Every moving part in this car feels like it's operating with ball bearings.

There is only one problem and that is the list price of $46,478. A lot of people won't be able to experience such a fine automobile. With the options on the vehicle I drove, the bottom line including destination was $53,360. It's a lot of money, but it's a lot of car. But when you stack it up against its near identical twin, the Lexus LX 470, it's a bargain. I think it blows away the more expensive Range Rover and unless you need more room, it is the finest sport utility available and one of the finest all around vehicles made.

SPECIFICATIONS

Price                                    $46,898 to about $54,000
Engine
   4.7L dohc V-8                         230 hp @ 4,800 rpm
                                         320 lb-ft Torque @ 3.400
Transmission
                                         4 speed electronically
                                         controlled with intelligence
                                         second gear start mode
Transfer Case
                                         Full time with locking 
                                         differential, two speed 

DIMENSIONS

Wheelbase                                112.2 inches
Length                                   192.5 inches
Width                                    76.4  inches
Height                                   73.2  inches
Ground Clearance                         9.8   inches
Curb Weight                              5,115 pounds
Tow Capacity                             6,500 pounds
GVWR                                     6,860 pounds
Payload                                  1,745 pounds
Fuel Capacity                            25.4  gallons

PERFORMANCE

0-60                                     9.9 seconds
50-70 (level)                            5.4 seconds
50-70 (uphill)                           9.1 seconds
                                         Top SpeedWhat's the hurry, enjoy the vehicle
Fuel Econ                                14 mpg/16 mpg city/hwy, my estimate 15-16
                                         in El Dorado County

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