Car reviews - Lexus - LX - LX450d
Opulent and modern interior, extreme comfort, off-road skills courtesy of LandCruiser breeding, massive boot
Room for improvement
Tank range similar to the petrol, not all that fuel-efficient, no third row of seats, doesn’t align with usual Lexus brand standards of quietness, performance and refinement; feels old despite modern interior, usual Lexus infotainment bugbears
Australia’s first diesel-powered Lexus, the LX450d, comes with many compromises
3 Jun 2019
THE Australian motoring media has long lamented the lack of a diesel engine option in the huge and hugely opulent Lexus LX four-wheel-drive.
And now the brand has finally listened, transplanting the 4.5-litre twin-turbo diesel V8 from the Toyota LandCruiser 200 on which the big Lexus is based. Hooray!
However, the diesel donk’s extra weight has forced Lexus to remove a fair bit of standard equipment – including the third row of seats and extended-range fuel tank – and priced the LX450d to reflect this at $8650 less than the V8 petrol-powered LX570.
After a week living with the derv-devouring LX, we remained unconvinced that the diesel transition was particularly successful or worthwhile.
Price and equipment
It costs about the same as a Mercedes-Benz GLS350d Sport or Range Rover Sport HSE SDV6. And $23,600 more than the Infiniti QX80. Yes, the Infiniti is petrol-only but in practice we got similar real-world fuel consumption in both the QX80 and LX450d, and it’d take you a lot of petrol stops to make up the $23,600 difference in fuel savings.
But none of the above rivals can hold a candle to the Lexus’ LandCruiser breeding – although the Infiniti does have Nissan Patrol guts – and we’d wager the Lexus holds its value better than the Europeans and the Infiniti.
So, what do you get for your $134,500 in a Lexus LX450d?
There is a 12.3-inch infotainment system with satellite navigation, four-zone climate control, a nine-speaker sound system with digital radio and Bluetooth/USB/Aux connectivity, a colour head-up display, adaptive cruise control, heated front seats, lots of leather in two-tone black/brown or ivory/brown, wireless smartphone charging and a huge refrigerated centre console compartment for starters.
It has adaptive suspension with active height control, a 360-degree camera system with four-camera multi-terrain monitor, five driving modes including crawl (a kind of off-road cruise control), keyless entry and start, variable-ratio steering, paddle-shifters, second-row sunshades, high-beam assist, front and rear parking sensors, and tyre pressure monitoring.
There are 20-inch alloy wheels with a full-size spare, LED headlights, LED daytime running lights and scrolling indicators, and a rash of active driver-assist and safety technologies including autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and multi-terrain anti-skid brakes. The LX450d also has 10 airbags.
Seven exterior paint colours are on offer, with all but Classic Black costing $1490 extra.
But it’s what the LX450d doesn’t have compared with the petrol LX570 that gets interesting. For a start, it loses the third seating row, so it can only carry five rather than eight people. Also gone are 44 litres of fuel tank capacity, meaning the diesel’s extra efficiency has little impact on range.
You can’t drown out the diesel drone with the petrol version’s 19-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system or entertain rear passengers with the LX570’s seat-mounted dual 11.6-inch screens. The LX450d also misses out on a sunroof and the six-speed automatic transmission has two fewer ratios than the eight-speeder in the petrol version.
Lexus also denies diesel customers the $17,490 Enhancement Pack that upgrades a petrol LX570 with 21-inch alloys, front seat ventilation and heating/ventilation for the outer second-row seats.
But you do get the same Lexus-exclusive interior, and it’s a pleasant place to spend time.
In addition to the incredibly bold exterior styling that Lexus says is “designed to command, not conform”, the LX450d further differentiates itself from the more affordable LandCruiser 200 Sahara on which it is based with a thoroughly modern and incredibly sumptuous interior that carries all the Lexus design hallmarks and technologies.
We happened to step into the LX after spending a week with the Infiniti QX80 and it was like travelling 10 years forward in time. Overall, the ambience is of hi-tech opulence. It looks and feels great.
The big 12.3-inch multimedia screen looks state-of-the-art, as does a similarly large head-up display readout projected onto the windscreen.
