Land Cruiser serious off-roader

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The refreshed 2016 Toyota Land Cruiser has a stylish body design but a fixed ground clearance of only 8.9 inches.

When it comes to off-roading in extreme conditions, there is probably nothing as capable as the legendary Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.

But there are two larger, more upmarket brethren that are equally iconic on the international stage: Land Rover's Range Rover and Toyota's Land Cruiser. The Range Rover conjures up stream-fording images in the African jungles, while the Land Cruiser evokes Outback ranchers brushing aside kangaroos with the 'roo bars designed to shield their Toyota SUVs from marauding marsupials.

Today, I thought we'd take a look at the refreshed 2016 Land Cruiser, and also at some of the ways it differs and is similar to its competitor, the Range Rover.

Both SUVs have similar base prices ($83,825 for the Land Cruiser, $84,950 for the Range Rover). With lengths of 195 and 197 inches, respectively, both are midsize vehicles despite their considerable weight. The Toyota weighs in at 5,815 pounds, while the Britmobile is 5,800.

The Land Cruiser's weight and big, 5.7-liter, 381-horsepower V-8 contribute to some pretty dismal EPA mileage estimates: 13 city and 18 highway. The Range Rover, just as heavy but motivated by a smaller, less powerful engine - a supercharged, 3-liter V-6 that develops 340 horses - has more presentable EPAs of 17 city and 23 highway. If you want to tack an extra $1,650 on the tab and equip the Range Rover with the optional 3-liter turbodiesel, the EPA ante increases to 22 and 29, which is exceptional for a nearly three-ton vehicle.

Equipped with protective skid plates, the power multiplication of low range and a passel of electronic off-road traction aids, both are serious off-roaders. The Range Rover has two significant advantages, however, when the going gets rough: While the Land Cruiser has a fixed ground clearance of 8.9 inches, the Range Rover's adjustable air suspension can raise the clearance to a foot - and enhance the car's approach and departure angles in the process. (The Land Cruiser's Lexus variant, the LX 570, which starts at $88,880, does offer an adjustable air suspension.)

Thanks to an ingenious hood-height air intake for the engine, the Range Rover can get through a lot deeper water than the Toyota.

The Range Rover's off-road edge doesn't persist on road, where these vehicles will spend virtually all their lives. While the refreshed Land Cruiser sports a more stylish body design, both of these meticulously assembled vehicles have gorgeous interiors punctuated by smart design and high-quality materials - like the supple semi-aniline leather I found on the seats of the Land Cruiser I tested. Like the Range Rover, the Land Cruiser is quiet and comfortable.

Although it's virtually the same length as the two-row Range Rover, the Toyota has a third row of seats. But they can only be accessed and occupied by munchkins, and cause the rear cargo area to nearly disappear when employed. Speaking of the rear cargo area, you would expect a power liftgate at this price point - and given how loaded this guy is. The goodies range from dual video monitors mounted on the backs of the front seats to a slew of electronic safety gear.

In addition to the cosmetics, including a new hood, grille, and bumpers, the refresh entails a number of electronic and mechanical changes, most notably the replacement of the six-speed automatic transmission with a new eight-speed. This new gearbox proved one silky customer, and added to a uniformly pleasant driving experience.

Another pleasant aspect of this expensive, low-volume icon is the quality reputation it shares with other Toyotas, a reputation more considerable than Land Rover's.

alhaasauto@aol.com


Good

2016 Toyota Land Cruiser

Base price:

$83,825.

As tested: $85,945.

Standard equipment: 5.7-liter engine, eight-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel-drive with low range, and a full-bore luxury litany of electronic safety aids and posh amenities ranging from semi-aniline leather to backseat video monitors.

Options: None.

Fuel economy: 13 mpg city and 18 highway.

Engine performance: Fairly frisky.

Handling: Competent.

Styling: Pleasing.

Ride comfort: Fine.

Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper.

The Ben key: four Bens, excellent; three Bens, good; two Bens, fair; one Ben, poor.