WHISTLER, BC - Here I am on the edge of this narrow logging trail in the new

Lexus LX 470 on a pine-covered mountain, and I can see a pink flag marking a run-off ditch that looks to be about a yard deep and 2 yards wide (a meter deep and a coupla meters wide).

To our left the mountain slopes into a craggy ravine at a perilously steep drop-off, maybe 75 degrees. Even for a guy who is used to negotiating the pothole canyons of southeastern Michigan, this is formidable terrain.

Takeo Kondo, Toyota's chief engineer for this luxo-ute and the guy whose job it is to make sure this truck lives up to its advertising billing as "King Kong in a tux," is sitting behind me.

For a moment, I wonder to myself, what am I doing here? Anyone lucky enough to spend time in this awe-inspiring natural splendor should be on skis or snowshoes or hiking boots. If I belonged to the Sierra Club they'd probably excommunicate me for trampling through this hallowed land in a 5,401-lb. (2,450-kg) monster of a machine.

Ka-chunk! Whomp! Eek! We hit that ditch at something close to 10 mph (16 km/h). Sorry, Kondo-san. I guess I splattered some mud and snow on King Kong's formal wear, maybe even twisted his ankle. But the LX's axle remained intact, and I gave it a pretty mean crunch.

Taking the remainder of the wilderness course a bit more cautiously, slowing to about 5 mph (8 km/h) at each subsequent ditch, I gained a new respect for what a serious off-road vehicle can do.

High-riding fetishists may still want a Ford Expedition or Lincoln Navigator, but face it: On your average 12-lane freeway there's not always a functional reason to be perched a few centimeters below that fellow driving the 18-wheeler in the next lane.

Enter the LX 470's Active Height Control system. By varying hydraulic pressure to each wheel's hydro-pneumatic damper, the driver can raise or lower herself to one of three heights - low, normal and high - with 4 ins. (10 cm) between low and high. The result: When you come out of Nord-strom's to the mall parking lot you don't need a step ladder to climb into the driver's seat.

It is marginally roomier than the LX 450 it replaces. Overall length has been stretched by 2.8 ins. (7.1 cm) and interior space has grown by 3.5 ins. (8.9 cm), partly by shifting the windshield forward.

The engine is new, a 4.7L, 32-valve V-8 that delivers 230 hp and 320 lb.-ft. (434 Nm) of torque.

It will be certified as a Low Emission Vehicle by the California Air Resource Board, but don't enlist this sucker in the crusade to cut global warming. The LX's Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy numbers of 13 mpg (18.1L/100 km) in the city and 16 mpg (14.7L/100 km) on the highway will keep you on intimate terms with your neighborhood self-service pump.

But in a nation of $1-a-gallon unleaded regular, this is an attractive choice for the recreationally-inclined CEO who wants to seize the day and hit the slopes.

Just be careful at that first ditch. Even King Kong has his limits.