If you read my "Go Big or Go Home" article, then you know I made a somewhat momentous decision a few months ago. I sold the Jeep YJ that had been my faithful fourwheeler for the past 16 years. I sold it because I needed something with more room, and I wanted something that was more comfortable on the highway so I could start doing more long distance exploring. But I'm not yet ready to give up rock crawling, either. At least not completely.
So here I am a few months later and I'm still conflicted about what I should get. I've narrowed my choices down to two vehicles: a late model Jeep Cherokee (XJ), or a mid-90's Toyota FJ80 Land Cruiser (also sold as the Lexus 450). At first glance, the two vehicles look quite similar, but they represent different styles of fourwheeling.
Here are their respective pros and cons:
Toyota Land CruiserPros
After pondering the pros and cons, I came up with these thoughts:
As I said, the Land Cruiser can fit 35" tires more easily than the Cherokee. It just requires taller springs and shocks to handle 35's. This results in a vehicle that can still use factory control arms and other steering and suspension components. My feeling is that this means greater reliability and durability. The downside, though, is that with only 3" of lift, the ground clearance isn't outstanding, especially when you consider that it has a wheelbase than is almost a foot longer than the Cherokee. I could always lift the Land Cruiser higher if I want more ground clearance, but as I said, it's a heavy vehicle. It's also tall. I think its stability, in comparison to the Cherokee, will suffer with a tall lift.
A Cherokee with 6" of lift and 35" tires will have quite a bit of ground clearance, making it easier for rock crawling and driving over fallen trees (which is far easier than breaking out the chainsaw). But a Cherokee modified in that way is going to catch the eyes of thieves and police officers. A Land Cruiser on 35's looks far more stock than a similarly equipped Cherokee, which means it will draw less attention which, for me, is a good thing. Driving my sprung-over YJ on 37" bias plies, I was always paranoid about getting pulled over for a safety inspection.
I know that parts availability isn't an issue for many FJ80 owners. They're more organized than I am, and are smart enough and patient enough to order an expensive parts online, from vendors that specialize in Land Cruisers and who can provide very competitive pricing. I'm more of a last-minute kind of guy; the kind who runs down to the local auto parts store the night before a big camping trip. So the somewhat exotic nature of the FJ80 could cause me some grief.
The net costs work out to around the same. The Land Cruiser costs more to buy but the Cherokee would require more money to be spent on modifications.
Long Term Durability
I am absolutely certain that the Land Cruiser will last longer than the Cherokee. On top of that, if I do a lot of rock crawling with the Cherokee, its unibody will begin to fatigue. The other side to that coin, though, is that the Cherokee is light and small enough that I will enjoy rock crawling with it. The Land Cruiser, however, seems to be rather ponderous for rock crawling. The FJ80 rock crawling videos I've been watching show that the front has less flex than the rear, making it appear to be less stable than a tall Cherokee. So the one vehicle that I'm most likely to take rock crawling is also the one that is less likely to survive it over several years. It's an interesting dichotomy, for sure.
Here's another factor I have to think about: this vehicle will not be a daily driver. It'll be used for maybe six to eight trips per year. So even though the Cherokee will have a shorter life span, it could take a very long time for it to reach its end. If I took it rock crawling, it would only be once or twice a year.
I think the Land Cruiser will have a better resale value but if I own my next 4x4 for the next 15 years, I want to choose it based on its suitability to my requirements rather than its resale value.
The Land Cruiser is the clear cut winner as far as carrying capacity goes, and it's a very strong selling point for me. I could probably fit my family (2 adults, 2 little kids) and all our camping gear inside. The Cherokee would require some of our gear to go on a roof rack.
And the Winner Is...
...to be announced. I'm still mulling it over. Basically it comes down to the roominess and durability of a mildly modified Land Cruiser vs. the off-road capability of a highly modified Cherokee. If I didn't want to do any rock crawling or narrow, off-camber trails, the Land Cruiser would win, hands down. As of right now, I don't know exactly what I expect to do. I've got a vague idea of building a kind of cross-over vehicle that can handle rock crawling and be comfortable and safe enough for long highway drives. But it's a cop-out, because it saves me from having to make hard choices like, exactly what kinds of trails are you prepared to not run anymore? How much risk are you willing to take with respect to getting pulled over for a vehicle inspection? Would a Cherokee with a 6" lift be more or less stable on the highway than an FJ80 with a 3" lift? Since the goal is to have something roomy enough to bring my family off-roading with me, the stability issue is more important than it was with my YJ.
Anyway, those are my thoughts so far. I hope it has helped some of you who are in the same position.
I'd love to hear your opinions on what I've written. I'm sure I've managed to offend 'Cruiser and Cherokee owners alike. Scroll down to leave your comments. Thanks!
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