Car enthusiasts have been apt to criticize SUVs as irrational because few owners ever take them off-road. But, by the same token, how many owners of high-performance sports cars drive them at anything approaching their full potential? Venturing beyond cars, how many owners of diver’s watches actually scuba dive? And how many dSLR cameras are being used just like a $99 point-and-shoot? Clearly people are psychologically attracted to high-performance objects, even if they won’t actually utilize the potential of these objects. This doesn’t mean that the objects themselves don’t make sense. And yet, during my week with a Lexus LX 570, I struggled to make this 5,995-pound, technology-packed, luxurious SUV make sense.
The problem is one of coherence, or rather the lack of it. The LX 570 is heavily based on the legendary Toyota Land Cruiser, and so has the proportions of a hardcore SUV. As such it has a short (for a large SUV) 112.2-inch wheelbase and is nearly as tall (75.6 inches) as it is wide (77.6 inches). The chunky body rides well off the ground. But the 20-inch wheels and Lexus-level of glitzy trim are distinctly not hardcore SUV. Beyond this incoherence, the latest LX 570 simply isn’t an eye-pleasing vehicle. The attempt to “L-Finesse” a Land Cruiser loads too much visual mass into the overhangs. The simpler, purer lines of previous generations were more attractive. Among competitors, the new, much sleeker Infiniti QX56 will easily win a beauty contest, while the Range Rover will never go out of style.
The interior is similarly that of a utilitarian SUV Lexus-ized (if you spend $3,740 for the Luxury Package) with generous amounts of premium “semi-aniline” leather and “African Bubinga” wood. So outfitted, the cabin is luxurious, but not stylish. Here as well the Infiniti and Range Rover score easy wins. The LX 570’s ergonomics are pretty good considered the number of controls, with large buttons, knobs and switches for frequently used features. This said, those on the close-at-hand center stack would be easier to operate if said stack weren’t so vertical. As it is, operating some controls is a pain in the wrist.
You sit very high behind an upright windshield, so forward visibility is excellent in the conventional SUV fashion. Rearward visibility is augmented by a camera, with side and front-view cameras optional (but not on the $87,274 vehicle tested). Entry is aided by fixed running boards—none of the motorized silliness you’ll find in a Cadillac or Lincoln, but ground clearance suffers. The large, well-padded heated-and-cooled front seats are very comfortable, but the new QX56’s better-shaped, more adjustable buckets are even better. Some nice touches: the temperature controls for the seats maintain their settings when the vehicle is restarted and on the Luxury Package steering wheel even the spokes are heated. (Though the manual warns that during extreme off-road driving your fingers should remain outside the rim.)
With an overall length of 196.5 inches, the Lexus LX 570 isn’t exactly compact. But the heavy-duty live-rear-axled chassis borrowed from the Land Cruiser takes its toll on packaging efficiency. Second-row legroom is just adequate for adults, and the cushion is a tad too low, while the “knees high” third row seat is mounted only a few inches above the floor. Given the very limited amount of combined legroom to pay with, the second row’s power fore-aft adjustment seems a bit silly. The Land Rover LR4 is packaged much more efficiently. On the other hand, the 208.3-inch-long, IRS-equipped Infiniti has a roomier, more comfortable second row but no more space than the Lexus in the “way back.”
Behind the LX 570’s third row there’s room for only a single row of grocery bags. Need more? The third row seats power up against the sidewalls. Tumble the second row forward and a bicycle can be transported nearly upright with the wheels still attached. Loading is hampered by the height of the cargo floor, though. The tailgate is split horizontally, with the upper portion power.
As in other large Toyota trucks and SUVs, power is provided by a 5.7-liter DOHC V8, in this case good for 383 horsepower and 403 foot-pounds of torque. Even with three tons to motivate, this engine is more than up to the task, and never sounds strained. The six-speed automatic isn’t quite as smooth as Lexus’s newer eight-speed, but it’s still slicker than most. Toyota knows how to refine a powertrain. Fuel economy? Of course not. My driving confirmed the EPA ratings of 12/18.
The LX 570’s $78,630 base price is so lofty that you’re clearly not paying just for leather, wood, and enough power accessories to fill a 760-page owners’s manual. Rather, some serious—and expensive—hardware lies beneath all the glitz and gismos. Beyond the heavy-duty frame and suspension, the LX 570 includes an array of on- and off-road handling aids. The multi-functional electronic shocks alone likely account for a few grand, and I’d hate to have to replace one out of warranty. They’re cross-linked to steady the ride, have three firmness settings, and can vary the ride height by a couple of inches in either direction. (Though the lowest setting is only used to ease entry and exit with the vehicle at a dead stop.) A center Torsen differential splits torque 40/60 and can be manually locked. Oddly, given the extreme spec, the front and rear differentials are open, and advanced traction control is relied upon to shunt torque to the wheel with most traction. Finally, three-speed “crawl control” facilitates slow, steady movement across especially challenging terrain. In the slowest speed the brakes are rhythmically applied a couple times a second, rocking the vehicle in the process. Finally, there’s a 2.61:1 low range.
So, how does it all work? In deep snow (and likely on many types of off-road terrain as well) the huge, 285/50R20 Michelin Latitude tires are the weakest link. With a quiet ride even on grooved concrete, these “mud and snow rated” but non-knobby treads were clearly specified to suit the typical Lexus buyer. While it’s hard to fathom why these tires and the three-speed crawl control are on the same vehicle, nothing’s easier to mod than wheels and tires. Not that the LX 570 as-is doesn’t have good traction through deep snow. The combination of all-wheel-drive, 8.9 inches of ground clearance, and a three-ton curb weight virtually guarantee this. But with more aggressive treads it would be virtually unstoppable. (Unless, of course, you high center the vehicle on something like a ridge of packed snow.)
On pavement the electronics work surprisingly unwell. Despite the cross-linked adaptive shocks the LX 570 bounces and bobbles in a very un-Lexus-like manner over all but the smoothest pavement. Even my kids found this misbehavior irritating, and none of the settings do much to reduce it. My suspicion: the shocks are being called upon to do too much. The conventional coil springs must be very soft. With the shocks set to “comfort” or even “normal” there’s a massive amount of lean in turns. (My kids got a hoot out of curvy roads taken in “comfort.”) “Sport” reins in the amount of lean to livable levels, without substantially degrading ride quality. The Toyota Land Cruiser includes active stabilizer bars instead of these fancy shocks; perhaps these restrain roll better? To the LX 570’s credit, it’s surprisingly willing to rotate, perhaps because of the relatively short wheelbase and the active steering system that varies its ratio based on vehicle speed. Unfortunately, as in the Toyota 4Runner I reviewed a few months ago the rear end sways more than the front, provoking premature oversteer that the stability control must quickly step in to counteract. Ultimately handling is safe but slow, and to the extent it’s entertaining it’s for all the wrong reasons.
So, we have an expensive, glitzy-but-homely, luxuriously appointed large SUV with hardware (if not tires) suitable for aggressive off-roading. Try as I might, I could not make this odd combination of attributes make sense in suburban America. If you want a luxury vehicle capable of carrying 6+ people in any type of weather, there are many alternatives that do just about everything save rock-crawling better while costing much less. But perhaps there are places in the world where luxury is a primary want while off-road capability is a must? I wouldn’t be surprised if they sold quite a few of these in the Middle East.
Lexus provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.
Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.