But as good as it looks and as feature-packed as it may be, the Lexus infotainment interface is clunky in operation due to the unintuitive joystick style controller, awkward menu navigation layout and temperamental phone connectivity that lacks Android Auto or Apple CarPlay mirroring.
The adaptive cruise control could be better in operation, frequently being more annoying than relaxing as the LX ran away with itself down hills or surged and braked as traffic changed lanes in front of us.
Otherwise, the cabin layout is pretty straightforward and clutter-free for an environment with so many different functions on offer. Lexus has gone for a decent balance of buttons and screen-based operation rather than cramming everything into the multimedia unit at the expense of usability.
We’d rather rotary climate controls than the push-button variety, though, and keep those rear climate controls hidden away in the fold-away rear armrest if you have curious toddlers onboard.
As you’d expect, cabin storage is pretty comprehensive throughout and the chilled centre console compartment that can take four large drinks bottles is an inspired inclusion for road trips.
There’s heaps of space for the five passengers, too, and everyone – including the middle-rear passenger, even with three abreast – is cosseted in luxurious comfort with electric adjustment for almost everything, including sliding the rear seats to balance legroom and boot space – although neither are in any way compromised due to this variant lacking the third seating row.
By contrast, the fold-and-tumble mechanism of the rear seats and the split tailgate operation are pretty agricultural and reveal this car’s LandCruiser origins.
On that note, our ivory-upholstered example had clearly been used for some remote-area off-roading and some of the light-coloured surfaces seemed to be terminally stained and prematurely aged as a result. Not exactly practical, then.
When the time came for us to get the big Lexus dirty, it was easy to select the correct off-road setting, which also activated the terrain-view cameras that were genuinely useful for helping avoid scratching the 20-inch alloys on rocks or veering into bog holes on rutted tracks.
It’s just as well, because forward visibility over that precipitous bonnet is not great, even with the driver’s seat cranked right up. Side and rear visibility is OK considering the sheer height of the car, but even a normally conspicuous Tesla Model S managed to completely vanish into a blind spot during our week with the Lexus.
Lexus has done its best to mute and muffle the big diesel V8 but on start-up, idle and on the move, there is no escaping its rattly burble and vibration under acceleration. It’s really out of character for the brand and at odds with the refined surroundings of the cabin, especially at a cruise where the LX is otherwise so quiet and smooth that all you can really hear is that engine thrumming away.
For us, that was a constant source of disappointment because we couldn’t stop thinking the engine powering this $140k luxury apartment on wheels was closely related to, and sounded like, that of a 70 Series farm truck.
Engine and transmission
As it’s shared with the mechanically related Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series, the LX450d’s 4.5-litre twin-turbocharged V8 diesel engine produces the same 200kW of power at 3600rpm and 650Nm of torque from 1600 to 2800rpm, sent to the full-time four-wheel-drive system through a six-speed automatic transmission.
Also matching the ’Cruiser is an official combined fuel consumption figure of 9.5 litres per 100km, although we averaged 13.6L/100km during our week-long test, which was not a great deal worse than the 15.3L/100km we achieved the week before in an Infiniti QX80 with 5.6-litre petrol V8.
For comparison, the 5.7-litre naturally aspirated V8 engine in an LX570 develops 270kW at 5600rpm and 530Nm at 3200rpm, with an eight-speed automatic transmission and 14.4L/100km on the official combined cycle.
It’s really hard to imagine this vehicle really being used out bush, so its lumbering and lethargic on-road character courtesy of this engine choice makes it a real chore. And that’s on top of the un-Lexus levels of noise and vibration already mentioned before.
But we took it on some muddy forest tracks anyway, which is where it all made much more sense. The effortless, utterly controllable and predictable low-speed grunt is everything you want on tough terrain. The transmission shifts are spot on, selecting low-range is simple and everything just works.
It’s just baffling that the tank range advantage this diesel engine would logically bring is squandered by a reduction in onboard fuel capacity. But for slow, difficult off-road work it probably would be much more efficient than the petrol and less likely to be troubled by water crossings.
But who exactly is going to take this thing up the Gibb River Road?
