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1997 Toyota Land Cruiser 4WD

by Nick Hromiak


SEE ALSO: Toyota Buyer's Guide


ENGINE: 4.5-liter In-line six cylinder
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 212-hp, 275 ft/lbs
TRANSMISSION: 4-speed automatic w/OD and 2nd gear start 
FUEL ECONOMY: 13 city, 15 highway
WHEELBASE: 112.2 in.
CURB WEIGHT: 4,933 lbs
FUEL ECONOMY: 25.1 gal
TIRES: 275/70R-16
INSTRUMENTS: Car-like and easy to operate with push button HVAC controls.
EQUIPMENT: Standard - 4-wheel ABS, tinted glass, intermittent wipers front & rear,
                      cruise, tilt wheel, power windows/locks, auto-off headlamps, 
                      towing package, rear window defogger 
           Optional - leather trim package, $4,280, power tilt/sliding moonroof, $1,185, 
                      aluminum wheels, $525, front/rear locking differentials, $825,
                      premium audio system, $945, VIP security system, $695, 
                      carpeted floor mats, $160, 
                      rear wind deflector/roof rack/running board/drop hitch, $1,243 
STICKER PRICE: $51,346 ($41,068 base) includes $420 destination and delivery charge

After 44 years, it should be safe to say that Toyota's 4WD Land Cruiser is the original sport utility vehicle. Now that was before the sport ute moniker was ever develop and before 4WD came into vogue for family travel.

Land Cruisers are the off-road vehicles of choice in Africa and elsewhere where the going is demanding and extremely rugged. Think back (those of you old enough) to the TV series featuring Marlin Perkins and his Wild Kingdom episodes. Perkins and his co-host would park their Land Cruiser dangerously close to a lion or rhino and film the encounter for TV. Or they'd be chasing after wildebeest as they thundered over hostile terrain. Vividly intact is the impression of a solid, capable 4WD station wagon that carried Perkins and his filming crew through swamps, marsh, boulder fields and thicket.

In a few ways, the Land Cruiser is unique in its class. Aside from its large size (its bigger than a Blazer, Cherokee, Explorer, 4Runner, Pathfinder and some other SUVs), it has the capability to lock both the front and rear differentials. This option enables the Land Cruiser to climb, pull or push itself out of deep snow, sand and over most off-road hazards. As all-wheel drive is standard and sends power to the axle with the best traction, added grip can be had by merely shifting into low range and locking all fours. None of the offerings from the Big Three have this true four-wheel drive feature. But unless you live in Alaska or Maine, few sport ute buyers will need this $825 option.

Land Cruiser is a heavy vehicle (4,933 lbs.) and as such is solid and stable on and off road. All this weight is lugged around by way of a 4.5L DOHC 24 valve in-line 6-cylinder. With 212 horsepower and 275 ft/lbs of torque, this brawny utility has adequate pep for everyday commuting. As a tow vehicle, it should have a V8. Ascending steep hills or grades with a boat or camper in back would be a slow affair.

The six cylinder, despite its size, strains under full load (four adults aboard).

Transferring this modest power is a 4-speed automatic transmission. Up and down shifts are relatively smooth, but not as smooth as that on Ford's Expedition or new Lincoln Navigator for example - two approximately equal in size 4WD SUVs. But Land Cruiser's transmission offers second gear start for icy road conditions, a nice feature even with 4WD, and one the competition doesn't offer.

Ride quality is good and the cabin is quiet at highway cruising speed. In cross winds the vehicle is solid and resists buffeting. With 10 inches of undercarriage clearance, the Land Cruiser slices through water-clogged roadways with no hydroplaning and can clear off-road obstacles and/or deep snow with ease. Even with this ample ground clearance, step-up height is a comfortable 23 inches or 15 3/4 inches to the top of the running boards.

Inside the cockpit the optional leather seats are supportive albeit a bit firm, with the second row seats offering armrests. There's also a third row seat that splits in half and folds sideways. Getting back into them though is only for supple bodies because the protruding wheelwells of the rear doors make it a tight squeeze.

With the third row seats folded, there are 37 inches of space between them compared to 53 inches if they were eliminated entirely. With both second and third row seats folded, cargo space increases to 62 1/2 inches. With third row seats in place, there's only enough space behind them for 8-10 grocery bags or a narrow golf bag or two Coleman coolers (the spare tire is stowed underneath the vehicle).

Land Cruiser has a two-piece tailgate where the window flips up and the gate down. Stowing gear with the fold-down gate requires a good stretch. A lift-up hatch would be preferred.

While Toyota offers a lot of major features as standard (ie. 4-wheel ABS, tinted glass, intermittent wipers front and rear, cruise, tilt wheel, power windows/locks, auto-off headlamps, towing package, rear window defogger and more), the option list on my test vehicle added $10,000 to the base price of $41,068. Talk about sticker shock. The Land Cruiser's bottom line topped out at $51,346. The leather trim package in itself is a $4,280 option with power tilt/sliding moonroof adding $1,185, aluminum wheels $525, front/rear locking differentials $825, premium audio system $945 and a few more totaling $2,518.

Granted the option list is long and extensive, but small items like fog lamps, compass/temperature gauges are absent. And there's only a single cup holder in front. Most of the competition offer these as standard. For 50 grand, Toyota should, too.

Land Cruiser is a very capable and rugged 4-wheel drive utility with unique characteristics. Yet its price puts it in a special segment that may be out of reach for many sport utility buyers. Toyota's Lexus division also offers the Land Cruiser in more posh form as an LX450... and it costs even more.