What better way to put the Japanese luxury sport-utility vehicle -- the expensive sibling of the Toyota Land Cruiser -- through its paces than to load it up with four adults and a week's worth of luggage?
The LX 470's chronic weak point, an underpowered engine, has been addressed on the '06 model. Its 4.7-liter V-8 engine now makes an extra 40 horsepower compared with last year. But despite the improvements, the Lexus still felt a bit old and due for a major overhaul.
We drove an amply equipped, eight-passenger LX 470, with five options. Bottom line: $73,108, including shipping.
SHE: We spent a lot of time in L.A. hitting the tourist attractions. But the time we spent in the LX 470 was pretty entertaining, too. For 2006, Lexus has made the impressive 11-speaker Mark Levinson premium audio system standard on its flagship SUV. You can get a rear-seat video entertainment system for an additional $2,469 and even the optional night-view system triggered some oohs and ahhs as we navigated our way down dark Mulholland Drive one night. That system projects a picture that looks like a black-and-white TV screen onto the windshield just above the steering wheel. It's designed to improve your nighttime vision.
HE: In fact, it does just the opposite. I found the night-vision system distracting, especially when I was trying to negotiate some of those tight turns on Mulholland in a tall vehicle that weighs too much and has a steering system that feels disconnected from the road. I'd advise you to save your $2,200 -- or spend it on some of the other amenities, like the video entertainment system.
SHE: Big picture: The Lexus was a trusty road companion, providing lots of room for four adults and lots of luggage. We all were grateful for the standard navigation system, which helped us find landmarks. There was a bit of a learning curve figuring it out.
HE: I don't like to come back from vacation feeling crabby, but I had some gripes about the Lexus. No. 1, we got lousy gas mileage. According to the dashboard readout on our test vehicle, we averaged just over 11 mpg over three days. And gas was not cheap in California. Toyota may have tweaked the LX 470's looks a tiny bit --redesigning the front grille, the taillights and the 18-inch alloy wheels -- but the overall silhouette is still the same. By that I mean, boxy, traditional styling that no longer seems to merit a second look on Hollywood Boulevard.
SHE: The ride was occasionally bumpy, depending on where we had set the adaptive variable suspension, and our friends complained that the running boards on the LX 470 needed to be wider to help passengers hoist themselves up into this tall vehicle. Our friend Ken said the amenities back there weren't very user-friendly, either. He griped that you have to twist your wrist to reach the rear-window switch and that the rear light needs a dimmer feature so a passenger can peruse a guidebook en route without blinding the driver. These may seem like small things, but the expectations are high when you are riding in a $70,000-plus vehicle.
HE: I appreciated the additional boost in power, which was sorely needed. Toyota hiked the output from 235 to 275 horsepower, and nudged the torque from 320 to 332 pounds-feet. The extra horses are really noticeable when you're zipping around the Hollywood Hills, although it probably matters less when you're off camping in the deep woods or down at the beach.
SHE: I imagine that few owners will go off-roading in the Lexus, which feels more country club than campsite, with its upscale wood and leather cabin. And you can't argue about the safety features, either, which are plentiful and include standard side curtain air bags, antilock brakes, vehicle skid control and a sophisticated tire-pressure monitoring system. I'd say the LX 470 still possesses a certain amount of star quality in the SUV world.
Paul and Anita Lienert are partners in Lienert & Lienert, an automotive information services company.
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2006 Lexus LX 470
Type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, eight-passenger SUV.
Price: Base, $67,945 (inc. $650 destination charge); as tested, $73,108.
Engine: 4.7-liter V-8; 275 hp; 332 lb-ft torque.
EPA fuel economy: 13 mpg city/ 17 mpg highway.
Where built: Japan.
Estimated 12-month insurance cost, according to AAA Michigan : $2,080.
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Anita: 4 (out of 5)
Likes: Accommodates four adults and lots of luggage with ease. Command seating gives you great view of the road. Conservative, yet pleasing cabin. Great safety features. Lexus Link communications system helps with emergency calls, directions. Lots of amenities, including standard navigation with rear back-up camera. Bright white gauges pop at night.
Dislikes: Ride can be bumpy, especially for rear-seat passengers. Navigation system not intuitive. Rear-seat amenities need a bit more work. Difficult to get in and out. Boxy, traditional styling needs an update.
Paul: 3 (out of 5)
Likes: Decent, but not stunning acceleration. Gorgeous light wood in the cabin. Comfortable front seats. Great audio system.
Dislikes: Too pricey. Dismal fuel economy. Steering felt disconnected from road. Night-vision system was more distracting than helpful. Bulky and difficult to park. Narrow running boards are dangerous when wet and slippery.