Well, last night I drove home in a shiny new 2008 Toyota Land Cruiser, a 6.2-foot-tall, 5920-pound, 8-passenger SUV with a price tag of $72,030. There's almost no way to justify owning a rig as huge and lavish and expensive as this newly revised Toyota -- particularly to your Birkenstock-wearing friends -- but I must say this: If could afford to purchase (and fuel) this gentle giant, I'd snap one right up and slap on a vanity plate that read: "NDFNSBL."
Few ground-based vehicles can match the Land Cruiser for sheer mechanical overkill. The driver doesn't operate in a cockpit; it's a ship's bridge. Ahead of you lie rows of finely detailed backlit gauges and multifunction readouts, plus a large, voice-activated navigation display with rear backup camera (both are optional), a tire-pressure monitoring system, heated-seat controls, a premium 14-speaker JBL audio system with six-disc CD/DVD changer, and switches and knobs for the four-wheel-drive system, the locking differential, and probably the Federal interest rate, for all I know. Make no mistake: You are in control. You're also way up high. Nasty little Civic just cut you off? Hmmm. There must be a button in here marked "Particle Beam"...
With full-time four-wheel drive, a two-speed transfer case, nearly nine inches of ground clearance, a lockable Torsen limited-slip center diff, plus electronically modulated Crawl Control and Hill-Start Assist, you just know the Cruiser can go about anywhere. In fact, the sense of tank-like prowess and invincibility is almost overwhelming. Just a few minutes behind the wheel, and I had a sudden urge to grab my binoculars, a box of cigars, and some Warren Zevon CDs and drive straight through a Cat 5 hurricane to Machu Picchu. (Instead, the next morning I drove my daughter to school.)
If this is driving decadence, than I have sinned. Now powered by the Tundra's 381-horse, DOHC 5.7-liter V-8 (feeding a six-speed automatic), the Land Cruiser moves almost unhindered by such niggling trifles as gravity, drag, and mass. Forward motion is smooth, effortless, wonderful -- and fast. The Cruiser can blast from a standstill to 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds. At the same time, you enjoy fingertip-light power steering and a long-travel suspension that seems to float on cotton gauze. Invite seven comrades aboard, load up your gear, even tack on an 8500-pound trailer if you like. The Land Cruiser loves it. It also loves fuel: Be prepared to watch it gulp a gallon every 13 miles in the city (or 18 on the highway). At $4 per, that's around $102 per tank. Oh yes, NDFNSBL.
Ah, but what a glorious way to burn that oxymoron known as "refined crude." The Land Cruiser is put together as finely as a Panerai watch. The leather smacks of Gucci. The controls move as if bathed in extra virgin olive oil. The kids in back are silent: They're wearing wireless headphones and watching a DVD on the nine-inch rear screen.
Oh yes, NDFNSBL. Or perhaps another vanity plate is more appropriate: UENVYME.