If you had trouble believing your eyes when Han Solo outmaneuvered a squadron of tiny Tie Fighters through an asteroid field in the not-so-miniscule Millennium Falcon, you may have trouble swallowing the following paragraph as well. However, the rest of you Star Wars fans who have, somehow, gone on to get married and start families, will be delighted to read about a flagship cargo/troop transport vessel with Falcon-like mobility being shipped to Toyota dealerships as you read this review: The 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser.
Upon first sight of this behemoth over in the main hanger at Toyota HQ, one’s immediate thoughts over having to drive the brute through Laurel Canyon on the way home are not pleasant ones. However, that being acknowledged, the actual experience varies considerably from the first impression. In fact, the new Land Cruiser had little difficulty keeping up with a Porsche Carrera Convertible zipping up Laurel Canyon Blvd. at a pace that would have had last year’s Land Cruiser leaning more precariously than the Tower of Pisa. Not to say the ”˜08 Land Cruiser handles like a sports car, but for a top-heavy truck-based full-size SUV, it does an impressive job of hiding its size and weight from the driver.
Toyota engineers and their Jedi mind tricks had a hand in this deception, of course. To improve on-road handling without sacrificing off-road capability, the eggheads over at Toyota developed a technology called KDSS (Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System). Under normal cornering conditions the front and rear axles compress on the same side of the vehicle creating the same pressure levels in a pair of hydraulic cylinders located both front and rear. However, when each end of the chassis is being contorted in opposite directions, as is the case during severe off-road exercises, the pressure imbalance between the front and rear cylinders causes a valve to open, affectively decoupling the stabilizer bars to allow for greater axel articulation. With the stabilizer bars essentially taken out of the rock-crawling equation, Toyota engineers were given the go-ahead to install the beefiest bars they could find to keep the Cruiser flat and stable during high speed cornering.
Fortunately, no further manipulation of the dark side of the force was needed to continue the Land Cruiser’s on-road shrinking act as the new 381 hp 5.7 liter Dual VVTi V-8 and six-speed manumatic transmission are able to hustle this beast to freeway speeds (60 mph) in approximately 6.5 seconds, enough to drop the jaws of fellow commuters in the next lane over. When the road becomes curvy, nicely weighted hydraulically assisted power steering has no problem stepping up to the challenge of keeping the Cruiser on the road, no matter how badly it seems to be yearning for some dirt and rocks.
Upon finding an enticing asteroid field such as the popular Camino Cielo Road near Santa Barbara, you’ll discover your new Land Cruiser comes with a bunch of new off-road-enhancing gizmos as well. Aside from the aforementioned, KDSS, there is also Hill Assist which did its job quite well, keeping us from rolling backwards on steep rocky slopes where low-range gears should have been used, but were neglected due to driver overconfidence. You might also find Crawl Control handy for extremely steep inclines or declines. When activated, the crawl control will assume command of both throttle and brakes leaving the steering wheel and a three-speed selector knob as the only concerns of the driver. On the most treacherous slopes off-shooting Camino Cielo Road, the system worked very well although it made dreadful noises in the process. Upon first use, you will most likely think something is broken until you realize it is the same sound you hear when an ABS system is functioning properly. For really sticky situations, there is a locking center differential. The other systems worked so well on our trek, however, we never needed to activate the locker, proof that the ”˜08 Land Cruiser’s off-road capabilities will surpass the trail blazing talents of most drivers out there.
Though there is no holographic alien chess set on the options list for C-3PO and Chewbacca to play with, the Land Cruiser does come equipped with some other very convenient luxury features. Our tester came with the Upgrade Package. Among the gifts it bears are a beverage cooler located in the center console as well as a DVD navigation system, front headlight washers, rear seat entertainment center, and rear seat heaters. If you can do without these features and their $7,245 price tag, you will still get a four-zone automatic climate control system, a third row of seats, power-folding auto-dimming rearview mirrors with tilt down feature, a 650 watt JBL audio system, and more.
However, much like the hyperdrive on the Millennium Falcon, the Land Cruiser’s Bluetooth interface did not always work the way it was supposed to. The problem encountered quite often was that the touch-screen controls would randomly fade to their nonfunctional visual states causing us to rely on our hand-held device to place calls. The car speakers and microphone would still operate during the call, but the finicky touch screen had already defeated the hands-free purpose of Bluetooth in the first place. Other minor nitpicks included occasional driveline thud when pulling away from a stop, a squishy brake pedal that felt like a “big car” brake pedal, and a tire pressure monitor that displayed a list of five different psi readings without matching up each reading to a specific tire location. Trying to figure out which tire was a few psi’s lower than the rest became a trial an error headache that could have easily been avoided. Last but not least, a vehicle costing over $71,000 should come with an IPod interface along with the standard auxiliary input. The Land Cruiser only offers the auxiliary input.
All whining aside, the new Land Cruiser is an impressive machine. While past generations were capable off-road toys but not as fun to play with on tarmac, the current installment challenges you to find its limits on any surface. Han Solo himself would be hard pressed to find a more suitable terrestrial vehicle in which to outpace the pursuing Empire. Once behind the wheel of the 2008 Land Cruiser he’d have little else to say other than, “Punch it, Chewy!”
© Copyright 2007 by canyon-news.com