2014 Lexus LX 570 Driving Impressions

On the move, the Lexus LX 570 is smooth, quiet and untroubled. The higher seating position permits long-range forward visibility, keeping occupants above the flow of ordinary traffic, practically eyeball-to-eyeball with full-size trucks. The commanding view, combined with the lack of noise and vibration, combine to create the sensation of a protected cabin, and a sense of well-being.

The LX moves out readily at part throttle, creating the sensation of power in reserve. The engine is a 5.7-liter V8 shared with the Toyota Tundra pickup truck and Land Cruiser SUV. It's built for torque, and produces a lot of it: 403 pound-feet, early in the rev range. More than 90 percent of the torque is available before 2200 rpm, so most of the time the engine is loafing along with very low effort, which adds to the quiet, untroubled manner the LX conveys on the move. This ability to provide power without revving the engine as high gives the LX a different character than the Cadillac Escalade.

The 6-speed transmission has a very low first gear, complementing the engine's torque with enhanced mechanical leverage. The net effect is more power at low speeds. That low first gear is useful when creeping over rough terrain or when pulling a boat up a slippery boat ramp. For higher speeds, the six-speed offers two overdrive gears (fifth and sixth), allowing quiet, effortless cruising. At 2000 rpm, our test unit indicated a speed of 72 mph. At speeds over 75 mph we were able to detect some wind noise coming from the mirrors, but thanks to careful noise isolation work, the powertrain is not the source of noise or vibration.

Abysmal fuel economy is the penalty to be paid for so much heft and power. The LX 570 gets a fuel-economy estimate from the EPA of only 12 mpg in city driving and 17 mpg on the highway.

As you might expect with a four-wheel-drive of this considerable heft, the LX remains composed and relaxed even at speeds well beyond the acceptable norm on America's superhighways. In bad weather, the LX really comes into its own, with a Torsen limited-slip center differential biasing torque to maximize traction.

Drawing from its Land Cruiser heritage, the LX has the guts of a true 4×4. The four-wheel-drive system has four modes, actuated by a toggle switch on the center console. It's possible to lock the center differential in high or low range, or leave it open in either range. Normally, most people will be operating in the unlocked, high range mode. When there are patches of ice or water on the road, locking the center differential helps maintain grip as individual wheels encounter slippery surfaces. When the going gets really bad, locking the center differential and using low range would supply maximum balance.

The Lexus LX does not offer a locking differential in either axle, relying instead on electronic traction control (A-TRAC) to prevent wheelspin. Our considerable experience with A-TRAC is that it provides enhanced traction and off-road capability sufficient for any unplanned event, and then some. The one trick the Land Cruiser has that the Lexus does not have is its Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), with variable-rate anti-roll bars that allow greater articulation in extreme conditions; so the Toyota may be better suited for those who expect to use their SUV as an off-road vehicle. Multi-terrain ABS works at low speeds on-road or off, improving braking performance on gravel roads. Multi-terrain Select allows drivers to choose from five types of terrain settings.

Crawl Control is designed for use on steep downhill trails where control is the highest priority. It holds back the vehicle, making sure the speed is appropriate to the steepness of the terrain. All the driver has to do is keep feet off the pedals and steer; the system helps keep the vehicle going straight down the hill. A Turn Assist feature helps tighten the turning circle by adding brake force to the inside rear wheel.

The Lexus LX suspension supplies a mix of ride quality and cornering capability consistent with other large, multi-passenger luxury vehicles. Some vehicles in this class use airbag suspensions; but in the LX, coil springs are used on all four corners, supplemented by an active variable damping system (AVS) that controls body pitch and dive. The combination is effective. We noticed that the LX squats very little upon hard acceleration, and stayed composed during spirited driving.

A switch on the dash selects Sport, Normal, or Comfort suspension damping. We preferred Comfort for highway driving and for driving around the neighborhood. We switched to Sport when facing a mountain road with a lot of side-to-side transitions. We found the difference between Normal and Comfort relatively small, but the difference between Sport and Comfort was definitely discernible.

Maneuvering a big SUV can be challenging. Parking is made easier by low-effort steering at slow speeds. Driver visibility is challenged, however. From the driver's seat, we found the hood to be tall visually, making it hard to keep track of the right front corner. Rear visibility, meanwhile, is compromised by headrests and sheer height. Fortunately, clever electronic systems come to the aid of the driver.

One system uses wide-angle cameras in the front grille and passenger-side mirror to give the driver an enhanced view along the front and side of the vehicle, projecting images of these blind spots on a split-screen display. Another system uses ultrasonic sensors to warn of contact with objects around the front, rear and corners of the vehicle when parking. We found that operating these parking aids simultaneously was tremendously beneficial in tight quarters, making parking easier, quicker and safer.

Powerful brakes help slow this big SUV safely down from high speeds. They include large ventilated disc rotors with multi-piston calipers, enhanced by numerous active safety systems. These include Brake Assist (shortening stopping distances in emergencies), all-terrain ABS, and Electronic Brake Force Distribution to balance braking on slippery surfaces.

The LX 570 comes with Trailer Sway control. We towed a 7,000-pound trailer and found the engine and transmission had no trouble hauling the load up hills. The downhill side is often the bigger challenge, as both brakes and transmission are needed to maintain control. We found that the transmission would downshift on its own, from sixth to fifth gear then to fourth gear, to enhance engine braking and fuel economy. The uphill/downhill shift logic seems flawless, responding to very slight tip-of-the-toe throttle inputs. But when manual control seems called for, a sequential shift mode gives the driver this control.

A Pre-Collision System is optional. Though pricey, it's an innovative safety system, enabled by radar to determine if a crash is unavoidable. If that happens, the system tightens up the seatbelts, increases brake sensitivity and applies maximum braking force. By reducing the speed at impact, and positioning the occupants, PCS allows all the other built-in safety systems to work better.

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