Car reviews - Lexus - LX - LX570 5-dr wagon
Improved off-road ability, bruising on-road performance, greater refinement, sumptuous leather-lined interior, eight-seat accommodation, long equipment list, Lexus reputation for quality and after-sales service
Room for improvement
Price (both the $14,000-higher starting price and the Sports Luxury’s $15,000 premium), cumbersome on-road ride and handling, archaic interior packaging, cringe-worthy fuel consumption and emissions, planet-polluting image
3 Apr 2008
IT IS fair to say the second LX that Lexus has brought to Australia continues its decade-old predecessor’s tradition of adding previously unseen levels of luxury to the all-conquering Toyota LandCruiser on which it is based.
But, as Lexus is quick to point out, the all-new LX570 is much more than a range-topping model variant of the latest 200 Series ‘Cruiser, which is built in the same Japanese factory.
Though wrapped in a body that has more character than before, it’s hard to believe it shares only its doors with the LandCruiser because from most angles except the front the LX is still easily mistaken for the 200 Series.
However, the LX570 features a fully redesigned dashboard that oozes class. Not only is it in another league to the previous LX470, but the centre console-dominated layout appears to be a cut above the 200’s in terms of presentation, materials and technology.
Typically impressive levels of Toyota ergonomics and build quality make all controls extremely light and convenient to use, with the exception of the sometime belligerent touch-screen navigation system.
Highlights include a classy new instrument panel with four secondary gauges (adding oil temperature and battery voltage to the 200’s menu) surrounding an easy-to-read display that reveals everything from gear position to suspension height, digital speedo and trip computer functions.
There are also two independently sliding armrests that conceal a huge chilled storage compartment up front, and the level of fit and finish for the silver, woodgrain and soft-touch upper and (trim colour-matching) lower materials clearly stamps this as a luxury Lexus.
Same goes for the rest of the sumptuously leather-clad interior, which is slightly longer than before and comes with the same level of amenity as the 200 – including no fewer than eight overhead grab handles, some 19 speakers for its acoustically-tuned 450-Watt Mark Levinson sound system and – count them – 28 air outlets for the four-zone climate-control system, which includes full second-row controls.
Like the 10-way power-adjustable front seats, the split/folding second-row seat adds electric assistance to its slide function, which delivers a massive amount of legroom in even its fully-forward position, and the third-row seat is now powers away via a control panel just inside the power-operated tailgate – with the exception of having to stand up the rear seatbacks by hand.
Furthermore, four of the eight seats are heated, while the front seats are cooled as well.
But the new LX sticks to the same high-floored, three-row configuration as the ‘Cruiser, accommodating up to eight occupants but offering nowhere near the packaging or space efficiency of either a people-mover, most car-based seven-seat SUVs or even Land Rover’s hybrid-chassis Discovery.
Not only is the rearmost centre passenger relegated to sitting on half of both sides of the 50/50-split seat, but the non-existent footwell (luckily even large feet can fit under the second-row seat) means tall third-row occupants will have their knees under their armpits, and when stowed in their outboard positions (like previous LandCruisers and Mitsubishi Pajeros), they consume a big part of the LX’s cavernous cargo area. Blame that on the LX’s sturdy full chassis and the full-size spare wheel that dangles underneath.
At least there’s an abundance of head and stretching room for all passengers, each of which also get plenty of direct ventilation and a commanding view of the road and surrounds.
Fitted with high-grade leather from cows bred in paddocks without barbed wire to ensure defect-free hides, and offering electric assistance for every seat, the LX interior is undeniably more luxurious than the LC200 and LX470, even if it sticks to the same large but compromised formula.
Underneath lies a suspension system that is the same in layout but even more sophisticated than the go-anywhere LandCruiser’s.
The LX does away with the ‘Cruiser’s clever Australian-developed KDSS system, which effectively decouples both sway bars to provide previously unheard-of levels of standard wheel articulation, and instead gets four much smaller “helper” coil springs at each corner, aided by four hydraulic rams that double as both spring and damper.
Controlled by a more sophisticated version of the Active Height Control (AHC) system - which now automatically raises the body in low-range mode, lowers it at highway speeds and drops it even further while stationary for easier access and loading – the LX’s air suspension system is claimed to offer 30 per cent less bodyroll.
Though it delivers more wheel travel than the LX470 (200 versus 230mm), it does not match the 200.
As a reasonably testing off-road section on the launch proved, the 570 is still more capable in the bush than most buyers will know, thanks to a low-range transfer case, a towering 225mm of ground clearance, “multi-terrain” ABS and the same smart off-road feet-off cruise control system introduced in the 200 petrol, dubbed Crawl Control.
