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After a year out of commission, the 2013 Toyota Land Cruiser rejoins the automaker's lineup without much news to report. It's still a huge SUV with a huge pricetag, huge off-road talents and a huge appetite for fuel--personality traits that put it in direct conflict with Toyota's carefully groomed, green-tinged appeals to mainstream car shoppers.
The Land Cruiser's back, and has stuck around, because it's a unique part of the company's heritage. It cut its teeth exploring the globe, and despite the arrival of the expressly American-minded Sequoia full-size SUV, there's still a place in the world (albeit a very low-volume one) for a vehicle that can do all the things, in all the places, the Land Cruiser can reach easily.
The $78,000 Land Cruiser--actually, more than that--maintains classic SUV talents to justify all its clanging discontinuities with the rest of the Toyota lineup. Not too distinguished in looks from the Sequoia or especially its near-twin, the Lexus LX 570, the Land Cruiser sports the kind of body-on-frame construction, locking-differential four-wheel drive, and rugged suspension design that enables hardcore off-road ability. At the heart of the package: a 381-horsepower V-8 that's strong enough to tug the 5,700-pound vehicle to highway speeds, and delicately tuned to slip and slide over slick rocks where no highway exists.
The prodigious off-road talent baked into the chassis compromises its usefulness as an urban ute. The steering's loose; the ride can be choppy unless it's fully laden with up to eight passengers, three of whom will have to ride in third-row seats that fold up to the sides of the cargo area--not into the floor like most modern crossovers, because that's where the rear axle lives. In this land of compromise, the latest electronics keep the Land Cruiser happier both on and off the pavement, controlling the way it trundles down and up hills, the way it traverses all kinds of terrain, keeping its hydraulic suspension at the proper stiffness.
To woo more buyers back for the 2013 model year, Toyota's added all previously optional safety and luxury options. To go with its standard ten airbags, CD player, and leather upholstery, the Land Cruiser now gets pushbutton start; a power moonroof; heated front and rear seats; a rear-seat DVD entertainment system; Bluetooth; a rearview camera and parking sensors; a navigation system; HD radio; and Entune, the Toyota connectivity offering that enables mobile apps for use with its audio system, whether it's streaming Pandora audio or on-the-go Facebook updates filed by voice commands.
The universe of mega-SUVs is shrinking, for sure, which makes it surprising that Toyota's bothered to bring the Land Cruiser back for an encore. It's not the luxury icon that Land Rover has in the Range Rover, and it's about $30,000 more than Toyota's slightly more practical Sequoia. Okay, it's not the most evocative shape, and the base price is extraordinarily high--but what other vehicle's inspired the Land Crusher nickname and lived (again) to tell about it?