Review: The 2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

Only Toyota's most tenured employees are qualified to assemble the Land Cruiser, and its Lexus LX 570 sibling, at the automaker's flagship assembly plant in Japan. Yet between these two luxo-laden SUVs, models barely distinguishable from one another, Toyota puts together far more utilitarian versions headed to places a little less hospitable than the suburbs of Atlanta.

In, say, Mogadishu or Alice Springs, you don't need a heated steering wheel and a 605 watt JBL Synthesis stereo. You do need a truck built to withstand the most punishing obstacles--whether man-made or man himself--with as little fuss as possible.

In a good month, only about a third of Toyota's dealers in the United States will actually sell a Land Cruiser. By comparison, more than one Camry is sold every minute counting only the hours when dealers are open for business.

With that in mind, it is challenging to evaluate the Land Cruiser using the same metrics as we might for most Toyotas. Yet if there's any Toyota that deserves recognition, it remains the Land Cruiser.

What is it?

This latest Land Cruiser is one of nearly 100 variations to have worn the badge. The Land Cruiser lineup was split a long time ago into utilitarian trucks not sold in the U.S. and plush wagons like the truck you see here. Underneath, they're all built to the same standard, but with different buyers' varying needs in mind.

The latest Cruiser arrived here for 2008 and was just treated to its first mid-cycle update. That's a long gestation period, especially for a Toyota. The changes are mostly cosmetic, but a new eight-speed automatic gearbox replaces last year's six-speed. Curiously, fuel economy didn't change: 13 mpg city, 18 mpg highway, and 15 mpg combined. Not good.

Inside, the Land Cruiser sees a new dash with an updated infotainment system and the option of brown leather seen here.

That means that the Land Cruiser still rides on a separate ladder frame and its suspension remains independent up front with a coil-sprung solid axle out back. That sounds low tech, and it is, but things improve from there. Toyota's innovative Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, or KDSS, comes on Land Cruisers (and some Toyota 4Runners and all Lexus GX 460s). The hydraulic system utilizes enormous sway bars to make on-road handling more stable and it automatically disconnects them when more axle compression or droop is necessary off road. In short, the best of two worlds: Better handling and better off-road ability.

By contrast, the Lexus LX 570 uses an air suspension aimed more at delivering a plush ride than improving four-wheeling.

Other tricks up the Cruiser's sleeve include a button that, when in low range, gives the SUV an ultra-tight turning radius that belies its girth, as well as a host of traction control modes for different types of terrain.

What's it up against?

The Lexus LX 570 isn't much more expensive, but with its different suspension and plusher interior, it is aimed at a luxury buyer. Only the Range Rover Sport offers the Land Cruiser's three rows of seats, but it is quite a bit smaller (the full size Range Rover is sized about the same). Other rivals worth a look include the Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class and the Infiniti QX80.

That said, we're willing to bet that few Land Cruisers are cross-shopped.

What's it look like?

Land Cruiser's latest nip-and-tuck is an acquired taste, to say the least, but it is at least more cohesive than the razor applied to the LX 570. Looking something like a big chrome belt buckle, the Land Cruiser's new grille extends with some success into its headlamp area for a look more in keeping with its 1990s predecessor.

The changes along its sides and rear are less pronounced but result in a slightly flashier SUV. What is perhaps most surprising is how big the Land Cruiser looks outside and feels inside, and yet how small, at least on a relative scale, it actually is. The Land Cruiser stretches about half a foot longer than the Toyota 4Runner and is only a couple of inches wider, though it appears ready to eat its little brother for breakfast.

And on the inside?

We've yet to see a brown interior we didn't like. The Land Cruiser offers palatial accommodations for its front and second row passengers, and even the third row is roomier than the fold-down occasional use seats might suggest. One sad loss compared to Land Cruisers of yore is that the rearmost side windows no longer pop or slide open.