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Auto review: The welcome return of an off-road icon: the 2024 Toyota Land Cruiser

Larry Printz, Tribune News Service on

Published in Business News

Welcome back Toyota’s oldest model, the Land Cruiser, debuting in 1951 and first seen stateside in 1958, returns to America after a three-year hiatus. Yet much has changed since the Land Cruiser last cruised out of Toyota showrooms. Then, the full-size Cruiser cost as much as its upscale Lexus sibling, the GX, and sported similar accommodations.

Now, Toyota’s legendary off-roader returns as a midsize SUV, using the same truck architecture as the Toyota 4Runner, Sequoia, Tundra, Tacoma and Lexus GX. The smaller size is welcome, and is derived from the Land Cruiser Prado, a light-duty model sold overseas. The larger Land Cruiser comes to us in modified form as the Lexus LX, while the Lexus GX is the new American Land Cruiser with a more upscale attitude.

Confused yet? Don’t be.

For the new 2024 Land Cruiser — base price $55,950 — is a two-row, five seat off-roader that pits it against such equally legendary stalwarts as the Jeep Wrangler, Ford Bronco and Land Rover Defender, with a starting price closest to that of its British competitor. Certainly, the Land Cruiser sports the freshest face, with a mix of modern and retro styling cues that render its boxy facade cutting edge yet comfortable, eschewing the typically-manic Toyota styling excesses. Especially fetching? The 1958 model’s round headlamps; other Land Cruisers sport far less-enticing rectangular lighting.

It’s offered in three ascending trim levels: Land Cruiser 1958, Land Cruiser and Land Cruiser First Edition.

Climb into the 1958 trim and you’ll no doubt appreciate its basic ambiance, totally lacking in flash and boasting cloth seats. The roomy cabin has a decidedly rugged vibe yet still offers a heated seat, heated steering wheel and six-speaker audio system. But its single horizontal display, which houses both the instrument cluster and touchscreen infotainment system, is surrounded by basic hard plastic. That said, the infotainment screen on the 1958 model is eight inches, rather than the larger 12.3-inch display fitted to other trim levels. Other standard tech goodies are more up-to-date, including wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a wireless smartphone charging pad and USB-C charging ports. An integrated Wi-Fi hotspot is optional.

 

If that’s not enough, you’ll want the Land Cruiser trim equipped with the Premium Package, which adds such indulgences leather-trimmed heated and ventilated power front seats with lumbar support and driver memory features, 14-speaker JBL premium audio system, digital rearview mirror, Head-up Display, illuminated entry, power moonroof and center console cooling box.

All Land Cruisers get the same powertrain, regardless of trim level. It’s not a V-8, but that’s hardly surprising, given that its upscale sibling, the Lexus GX, gets its gumption from a 349-horsepower, twin-turbocharged, intercooled, double-overhead-cam V-6 through a 10-speed automatic. Being a Toyota, the driveline gets a slight downgrade from the Lexus, utilizing a 2.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine mated to an electric motor that feeds its combined power through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Power is rated at 326 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque. The EPA rates the four-wheel-drive Land Cruiser at 22 mpg city, 25 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. That’s a huge improvement from the previous Land Cruiser, which gulped fuel at a rate of 13 mpg city, 18 mpg highway and 15 mpg combined.

And it still possesses the capability you’d expect, thanks to its standard locking center and rear differentials, rear coil springs, full-time four-wheel drive, two-speed transfer case and brake controller. It allows for a 31-degree approach, a 25-degree breakover and 22-degree departure angle. Ground clearance is a very good 8.7 inches.

While I didn’t have the chance to sample the Land Cruiser on-road, it proved to be a fairly satisfying off-road friend. Its locking center and rear differentials make off-road work a snap, while its throttle is easy to modulate. Nevertheless, off-road warriors will be disappointed by the steering, which has a lot of play when tackling off-road trails. There’s a surprising lack of precision that will have you constantly cranking the wheel. The best you can say about it is that it provides a good upper body workout. But it’s easier to appreciate its boxy styling, low beltline and large windows, which make it easy to see out of and place on the trail. And the window sill is the perfect height for resting your arm.

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