Lexus' original mission was to help Toyota take on the big European luxury makes such as Mercedes-Benz. After successfully performing that feat with sedans, Lexus turned its attention to the growing luxury sport-utility market, led by vehicles such as the Range Rover. In January of 1996, the LX 450 debuted, based on Toyota's mighty Land Cruiser.
It took just two months for the new SUV to overtake the Range Rover in sales volume, and it has never looked back.
Spring of 1998 brought the all-new LX 470, bearing a larger number to reflect its larger 4.7-liter powerplant. By then, the model had already won the Intellichoice "Best Overall Value" award for large SUVs and was ranked No. 1 in J.D. Power and Associates' Initial Quality Study in the large SUV segment.
My Eucalyptus Mica test 2005 LX 470 was the latest iteration in this successful formula. Loaded with luxury and safety features, the LX 470 is one of the finest ways for eight people to leave the pavement, and is a great way to stay on the road as well.
The Toyota flagship SUV comes pretty well loaded as is, so what makes the Lexus LX 470 worth $9,750 more than the Land Cruiser?
Well, you buy it and have it serviced by the Lexus dealer, so you won't be rubbing shoulders with any Corolla owners or youthful Scion enthusiasts. The Lexus uses genuine, and quite attractive, wood trim inside the spacious cabin. The leather seats are of a finer grade, and include memory and heating. The door panels are more elegant. The nose wears a slightly more distinctive Lexus grille.
One major difference between the Toyota and the Lexus is that the voice-activated, DVD-based navigation system is standard in the Lexus and optional in the Toyota. That's worth $3,350 alone. The system to be easy to use, and I especially liked the rear backup camera, which shows you a wide view of what's behind you when you pull the lever into Reverse. This is a life and property saving invention worth having.
This state-of-the-art nav system also uses the Bluetooth wireless system, so if you have a Bluetooth phone (as upscale Lexus intenders surely do) you can place and receive calls from your phone through the car's system. That's another big safety plus-avoiding the handling of a cell phone while driving.
For passive safety in case of an accident, the Lexus includes a sophisticated airbag protection system, with front seat mounted side airbags and side curtain airbags for head protection. This enhanced system is a $650 option in the Toyota.
The Lexus offers Hydraulic Adjustable Height Control (AHC), which enables you to raise the car to climb over obstacles when you're driving off road. You can also lower the car for easier entry and exit. Ground clearance is already a generous 9.8 inches, but you get an extra 1.2 inches in front and 1.8 inches in the rear when you set the AHC for "high".
Next to the AHC control is a button to adjust the shock absorbers electronically. This permits four levels of damping, from a softer Comfort setting for zipping around town to a tighter, firmer Sport setting when driving on curving mountain roads. I set it for midrange during my test week.
Both SUVs share a mighty 235-horsepower V8 engine. With today's 340-horsepower family sedans and 500 horsepower Corvettes, that number doesn't sound that impressive, but the engine also puts out 320 lb.-ft. of torque, most of it at just 1,100 rpm. That means it has the low-end power to pull you out of a muddy bog or out of a bogged down slow lane on the freeway. Working through a five-speed automatic and using electronic throttle control, the V8 purrs along contentedly, while earning EPA mileage ratings of 13 City, 17 Highway--about what you would expect from a 5,600 pound truck. I averaged 14.1 mpg driving mostly freeways.
My test unit featured the optional Night View system ($2,200). Its near-infrared technology sends out beams from the front bumper, which a special camera processes into images that look like black-and-white TV. These images are then projected onto the windshield just above the dash. This provides a clear, illuminated view of the cars, people, and other objects ahead at night. The active distance is three to four times further than that of low beam headlamps. Lexus claims that their system is better than the infrared-based systems offered by other manufacturers. I can say that the image is surprisingly sharp. You can turn the system off if you find it distracting.
My test vehicle featured the advanced Mark Levinson audio system ($1,280), which would do any living room proud. I always dig out my favorite CDs when I spend a week with this level of sound reproduction. Every LX 470 has a good system, but this upgraded one is especially fine.
With options and delivery charges, my tester came to $69,332. That places the LX 470 into the rarefied world of the ultra luxury SUV, where it continues to win awards and please its customers.