The 2018 Toyota Land Cruiser feels like the world's toughest truck

Key Points
  • The Land Cruiser is one of the automotive world’s most storied brands, with a reputation for surviving life in the harshest corners of civilization.
  • The U.S. market receives only the top-trim Land Cruiser, with everything from radar cruise control to a built in-fridge.
  • It’s gigantic and old-school, but the Land Cruiser is incredibly likeable and livable. It feels like it could outlast me on this planet.
CNBC | Mack Hogan

The Land Cruiser is the most surprising vehicle Toyota makes. While the Japanese automaker is best known for everyday commuter cars like the Camry, the Land Cruiser is a massive luxury truck with a starting price tag north of $80,000.

For that, you get seating for eight, 16 feet of metal and a massive 5.7-liter V8 engine. More importantly, you get what is likely the most durable and tested vehicle on sale today.

The Good

CNBC | Mack Hogan

Everything about the Land Cruiser is beefy and solid, from the thick-sidewall tires to the protruding grille. The volume knob, the latch for the tailgate, the controls for the off-road equipment; everything you touch in the the top-dog Toyota is made of thicker, heavier-duty material than in other luxury SUVs.

And it's not for show. Any pickup truck manufacturer will sell you something with rugged controls to make you feel like a tough guy, but there's a sense of unified purpose behind the Land Cruiser that makes such machismo less offensive and more impressive. Because with the Land Cruiser, Toyota has the history to back it up.

While some consumers might not be familiar with it, the Land Cruiser nameplate is among the most respected in the automotive industry. Toyota sells different variations of this truck around the world, from humble farm trucks with pickup beds all the way up to this leathered-out luxury truck. Visit a developing nation and you're likely to find it littered with Land Cruisers, which are especially common among police and first responders.

CNBC | Mack Hogan

For decades, Toyota has built these trucks to survive the world's toughest environments. Anyone in the Australian Outback will tell you the only production truck cut out for that place is the Land Cruiser. The U.N. even uses them in war zones.

Even the high-dollar U.S. model — this one stickers for $85,860 — has off-road chops in the form of locking differentials, a sort of off-road cruise control called crawl control and the ability to drag its outboard wheel to negotiate tight trail curves.

CNBC | Mack Hogan

The fortress-gate doors and thick windows keep things quiet inside, while a softly-sprung suspension keeps you from the harsh realities of the outdoors. Thick leather bucket seats provide support for hours on the trail, while the expected suite of heated/cooled seats, premium audio system and radar cruise control ensures your luxury SUV experience stays convenient. Oh, and there's a fridge in the center console that will keep your drinks cool all day.

The Bad

CNBC | Mack Hogan

The downside of the longevity-first engineering mindset is that you inevitably end up with something that feels a bit old-school. The 381-horsepower, 5.7-liter V8 is reliable but also a generation or two behind the best powertrains you can buy. It can be noisy under load and delivered fuel economy that didn't quite meet the already-bad 15 mpg that the EPA says customers should expect.

The duty-focused interior isn't the pinnacle of luxury. The thick plastic pieces will likely outlast me, but they don't feel as premium as the leathers, metals and woods that adorn the BMWs, Audis, Volvos and Mercedes you can get for this price.

Those cars will also likely come with better tech, too, as the Land Cruiser makes do with Toyota's unimpressive Entune infotainment system. In general, while it has most of the features of a modern luxury car, the Land Cruiser fails to tie them together in a seamless way. It's the best stuff you can get on a non-luxury branded vehicle, but you probably won't forget that it's a Toyota.

CNBC | Mack Hogan

Also attributable to the off-road mission, the Land Cruiser lacks fold-flat rear seats. There's too much below-the belt to make a fold-flat row work, so the rear seats awkwardly flip to the sides and up but never really get out of the way. Plus, the soft suspension also often feels jiggly on the road.

How you should configure it

CNBC | Mack Hogan

There is one option package: $2,200 for rear-seat DVD players. Skip it — iPads do a lot more for a lot less — and you're done with your build. That means you should be spending $85,860 for the configuration I recommend, which is the exact model I tested.

Final Thoughts

CNBC | Mack Hogan

The Land Cruiser is undoubtedly flawed. It's too bouncy and plastic-laden for its competitive set, with an engine and fuel economy rating better suited to 2005. But it's a serious marvel of automotive design that can reliably conquer the harshest terrains in the world. For most, it may be another SUV but -- among those who know -- there's no substitute for a Land Cruiser.

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Exterior: 4 stars

Interior: 3 stars

Driving Experience: 3 stars

Value: 2 stars

Overall: 3 stars

Price as tested: $85,860