This time of year brings out the worst of Maine’s roads, especially the shaded, narrow, worn two-tracks that rural drivers experience on their daily commutes. Series of undulating heaves, giant “yes ma’am’s,” water-filled potholes, rutted ice dams and frozen ditches often populate the drive, creating specific test-track circumstances that new-car chassis engineers probably lust for. A succession of wintry storms regularly renders salt, sand, more salt, and a special patina embraces your beloved vehicle. Our Eminent White Lexus LX570 proved competent, but didn’t demonstrate a fondness for any of these circumstances.
A clone of the storied Toyota Land Cruiser, the Lexus LX570 is the largest SUV from America’s third best-selling premium brand. All told last year, Toyota and Lexus sold fewer than 8,000 of these big trucks — or about three days’ worth of Ford F-series sales. Toyota sells some of the country’s top selling compact and midsize crossover/SUVs — like the RAV4, Highlander and Lexus RX — yet the brand is generally an asterisk in the full-size category.
Based on the 2007 Tundra full-size pickup, a body-on-frame layout with a solid rear axle, the LX570 is the heaviest two- and three-row SUV in its segment (against Land Rover Range Rover, Mercedes GLS, GMC Yukon Denali/Cadillac Escalade) while delivering less power and fuel economy than its rivals.
The Lexus counters with a comfortable cabin endowed with a plethora of electronic driving aids plus a chassis with a decidedly off-road capable emphasis. The center console is populated with multiple switches and dials for the two-speed transfer case (the truck is full-time four-wheel drive like a Jeep Grand Cherokee) as well as off-road modes like Rock, Mogul, Loose Rock, Mud & Sand. There is a locking center differential plus a height-adjustable air suspension that lowers the truck for entry and exit, or raises the body for ground clearance.
Riding on big 20-inch Dunlop Gran Trek PT2A all-season tires, the LX’s relatively short wheelbase — only 112 inches against rivals up to 121 inches with the same body length — produced body motions that were sometimes clumsy over tortured rural roads. There is a fair amount of body roll in tight turns behind a steering wheel that delivers less than optimal feedback, even at highway speeds.
A recent redesign gave the LX the brand’s new trademark spindle-like grille, which drew lots of attention. Lexus also added an eight-speed automatic in place of the original six-speed, producing a modest bump in fuel economy from the 383-hp 5.7-liter V-8 — 13/18/15 mpg. A thousand-mile week returned 15.8 mpg in the Lexus.
The redesign also produced our two-row sample, instead of the customary three-row SUV with the opposing folding third row seats. In this layout, buyers gain a huge increase in rear cargo room, but the second row seats sit low and lack the increased legroom that a buyer might imagine. Access to the rear is via a power liftgate top panel, while a shallow tailgate panel covers the lower third of this portal.
A clear array of instruments is augmented by a 12.3-inch center-dash info screen controlled by a frustrating to use mouse. Tactile feel and manipulation of too many controls, again, reflects a platform that needs some updating. The cabin is covered in rich leathers, the seats are pliably soft and the ride is hushed — virtues of the Lexus brand, yet several rivals’ recent offerings have raced by the LX. This is evident with the absence of a heads-up display, no remote starting, not even a heated steering wheel.
Pricing starts at $86,405 for the two-row LX, rising to $91,825 for the three-row body. Toyota will offer a special collector’s edition 60th anniversary Land Cruiser this fall, but nothing has been announced for the Lexus version.
Lexus offers five crossover/SUVs, with the RX series far and away the best-selling Lexus vehicle since the brand’s inception. The LX stands in stark contrast — it is truly an off-road-oriented truck in a luxury segment that sees buyers rarely venture off the paved way. Even Mercedes’ famous Galendewagon has eschewed its off-roading roots.
Yet, the LX570 and the Land Cruiser owners are among the most loyal customers in the industry. The two vehicles have stellar reliability ratings. The Lexus dealerships are the top rated by consumers too. So this high-margin vehicle remains in the lineup not because it is the best, but because it sells everywhere else in the world, so some income from America is just added profit to the Toyota bottom line.
Besides, the leap up from here grows exponentially to $300,000 Bentley Bentaygas and Rolls Royce Cullinans, so there’s no mistaking that the Lexus does have space, albeit a small space, in the premium American SUV market.