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The Lexus LX 470 is the best luxury sport-utility vehicle on the market today. Completely re-engineered and redesigned as a late-1998 model, it does everything a luxury SUV should. And it does those things extremely well. The LX 470 offers crisp handling, a luxurious ride, a silky smooth V8 and an elegant interior. It is built to the highest standards of quality. Each body panel fits perfectly. Every switch, every moving part has the feel of fine craftsmanship. Interior materials are first class and occupants are swathed in luxury. When it comes to luxurious off-road vehicles, it just doesn't get any better than this.
We drove this brute through the mountains of West Virginia and later in Maryland-and we want one. While ours was a 1998 model, Lexus does not expect any changes other than option packages to the 1999 model.
The new V8 engine is smooth. The suspension provides a comfortable ride on winding back roads and bumpy interstates, yet is capable of climbing any mountain, fording any stream. Engine noise is minimal. At high speeds, there is some wind noise coming from the vicinity of the large mirrors, which we would not want to do without.
Like the Range Rover, the LX 470 features adjustable ride height. Press a button and the hydropneumatic system raises and lowers the vehicle nearly 4 inches. This allows the driver to increase ground clearance for fording water or obstacles or lower ride height for highway cruising.
Based on the smooth 4.0-liter V8 used in the LS 400, the new 4.7-liter V8 was specifically designed for an SUV. It produces good low-rpm torque; fully 80 percent of the peak output is available at just 1,100 rpm. That provides responsive low-speed performance and power for towing or scaling steep terrain.
While most sport-utilities use truck-based engines, this new 4.7-liter V8 features four camshafts (dohc) and four valves per cylinder (32v). It produces 230 horsepower and 320 foot-pounds of torque, the latter a substantial increase over the previous inline-6. The LX 470 is capable of accelerating from 0-60 mph in less than 10 seconds. That isn't exactly quick, but it is respectable performance given the size and bulk of the LX 470, and it represents a substantial 2-second improvement over the previous LX 450. And you can feel good about this performance: Lexus expects California to certify the LX 470 as a low-emissions vehicle.
The full-time four-wheel-drive system is permanently engaged and utilizes a limited slip center differential to distribute torque. Throw in a locking center differential and a rear limited-slip differential and only the driver-or worn out tires-can be blamed for sticking one of these in the mud.
Shock absorber damping is controlled electronically using feedback from various road sensors. The driver selects among four range settings according to personal preferences and the system constantly adjusts the semi-active shocks among 16 settings according to conditions. It's a sophisticated system and it works extremely well. The LX 470 rides smoothly over unpaved roads, but inspires driver confidence with taut response on twisty backroads.
The rack-and-pinion steering provides sharp response. It's easy to turn the steering wheel in crowded parking lots, but does not isolate the driver on the open road. A new anti-lock brake system is designed to offer better performance off road than traditional ABS by avoiding early activation on slippery slopes. The big disc brakes feel responsive and stop this 5,400-pound vehicle in an amazingly short distance.
The LX 470 offers a much better interior than the Mercedes M Class, better ergonomics than the Range Rover, far more refinement than the Acura SLX and it rides and handles better than the Lincoln Navigator. Another plus: Lexus dealers have achieved the highest honors in customer satisfaction in six of the past seven years.
But the LX 470 isn't for everyone. For one thing, it won't fit everyone's budget. It starts at $55,445 (including destination). (Lexus points out that the LX 470 doesn't cost much more than the LX 450, which ran about $52,000 when equipped with popular options now standard on the LX 470.)
The LX 470 won't fit everyone's garage, it won't slide into the smallest parking spaces without risking door dings and it isn't the most nimble vehicle at the shopping center. But we always look forward to driving one, whether we're heading to the symphony or a distant trout stream. One problem: Lexus is only ships about 7,000 LX 470s a year, so expect to wait.