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Drive Time: Toyota maintains brand loyalty with Land Cruiser

The 2017 Toyota Land Cruiser 4WD is filled with innovation, from its 8-speed automatic transmission to its lane-departure alert/blind-spot monitor and to its navigation setup.

Even with the 45 mph construction speed signs in place for long stretches, there was no slowdown of traffic Wednesday as Jan and I headed south on Weld County Road 49 evening, shortly after the work crews had ended their day.

Aboard the 2017 Toyota Land Cruiser 4WD, we turned west on Colo. 52 at Keenesburg and wound up in the parking lot of the Pepper Pod restaurant in Hudson, where the big, tough-looking Cruiser was a standout among all the other SUVs and pickups.

Small though it may be in numbers, the Land Cruiser is one of the oldest names in the automobile business and has earned strong loyalty from a devoted group of consumers.

"We don't get many of them, as production is very limited, but every one we receive is sold relatively quick," said Scott Ehrlich, owner of Ehrlich Toyota in Greeley. "Outdoors people, ranchers and farmers like them. One of our buyers favors the split liftgate/tailgate at the rear. He's a fisherman and sits on the drop-down lower gate to prepare his gear for fishing. My wife and I enjoy the nice, comfortable ride provided by the Land Cruiser on drives to Steamboat Springs."

Weighing in at almost 6,000 pounds, the Land Cruiser uses an independent double-wishbone front suspension with coil springs and stabilizer bar, and four-link rear suspension with coils, stabilizer bar and semifloating axle. It rides softly, though does on occasion a bit of pitch and float.

Regarding the Pepper Pod, I loved this eating place as a kid from Wray and Sterling for its pen of buffalo out back.

In recent years, in our stops, I've enjoyed talking cars with Bill Schmidt, an employee there for 28 years. It seems he's always there, and ready to talk of whatever new car I've driven or a recollection of a favorite car from his past. He's actually worked that corner of town for 49 years, having started as a teenager at a Conoco station, then after 21 years walking next door for the waiter's job at the Pod.

The new Land Cruiser is filled with innovation, from its 8-speed automatic transmission to its lane-departure alert/blind-spot monitor and to its navigation setup. A multi-terrain monitor displays front, rear and side camera views on the navigation screen.

Yet, it remains an old-style SUV, evidenced by the fact its third-row seats, rather than tumble into the floor, are folded up at each side of the rear cargo area, diminishing precious cargo space. As I looked at those folded-up seats pushed to the side kind of like jump seats in old Land Rovers, I expected maybe to see a pith helmet tossed to one side or the other.

The Land Cruiser, built in Aichi, Japan, is a solid performer with its 5.7-liter V-8 engine of 381 horsepower and 401 lb.-ft. of torque. Its EPA estimate is only 13 to 18 miles per gallon; my overall average was 15.3.

In offroading, move the 4WD dial to 4Lo and twist the crawl-mode control and it will slowly move over or around most any ground obstacle, even give an inclinometer (angles of slope) reading.

With its three rows of seats, the Land Cruiser is considered an eight-passenger vehicle.

It's pricey. The sticker on the new one I drove is $86,722.

Twenty years ago, the Land Cruiser sold 12,000 to 15,000 vehicles per year in the U.S. Ten years later, the sales figure had dropped into the 3,000 range and has hovered around that since. Last year, the total was 3,705, a slight increase from 2015.

Bud Wells, a native of Wray, is a former Page 1 editor of the Denver Post and has reviewed automobiles for the past 40 years. He can be contacted at budwellscars@comcast.net.