The three-mode damping adjustment system also makes a discernible difference to ride quality on the road, but in any position the on-road handling prowess of the LX, like the 200, can best be described as ungainly.
The addition of the variable gear-ratio system to the rack-and-pinion steering system makes steering effort far lighter than in the LandCruiser, which sometimes accentuates the amount of body and chassis movement over poor road surfaces at speed.
While bodyroll is kept impressively well in check by the electronic spring/damping control system and there’s definitely more steering feel than in the 470, there is often a disconcerting shudder through the wheel and pedals as the body and separate chassis shimmy over road lumps and dips. This is despite a claimed 120 per cent increase in the body’s bending strength.
There is no doubting the off-road ability and durability that the LX’s ladder chassis potentially brings, but the price of that is ride and handling that falls well short of monocoque-bodied SUVs – and even the Discovery, which offers similar off-road ability from its unique integrated body-on-chassis design.
As a full-chassis wagon, the LX570 is certainly an oddity in the luxury SUV segment these days and Lexus should be commended for continuing to combine benchmark off-road capability with unbridled luxury.
But it is misleading to ignore Mercedes-Benz’s highly-capable GL seven-seater – which is available with petrol and diesel engines, in concert with low-range and high-lift air suspension – as an LX rival simply because it doesn’t employ a full chassis.
Lexus also dismisses the similarly commodious (and vastly cheaper) Land Rover Discovery and the five-seat Porsche Cayenne, both of which are serious all-terrain vehicles, on the same basis.
Curiously, it says that the $15,000 more expensive top-spec LX570 Sports Luxury ($151,700, with no options available) is nearly $30,000 less expensive than its most direct rival in the $190K Range Rover Vogue V8S, which happens to be built on a monocoque chassis. Lexus says that adding four-zone climate-control, bi-Xenon headlights and heated seats to the Rangie would bring its price to $200,000.
Some may describe the LX as a very expensive LandCruiser, but there’s no doubt the flagship LX offers plenty of equipment, adding to the LX570’s prestige menu – roof-rails, a clever Mercedes-like collision preparation system, radar cruise control, a rear entertainment system with headphones, and front/rear and side safety cameras in addition to 10 airbags (the same as the mid-range VX LandCriuiser).
Of course, it also delivers a new 5.7-litre petrol V8 and six-speed automatic transmission combination that further differentiates it from the LandCruiser, which comes with a 4.7-litre petrol V8 or a 4.5-litre diesel V8.
No diesel is available in the LX, which is aimed primarily at the anti-diesel US market – as well as emerging luxury SUV markets in places like China and Russia – but even more conspicuous by its absence is a petrol-electric hybrid powertrain option.
Apart from its smallest model (the IS), every Lexus model is now available as a hybrid and, if ever a vehicle made sense as a hybrid, it’s the LX.
Despite its massive physical dimensions and the 2.75-tonne unladen weight (up a big 210kg from the LX470), the long-stroke alloy V8 develops enough power and torque to make the previous LX feel completely pedestrian in comparison.
With a claimed 0-100km/h time of 7.8 seconds, a 220km/h top speed and a pleasing big-bore V8 engine note, it puts the latest LX on a par with any of the German SUVs in terms of performance.
But the penalty is sky-high fuel consumption and exhaust emissions. Officially, the 570 returns an average of 14.8L/100km and produces 350g/km of CO2, but expect both figures to be substantially more in the real world. We saw nearly 20L/100km on the relatively relaxed launch loop.
Unlike the Range Rover, Benz and Porsche rivals, which all lay claim to offering the widest breadth of on and off-road ability, Lexus simply says that no vehicle matches the eight-seater LX570 for off-road ability and luxury.
That combination is unique in the automotive world today and, along with Lexus’ reputation for quality, reliability and refinement, will undoubtedly attract a number of well-heeled luxury SUV customers. Indeed, a quarter of Australia’s first year of LX supply is already spoken for.
But, of course, the last thing the planet needs is a fuel-guzzling, CO2-spewing mega-SUV that never ventures off-road and spends most of its time between home, school and the day spa.
Lexus says that only 20 per cent of LX570 buyers will head off-road (despite the fact it’s the most capable Lexus off-roader ever), but that 90 per cent of them tow a boat, caravan or horse float.
For the vast majority who are willing and able to buy and run it as a tow vehicle, there's no substitute for the world's only eight-seater luxury off-roader.
But it’s a pity all that technology and capability is wasted by 80 per cent of LX570 customers, and shame on the 10 per cent who buy one as a status symbol.
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