February 11, 2008

Photo Gallery: 2008 Lexus LX 570

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Windsor, Ontario – When I went to school, I never studied economics. So you’ll have to forgive me if I’m scratching my head at how Lexus can take its flagship LX SUV, give it a bigger engine and better transmission, improve the amenities, and then drop the price by $16,800.

Perhaps customers were simply paying too much before, if Lexus can take the equivalent of a Corolla off the sticker. In any case, if you’ve been thinking about an LX, this is your cue: the 2008 version now starts at $84,600.

In 2007, the model was the LX 470; now, for 2008, it’s the LX 570, the third generation of the line. The previous 4.7-litre V8 has been replaced with an all-new 5.7-litre V8, while the five-speed automatic has been upgraded to a six-speed. The new powerplant produces more power – horsepower jumps from 268 to 383, and torque from 328 lb-ft to 403 – but there’s a fairly substantial improvement in fuel economy. You’ll still go through a lot of fuel, but not as much as before, and it takes regular 87 octane.

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The LX 570 rides on the same wheelbase as the outgoing LX 470, but is 100 mm longer and 30 mm wider, and ground clearance is reduced by 25 mm. The big difference is in the towing capacity, which increases from 2,268 kg (5,000 lbs) to 3,856 kg (8,500). In keeping with the vehicle’s luxury side, the trailer hitch is discreetly hidden behind a removable panel on the bumper.

Many people think the LX is the Lexus version of the Toyota Sequoia, but it’s not; it’s based on the Toyota Land Cruiser, a model sold in the U.S. but not in Canada. The Sequoia has also been redesigned for 2008, and now features an independent rear suspension; surprisingly, the pricier and more luxurious LX 570 doesn’t get one, and still rides on a four-link solid rear axle. Even so, you’ll be hard-pressed to fault the buttery-smooth ride, which can be dialed in to various degrees of sport or comfort settings, and which includes an air ride system that can raise or lower the ride height by as much as 13 cm and works in tandem with the vehicle speed and whatever four-wheel setting the vehicle is in. Lexus says it’s the world’s first four-wheel height adjustment system, and it can even be set so it lowers when parked, making it easier to get in and out.

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All of these settings are controlled through four toggles on the centre console, including one for crawl control. When activated, this system reduces the vehicle’s speed to a steady one, three or five km/h, depending on the setting chosen; the idea behind it is that if you’re doing something that requires a fair bit of your concentration, such as pulling a boat out of the water, you only need to steer, and can forget about the brake and throttle when moving up- or downhill. It’s unpleasantly noisy – it sounds like the transmission is chewing up its gears – but it works quite well, even on steep inclines.

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Such activities also become a little easier with the Wide-View Front and Side Monitor System, which uses cameras in the grille and passenger mirror, and projects images of the ground at the vehicle’s front and side onto the navigation screen at speeds under 12 km/h. Put the vehicle into Reverse, and you get the usual rearview image (the screen can’t display all three at once). It’s no substitute for proper use of the mirrors – which tip down in reverse – but it’s an extra measure of safety on this bulky vehicle. The navigation system has also been upgraded and includes a 30-gigabyte hard drive.

The LX 570 also benefits from a new ABS system that senses road conditions, such as snow or sand, and adjusts the threshold accordingly, and adaptive front headlights that swivel when the wheels are turned, helping to better illuminate curves in the road. Surprisingly, only projector-beam halogen lights are offered; the official explanation is that Lexus’ engineers felt the vehicle was too tall to carry high-intensity Xenon headlamps, which could blind oncoming drivers. Rounding out the safety features are ten airbags, including two knee bags up front.

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As expected, the LX 570’s interior oozes luxury, with smooth leather surfaces and real wood accents, including a lovely African Bubinga wood trim that’s part of the available Ultra Premium Package; each vehicle contains wood from the same tree, ensuring the grain matches. The $10,300 package also adds unique wheels, premium stereo, rear-seat DVD system, radar cruise control, pre-collision system, upgraded leather and power-fold up and down third-row seats.

New for 2008 is a standard four-zone automatic climate control system with 28 vents throughout the vehicle; unlike many high-end systems, this one has fairly simple controls. Due no doubt to its low volume – the company only sells a handful in Canada each year – the LX 570 is a global product and isn’t redesigned for each market. That means that, come summer, you’ll benefit from an icy-cold a/c system designed to work in higher-volume markets such as Dubai – although it could also be the thinking behind the LX 570’s wood-and-leather steering wheel, which has a power tilt and telescopic function but which isn’t heated.

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The seats are ridiculously comfortable, and are heated and air conditioned, with variable cushion length. The second row is equally comfortable, although I didn’t have a chance to try out the third-row seats. They fold in half electrically, but not flat into the floor; if you need more cargo space, a second button lifts them sideways and stores them along the vehicle’s sides. A two-piece tailgate allows you to open the window to easily toss smaller items inside.

The LX 570 is a pleasure to drive; I got into it after driving the much heavier, redesigned Sequoia, and while that vehicle is much more nimble than it looks, the Lexus feels like you’re driving a sedan. Acceleration is effortless, the brakes bite well, and the six-speed shifts almost imperceptibly. As expected, the whole vehicle is bank-vault quiet.

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Part of the drive included an off-road course, which included testing the crawl control and the LX 570’s stability over ruts and mounds, and it performed extremely well. Problems arose when I went off the beaten track and into some sticky mud, and my Lexus sank like a stone. The standard tires are rated mud-and-snow, but they weren’t up to the level of the four-wheel system’s abilities. Even so, it’s understandable, given that this is primarily a luxury SUV and not a rock crawler: there’s a reason Jeep holds a Jamboree, and Lexus doesn’t. Fortunately, I discovered firsthand that there’s a standard front tow hook.

The LX 570’s numerous improvements have turned it into an extremely pleasant and capable vehicle, and while it’s still a sizeable chunk of change, the drastic price reduction should make it far more appealing to buyers – even if you still can’t figure out how the bean counters did it.


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