The main advantage would be towing, so if you don’t need eight seats but have a big caravan, horse float or boat and don’t want to compromise on luxury while hauling them, the diesel Lexus starts to make more sense.
Ride and handling
In addition to the fabulous interior, a big upgrade in favour of the Lexus LX over its LandCruiser 200 donor car is ride and handling. The adaptive, height-adjustable suspension setup and its many modes enable this big beast to corner more convincingly, feel nimbler around town and create huge ground clearance for off-roading at the twist of a knob.
There’s a lot of talent here. It wafts over poor surfaces in the most imperious steamroller-like manner, making it a great partner for long runs on potholed, corrugated gravel tracks and choppy barely-bitumen country lanes.
But the steering is hard work and it feels as lethargic as the grumbly diesel engine, and while the on-paper turning circle of 11.8 metres sounds manageable, in reality placing and manoeuvring the LX is tough going. Cities and suburbia are not this vehicle’s happy place.
It’s odd, because the Infiniti QX80 we drove a week prior had a much larger 12.6m turning circle but felt much nimbler and easier to place around town. Its buttery, light steering made this type of work a cinch, too. By comparison the LX felt ancient and agricultural to drive in the real-world conditions that face most Australians.
Off-road, though, the LX feels like cheating. Our local, perpetually sloppy mud-and-rut tracks had been converted to quagmire by recent rains and it felt like sacrilege to point a plush and expensive luxury car toward them. We needn’t have worried as we didn’t feel a thing and before we knew it, we were through the worst of it. The Lexus just grips and goes.
From this point of view the LX is masterfully executed and that slow, cumbersome steering does make a lot more sense on slippery surfaces where it prevents unintentionally sudden steering inputs.
We just wish it could steer a bit more like the Infiniti and pretty much every other competitor when driving round town.
Because let’s face it, that’s where you see people driving cars like this.
Safety and servicing
ANCAP has not rated the Lexus LX but the LandCruiser 200 on which it is based carries a full five-star rating from 2011 and there is a whole heap of collision-preventing active safety tech onboard, in addition to the 10 airbags.
Lexus provides a four-year, 100,000km warranty with an owner benefits package lasting the duration that includes comprehensive roadside assistance.
Both the LX450d and LX570 have six-month/10,000km service intervals compared with 12 months and 15,000km on other Lexus models. The company says part of the reason is “to cover off off-road use and the need to inspect certain components regularly”.
A loan car is provided during servicing, or it can be collected and dropped off at home or work.
What is the Lexus LX? A screw-you status symbol with abilities far beyond any usage it is ever going to see in reality, like an expensive diving watch that might be accidentally worn in the rain every now and then?
If so, why the diesel engine? And why the compromises? The use cases of this huge vehicle seem limited to well-heeled empty-nesters blowing their super on a leather-lined adventure before dementia.
Perhaps that’s the point. And if so, the LX is pretty much perfect for its intended purpose.
Everyone else can buy the petrol version – or if they can withstand the indignity, go for the Toyota LandCruiser 200 Sahara. Failing that, there’s always the Mercedes GLS.
Infiniti QX80 Sport (from $110,900 plus on-road costs)
We found that in reality the diesel V8 in the LX450d isn’t that much better on fuel than the Infiniti’s petrol unit and you’d have to do a lot of kilometres to make up the massive price difference in fuel savings, that’s for sure. Depreciation on the relatively unknown Infiniti might be a different story, though, and save for the five-seat restriction, the Lexus has the superior cabin.
Toyota LandCruiser Sahara diesel ($120,330 plus on-road costs)
Here you get both the diesel engine and eight seats, but not the level of opulence or height-adjustable hydraulic suspension. That said, simplicity of chassis is probably a plus for this ship of the desert. You wouldn’t want to get trapped out the back of Bourke with a busted and incredibly complex suspension component.
Mercedes-Benz GLS350d Sport ($135,900 plus on-road costs)
Getting on a bit and the cabin is getting a bit dated, but this big Benz bus still pampers its occupants. Despite its lower cylinder count and displacement, the V6 diesel is close to the Lexus on power and torque, without sacrificing seating capacity. But we’re not sure it’d go all that far off-road!
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Model release date: 1 March 2018
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