For this issue we get two of the most rugged off-road vehicles on the market. First up is the Toyota Land Cruiser. This is a serious rig, with four-wheel drive, locking differentials, crawl control, high ground clearance and a massive frame built like a tank. This would explain the massive weight as well, tipping the scales at near 3 tons.

A strong engine is required to pull this heavy rig, so we get the proven 5.7 V8 as found in the Toyota Tundra truck. Its 381 horsepower hooked to an eight-speed transmission does a good job, although a bit strained if the vehicle is loaded with passengers and gear. Fuel economy is listed at 13/17 mpg, which is accurate. That means for every 100 miles driven, the tank will lose 7 gallons at a cost of about $16.

Speaking of prices, the base tab is about $85K. This comes fully loaded with few options. We did get an entertainment system at $2K extra, but being charged $269 for a rear cargo carpet mat seems totally absurd. Shouldn’t this be standard? Total fee with shipping comes to $89K.

The cabin is a nice place to be. The quality of materials is first rate. The driving position is great. This is actually a smooth machine to drive, whether on pavement or off. But our $88 fuel tab for driving 500 miles really grabbed the wallet. However, this rig is reliable, durable, comfortable, solid, quiet and can go about anywhere.

For someone who wants all this off-road ability in a smaller package, the Lexus GX 460 might do. It has all the features of the Toyota, but more. A switch provides Normal, Comfort and Sport mode. The suspension can be raised for extra ground clearance to avoid large rocks on the back trails. This ability plus the smaller size make the GX actually more capable in the dirt than our Land Cruiser. The GX 460 costs less too, starting at $53K. But we get nailed on the option trap, with the ending fee soaring to a tidy $72K. That includes being charged an extra $285 for cargo net and wheel locks that should be standard.

Under the hood is a proven 4.6-liter V8 cranking 301 horsepower, hooked to a six-speed transmission. Fuel economy is listed at 15/19, which is what we got, but premium gas must be used. The cabin is total luxury, with quality materials and no expense spared. Three-row seating allows plenty of friends to come along.

We loved this Lexus and found it to be more practical than the Land Cruiser due to its smaller size and lower cost. It performs great on the street and even better in the dirt, where it was capable of keeping up with the Jeep Wranglers with ease. The only complaint was with the odd rear door. It’s all one piece and opens to the side, making loading cargo awkward. Otherwise, this is a fantastic ride.

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Chad Haire, of Phoenix, test-drives vehicles for this feature.

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