Lexus LX 570 — Rugged, comfortable and expensive

 By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We were pleased when word came that we would be piloting a 2011 Lexus LX 570 over the winter holidays. The LX, we mused, would provide a perfect luxury atmosphere for four adult passengers on a 140-mile round trip with plenty of cargo capacity large enough for our luggage and a load of gifts.

What we didn't know ahead of time was that a winter storm would necessitate negotiating 10-inches of new-fallen snow on the highways. In fact, a good-old fashioned northern snow storm wasn't even remotely anticipated because the southeastern section of North Carolina seldom sees the white stuff, and when it does it's usually nothing more than a dusting.

The snow was child’s play, a romp in the park, for the big Lexus, which is loaded with off-road goodies. It was like a young pup, full of playful enthusiasm as it encountered the white flakes as they piled up into measureable drifts.

The nearly three-ton LX is the kissing cousin to the Land Cruiser, Toyota’s long-running king of the off-road. So it has the genes to go off road — or in our case on-road covered with the best winter can offer in North Carolina. The Land Cruiser, and its sibling the LX, are two of the top all-terrain passenger vehicles in the world with technologically sophisticated four-wheel drive systems and an electronically adjustable suspensions that makes them equally capable on road and off.

The LX was conceived in 1996 as the LX 450 and was significantly upgraded in 1998 as the LX 470. But the most significant improvements came in 2008 with the introduction of the current-generation LX 570.

It is endowed with the styling, sophistication and equipment one would expect when purchasing a large body-on-frame (yes it’s a real truck) SUV carrying a base price of $78,630 including destination charge.

What is amazing about the LX is that it for the most part allows its owner to have it all. There are very few compromises here. No need to sacrifice a civilized ride, decent handling, a world-class quite cabin and loads of luxury features for serious off-road capability. But you must remember it’s big and it handles like a truck; not bad just different.

Of course there are downsides to a vehicle this big and powerful, number one being gas mileage in our new age of rising prices. An EPA rating of 12 mpg city and 18 mpg highway — 14 mpg combined — on premium gas is enough to draw gasps from most, even those of more than modest means.

But Lexus says if the LX is indeed what you want, and perhaps what you need to fit your   lifestyle, than you must cheerfully pay the price.

One of the standout features of the LX is its thirsty 5.7-liter V-8 that makes a huge 383 horsepower and 403 foot pounds of torque. Even though the big engine mated to a six-speed automatic is tasked to propel a 6,000-pound vehicle, it gets the job done in commendable fashion with the ability if needed to complete a 0-to-60 run in 7 seconds. And the Lexus is capable of pulling most recreational toys with a towing capacity of 7,000 pounds.

We enjoyed the LX 570’s gusto when the roads were clear, but we had a problem with the steering finding the necessity to make constant corrections to keep the vehicle in a straight line. We had the feeling of being disconnected with the road.

The ride, thanks to the magical suspension system, was never a concern, nearly as smooth as a Lexus sedan. The “Active Height and Adaptive Variable” suspension also firms up to reduce body roll in hard cornering. There's a choice of three ride heights for various needs, and the height is dropped to its lowest point when the engine is turned off allowing for easier entry and exit, but still somewhat of a task. Thank goodness for the running boards.

Off-road driving aids include Hill Start Assist and Crawl Control that automatically modulates power delivery and braking force when negotiating rough surfaces or descending steep grades. We know this works well, having tried it out during a second week of testing in spring weather in California, by simply steering the LX up and down severely steep slopes. The Crawl Control did the heavy lifting. And the Hill Start was a snap even from a standstill with no evidence of any roll back.

With nine inches of total travel in the front suspension, a two-speed four-wheel drive system, a center limited-slip locking differential, traction and stability control, and four-wheel disc brakes with multi-terrain and anti-lock brake assist, the big Lexus is ready for all eventualities.

The SUV’s occupants — no matter if its tackling a big city asphalt jungle or a South America jungle — will enjoy huge, soft leather chairs with front and rear heat and air and heated seats in the front and second rows.

As always when we can get it, we enjoyed the adaptive cruise control that slows the vehicle when necessary and then quickly takes it back up to the set speed when the coast is clear.

The navigation screen was clear and easy to read. But like other Lexus vehicles, the only way to access the radio was on the navigation screen through the press of an audio button, and then the radio interface disappears in a few seconds. We are not fans of this process.

While the LX 570 is capable of hauling up to eight people, the rear-most seats are cramped and suitable only for children. Also cargo capacity is limited to a smallish 15.5 cubic feet with all seats in place. It can be opened up to 83.1 cubic feet with the second and third row seats folded.

The LX comes in only one trim level, but expensive packages can be added. Our test vehicle came with the Luxury package ($3,760), the Mark Levinson audio system ($2,850), park assist ($1,000) and a rear entertainment system ($1,990) taking the bottom line to a breath-taking $88,230.

The upgraded Mark Levinson sound system is worth the price with 450 watts and 19 speakers offering excellent musical reproduction.

The luxury package includes the adaptive cruise and the Lexus Pre-Collision System which uses sensors from the adaptive cruise to help detect an impending collision. When it determines a crash is imminent, the system automatically takes up the slack in the front seatbelts and primes the braking system for faster response in a panic stop.

The gas mileage is anemic and the price is steep, your carbon footprint is Sasquatch sized, but for those in the market for a rugged but extremely comfortable full-sized SUV, they won’t do much better than the LX 570.

Base price: $78,630; as driven, $88,230
Engine: 5.7-liter V-8
Horsepower: 383 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 403 foot-pounds @ 3,600 rpm
Drive: four-wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/2/3
Wheelbase: 112.2 inches
Length: 196.5 inches
Curb weight, 5,995 pounds
Turning circle: 38.7 feet
Towing capacity: 7,000 pounds
Luggage capacity: 15.5 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 83.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 24.6 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 18 mpg highway, 12 mpg city
0-60: 7.0 seconds (Edmunds)
Also consider: Land Rover Range Rover, Mercedes GL-Class, Land Rover LR4

The Good:
• Advanced off-road capability
• Excellent ride
• Luxury-appointed cabin

The Bad:
• Tight third-row seat and limited luggage capacity

The Ugly
• Anemic gas mileage