The Land Cruiser accounts for less than 1 percent of Toyota Motor Corp.'s annual U.S. sales. So why would Toyota—which sells the 4Runner, RAV4, Highlander, Sequoia and FJ Cruiser sport-utility vehicles—keep selling the big SUV in the U.S.?

Toyota's flagship SUV isn't about big sales numbers. The Land Cruiser is a company icon, with roots to Toyota's first post-World War II vehicle. Well-loved around the world, it shuttles Saudi Arabian sheiks across desert sands and carries Australian ranchers deep into the Outback. In the U.S., its reputation approaches cult status, with 42 percent of all sales going to returning Land Cruiser owners.

For 2008, the seventh-generation Land Cruiser is revamped as a slightly larger model. It also receives less-truckish styling, a quieter-than-ever interior, a new suspension for a more refined ride, new electronic aides for off-roading and a more powerful V8.

Land Cruiser Gets Tundra V8
The 2008 Land Cruiser is now endowed with the 5.7-liter double-overhead-cam V8 that was introduced in the 2007 Toyota Tundra pickup truck. Exceptionally smooth and powerful, in the Land Cruiser, it's mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission and delivers a considerable 381 horsepower and 401 lb-ft of torque. With the newfound grunt, the Land Cruiser's towing capacity has jumped from 6,500 to 8,500 pounds.

As you might guess, the 5,690-pound "Land Crusher" isn't exactly thrifty with gasoline. The official government fuel economy rating is a mere 13 miles per gallon in city driving and 18 mpg on the highway. This works out to an unimpressive range of only 370 combined city/highway miles on a 24.6-gallon tank. A small blessing, only regular unleaded fuel is required.

A Refined Ride, On or Off-Road
The 2008 Land Cruiser sits well above the pavement or whatever terrain you wish to conquer. Minimum ground clearance—needed for straddling boulders and such—is a generous 8.9 inches. And despite the new styling, the Land Cruiser's approach, departure, and ramp-breakover angles remain the same at 30, 20, and 21 degrees, respectively.

The Land Cruiser's front suspension has changed from a torsion-bar to a double-wishbone configuration, the main culprit in the Cruiser's improved on-road ride. Also standard is the Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), which can automatically disengage the front and rear stabilizer (anti-sway) bars.

When pavement bound, the Land Cruiser's front and rear stabilizer bars work commendably to give this tall SUV a flatter stance through curves. With the bars disengaged while off-roading, wheel articulation is increased (up to 27 inches for the rear). On uneven terrain, the increased wheel travel allows for better tire contact for more traction, and decoupling the sway bars can smooth the off-road ride.

Also standard is Crawl Control (which can keep speeds to less than 1 mph on really rugged terrain), and Hill-Start Assist Control which offers about 3 seconds of brake hold. This provides time for the driver to move a foot from brake to accelerator while on a steep hill, and is a nifty feature whether off-road or in downtown San Francisco.

Worth noting is the Land Cruiser's tidy turning circle. At only 38.7 feet, it bests that of the Escalade and the Ford Expedition.

Well-Equipped SUV
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price for the 2008 Land Cruiser is up to just over $63,000, but much equipment is standard. This includes leather-trimmed seats, 18-inch wheels, a 10-way power driver seat, an 8-way power front-passenger seat, rear parking assist, full-time 4-wheel-drive, power moonroof, 12 cupholders and 10 (!!) airbags.

The ten airbags include two that most SUVs don't have—inflatable knee airbags for the driver and front passenger to help prevent them from "submarining" below the dashboard during a frontal collision. The Land Cruiser's curtain airbags provide head protection for passengers in all three seating rows, and the front seats feature active head restraints that automatically move forward to help cradle heads if the SUV is hit from the rear.

Getting into the lofty Land Cruiser can be a chore, even with the standard running boards, but passengers can see for what seems like miles ahead. The elevated perspective lets you look down on pickup trucks, and the plush interior is unexpected in a vehicle with brutish underpinning and full-time 4-wheel drive.

Audible warnings about what's behind the vehicle come with the standard rear parking assist feature, and buyers can opt for a rearview monitor that projects an image onto the video display in the middle of the dashboard.

The Land Cruiser no longer uses an ignition key to get started. Instead, Toyota's Smart Key, a fob that doesn't need to be inserted anywhere on the dashboard or even removed from a driver's purse or pocket, is standard. The only problem is someone with the Smart Key can walk away from a started and running Land Cruiser and the vehicle will still operate—at least until it's miles away and turned off, so be forewarned.

The Land Cruiser continues with its 3-person, third-row seats. As ever, these separate in the middle to stow against the side of the interior walls when not in use, or can be removed, but are heavy to maneuver. Second-row seats now have a heating option, and they slide four inches fore-and-aft to distribute legroom, but third-row knee space can still feel confining at 28.4 inches. The second-row also folds flat, maxing out cargo room at 81.7 cubic-feet, far less than the 108.9 cubic-feet available in the Escalade.

More luxurious and as capable as ever, Toyota's iconic SUV remains faithful to its global following. And even though the Land Cruiser name remains unchanged, its position has. For 2008, the Land Cruiser lettering is back where it belongs—across the shiny silver-colored band on the back of the SUV, where it appeared during the Land Cruiser's early days of the 1950s.

Ann Job is a freelance automotive writer.