Many sport utility vehicles are going soft, mellowing their truckish rides for more car-like cruising and lowering their ride height to help passengers get in and out easier. Not Toyota's Land Cruiser, which remains true to its 50-year heritage as an around-the-world, go-anywhere SUV.

Arguably Toyota's most brutish sport utility, the Land Cruiser remains a stalwart eight-seater with full-time four-wheel-drive, considerable torque for towing and off-roading, truck-like body-on-frame construction and a ground clearance of nearly 10 inches.

Sold in some 150 countries, the Land Cruiser remains the Toyota-branded vehicle with the highest base price in the United States. Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for the 2005 model is $55,890.

Competitors include the 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee Limited with V8, which starts at $32,575, including destination charge, and the 2005 Ford Expedition, which starts at $36,850 for a four-wheel-drive model.

The price also can be high for fueling the Land Cruiser, which is Toyota's worst performer in fuel economy.

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BASE PRICE: $55,325.
AS TESTED: $60,654.
TYPE: Front-engine, four-wheel-drive, eight-passenger, large sport utility vehicle.
ENGINE: 4.7-liter, double overhead cam, V8.
MILEAGE: 13 (city), 17 (highway).
LENGTH: 192.5 inches.
WHEELBASE: 112.2 inches.
CURB WEIGHT: 5,390 pounds.
BUILT: Japan.
OPTIONS: Navigation system (includes DVD player, backup camera and Bluetooth technology) $3,350; curtain airbags and front-seat side airbags $650; roof rack and side running boards $565; floor mats and cargo mat $199.
According to Environmental Protection Agency figures, this nearly 3-ton vehicle is rated at just 13 miles a gallon in city driving and 17 mpg on the highway.

Most buyers are affluent men, with some three-quarters of them college-educated, according to Toyota. Median age is in the high 40s, and nearly all are married.

Toyota research shows they purchase the Land Cruiser because of its reputation for reliability, durability and longevity. Developed in the 1950s, the Land Cruiser was first sold in the United States by Toyota in 1958.

"If you travel to the harshest environments on Earth, you will likely see people getting around in Toyota Land Cruisers," said Don Esmond, senior vice president of automotive operations at Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.

In this country, the Land Cruiser is a "recommended" buy of Consumer Reports, which lists its predicted reliability as "excellent."

The vehicle also has a sterling record for having no U.S. safety recall of the current, fifth-generation model, which dates to 1998, according to records of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Land Cruiser has traditional SUV looks _ tall, boxy and no-nonsense. Riding on new-for-2005 18-inch wheels and tires, it stands 6 feet, 1 inch.

Climbing up and aboard puts a driver and passengers in positions where they can look down on cars and many pickups and SUVs in traffic. I even could look over the fence into a neighbor's yard as I drove past in the Land Cruiser.

But I noticed that some other drivers seemed to detest driving behind the blocky Land Cruiser.

The Land Cruiser isn't the largest Toyota SUV overall. This honor goes to the full-size Sequoia, which, like the Land Cruiser, can seat eight people. But the Sequoia is nearly a foot longer than the Land Cruiser and can accommodate more cargo.

Maximum cargo room behind the front seats of the Land Cruiser is 90.8 cubic feet and is available only when the third-row seats are removed and left behind somewhere. Second-row seats fold down.

This compares with 110.5 cubic feet of maximum cargo room in the Expedition with second- and third-row seats folded down. The Expedition seats easily fold flat into the floor and do not need to be removed.

When the third-row seats in the Land Cruiser are retained and folded, there's only 59.7 cubic feet of storage room behind the second-row seats. This is because the Land Cruiser third-row seats, which split 50-50, fold up against the sides of the cargo area, not down into the floor.

The resulting cargo room is less than the 67.4 cubic feet in back of the second-row seats in the Grand Cherokee. The Grand Cherokee does not offer third-row seating.

On the outside, the Land Cruiser doesn't look luxurious. But standard amenities inside include leather-trimmed seats, premium JBL stereo, power moonroof, remote garage/gate opener, power-operated front seats, keyless remote entry and rear-seat climate control.

Controls are easy to operate, with sizable knobs and buttons. There are nine cupholders _ more than there are passenger seats.

The optional navigation system in the test vehicle had a colorful, good-sized display screen. It doubled as the screen for the backup camera that activated whenever the Land Cruiser was shifted into reverse.

Too bad this helpful backup camera is part of a $3,350 option package. It's really needed to help Land Cruiser drivers see what's behind this tall vehicle as they back up.

Several other safety aides are standard, however. These include stability control, antilock brakes, traction control and Brake Assist.

I wish, though, that curtain airbags, which are becoming standard on some low-priced SUVs, were standard equipment on the pricey Land Cruiser. These airbags are part of a $650 option that includes side airbags mounted in the front seats.

There's only one engine for the Land Cruiser: A 4.7-liter, double overhead cam V8 that puts out 235 horsepower. It's adequate for this kind of vehicle, and I appreciated the smooth shifts that came from the five-speed automatic transmission.

But the power is less than what's offered in some competitors.

Jeep's Grand Cherokee, for example, has an uplevel Hemi V8 capable of 325 horsepower, and Ford's Expedition has a standard V8 that generates 300 horsepower.

The Land Cruiser's 320 foot-pounds of torque at 3,400 rpm is palpable and well-suited for off-roading, where the center differential can be locked via a button on the dashboard. Drivers also can shift into low mode. Towing capacity is a maximum 6,500 pounds.

But other V8 SUVs offer more torque. The Expedition's standard V8 provides 365 foot-pounds at 3,750 rpm and can tow up to 8,600 pounds as a four-wheel-drive model, for example.

The ride in the Land Cruiser is somewhat truckish, with some bounciness felt even over potholes on city streets. The vehicle manages lesser road bumps with just a slight rippling sensation.

The vehicle feels a bit top-heavy when traveling through sweeping curves, but it moves straight across fields and down dirt paths with authority.

There's wind noise at highway speeds.

Sales of SUVs in the over-$50,000 range aren't large, and Land Cruiser sales are the lowest of all five of Toyota's SUVs.

Last year, 6,778 Land Cruisers were sold in the States, up slightly from 6,671 in calendar 2003.

But perhaps because of high gas prices, Land Cruiser sales through the first four months of this year are down 14.4 percent from the same period in 2004, to 1,742.

NHTSA has no crash test ratings for the low-volume Land Cruiser.

A final note: The Lexus LX 470 SUV uses the basic design and many of the same components of the Land Cruiser but is more luxuriously appointed. Starting MSRP, including destination charge, for the 2005 LX 470 is $65,875. Lexus is the luxury division of Toyota.