Lexus LX 470 is one of the best luxury sport-utility vehicle on the market today. 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.
Styling is not an LX 470 standout. The design is bland and uninspired. With the exception of its sporty new GS models, Lexus rarely takes chances with styling and it's a strategy that seems to be working quite well. We're not saying the LX 470 is unattractive; we find it far better looking than the Lincoln Navigator. But it does not offer the fine European styling of Land Rover's Range Rover.
The LX 470 looks more muscular, yet more refined, than the LX 450 it replaced two years ago. The split-lens halogen headlamps, chrome Lexus grille, body cladding, integrated running boards and elegant use of paint give the LX 470 a more upscale appearance than its distant cousin, the Toyota Land Cruiser. Lexus designers wanted the LX 470 to be able to fit into a typical two-car garage and they wanted it to remain manageable in city traffic. So the LX 470 is actually shorter than the Lexus LS 400 sedan.
Three rows of seating provide luxurious accommodations for six people, capacity for eight. Try that in your LS 400. The rearmost jump seats are among the best we've seen of their type. They are comfortable and relatively easy to access-something that cannot be said of the Mercedes M Class. They can be folded aside when not in use, but they are a bit larger than others of their type and take up some cargo space. Removing them provides an additional 15 cubic feet of cargo capacity for 90.4 cubic feet total. In normal running mode, with the rear jump folded to the sides and the center seat set up to carry passengers, there is 39.2 cubic feet of cargo space.
The front seats are supremely comfortable. Large door openings make getting in and out easy. There's a good view of the road ahead and large side mirrors provide good rearward visibility. Attractive walnut trim adds an upscale look to the leather interior. The electroluminescent instruments offer exceptionally good legibility and look great. Our only quibble was that we could not find the instrument cluster dimmer on a dark and stormy night when we first began driving the LX 470; we eventually found it.
All outboard seating positions and the center second-row seating position include a three-point seat belt. Driver's and front passenger's seat belts incorporate pretensioners and force limiters. Dual front airbags are standard.
Every imaginable luxury feature is provided. Big rear quarter windows swing out at the touch of a pair of dash-mounted buttons. Side mirrors retract electrically for parking in tight quarters. Auxiliary power outlets in the dash, center console and rear cargo area offer convenience. A hydrocarbon sensor automatically switches the air to recirculate when high levels of air pollution are detected, while an activated charcoal micron filter removes dust, pollen, and odors from the interior air stream--a benefit for hay fever sufferers.
We drove this brute through the mountains of West Virginia and later in Maryland. Its sophisticated 32-valve 4.7-liter V8 runs smooth and quiet. 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, 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. It also makes climbing in and out of the vehicle easier when all dressed up for a night on the town.
Based on the smooth 4.0-liter V8 used in the LS 400, the 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). While it produces only 230 horsepower, it generates a solid 320 foot-pounds of torque. The LX 470 is capable of accelerating from 0-60 mph in about 10 seconds and turning the quarter-mile in less than 18 seconds. That's not quick by anyone's standards, but it's plenty for safe highway merging if you put down the throttle. This engine meets California's Low Emissions Vehicle standard.
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, a rear limited-slip differential and lots of suspension articulation 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. The anti-lock brake system operates even in low range and is designed to offer better performance off road than traditional ABS by avoiding early activation on slippery slopes. ABS intervention decreases as road surface roughness increases or the grade steepens. That's a good feature because traditional ABS can lengthen braking distances considerably on unpaved roads. Big disc brakes offer good response and seem to stop this 5,400-pound vehicle in a surprisingly short distance.
For 2000, Lexus has added three new driving technologies that are tied in with the ABS: Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) helps maintain traction under demanding conditions by detecting and correcting wheel slip. When it detects a loss of traction, the system applies the brakes to individual wheels to help the driver maintain control. The system also integrates a new Brake Assist function that interprets a quick, hard push of the brake pedal as emergency braking and supplements the applied braking pressure. Also added for 2000 is a four-wheel traction control system (TRAC), which provides a limited-slip differential effect by using brake and throttle intervention to control wheelspin. TRAC provides some of the traction benefits of locked center and rear differentials while preserving the steering response associated with open differentials.
The LX 470 offers a better interior and vastly superior off-road capability than the Mercedes M Class, better ride and handling than the Lincoln Navigator and simpler ergonomics than the Range Rover. Lexus dealers achieve consistently high scores in customer satisfaction.
But the LX 470 isn't for everyone. For one thing, it won't fit everyone's budget. It starts at $59,005. It 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. For these reasons, Lexus sells fewer than 15,000 of them a year. But we always look forward to driving one, whether we're heading to the symphony or a distant trout stream.
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