On Autos: Toyota Land Cruiser doesn’t flaunt its off-road superiority

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The 2017 Toyota Land Cruiser is a luxury SUV with seating for seven and outstanding off-road capability. (Brady Holt/The Current)
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Drive around D.C. in a big silver SUV and few heads are likely to turn, except perhaps to release a few sad climate-change-related sighs.

But while it may be anonymous at a glance, the Toyota Land Cruiser is a leading status symbol in much of the world. From dictators to oligarchs to United Nations weapons inspectors, a diverse cast of characters demand the Land Cruiser — a model that’s famous for combining hardy go-anywhere capabilities with a posh array of creature comforts.

Essentially Japan’s take on the Range Rover, the Land Cruiser makes do without its top competitor’s overtly luxurious image. The Range Rover is low and sleek, decked out with giant wheels and bejeweled with intricate details. The Land Cruiser, meanwhile, is a modestly adorned box that saves the flash for its Lexus LX 570 variant.

The 2017 Toyota Land Cruiser interior features rich but sturdy materials. (Brady Holt/The Current)

The Land Cruiser is already a luxury car, though, despite its Toyota badge and its humble styling. Its base price of $86,070 reflects its capabilities more than its creature comforts. Despite some strong assets — a smooth, quiet ride; a well-finished interior; and a generous array of high-end features — the on-road driving experience is pretty similar to a fully loaded Chevrolet Tahoe or Nissan Armada that costs some $20,000 less. Toyota also has its own competitor in that class, the Sequoia.

There are further downsides to the Land Cruiser. The cabin’s floor is high off the ground to make room for ample suspension travel, and this leaves front occupants with unexpectedly little head room. Meanwhile, the second and third rows sit low to the floor, reducing comfort there — though large side windows do provide an unusually expansive view for kids in the far back. There’s also surprisingly skimpy cargo space for such a big vehicle.

The boxy 2017 Toyota Land Cruiser has bigger windows than most of today’s SUVs and crossovers. (Brady Holt/The Current)

But to the Land Cruiser’s devotees, such practical considerations are secondary. The Toyota’s towering seating position serves as a daily reminder about this SUV’s capability, while its comfort and refinement levels are acceptable for everyday use.

One could argue that the Land Cruiser is wildly wasteful and entirely unnecessary, at least in D.C. It’s powered by a big V8 engine that’s rated for just 15 mpg in mixed driving, yet it’s not even as quick as many V6-powered crossovers that are also roomier, thriftier and cheaper. And few local motorists will likely use its extreme abilities for anything more demanding than driving over a bad pothole.

But, of course, many luxury vehicles fail on purely rational levels. The Land Cruiser can haul seven passengers through a mud pit or a war zone, and for the right buyer, that’s $86,070 well-spent.