AND NOW, a rap about the Lexus LX450 and the Toyota Land Cruiser: Minute after minute, hour after hour/ I keep try-na figure: Why spend the extra dollar?Do I pop for the name: Lexus LX450/ when Toyota makes a Land Cruiser that's really just as nifty?I put 'em in the driveway, put 'em side by side./ They look the same to me. Maybe you can help decide.They got the same steel bodies, same box-ladder frames./ Ain't much different 'cept the letters in their names.Toyota makes 'em both but says the Lex is better./ But are they talkin' 'bout transmissions, or braggin' 'bout the leather?I tried to check things out. Put both sport-utes on the road./ They felt the same to me, with and without a load.Maybe ah'm just stoopid, maybe don't know a thing./ But seems like Toyota's drawn a circle that Lexus calls a ring. Background: Visually, the 1996 LX450 is identical to the Land Cruiser, the big sport-utility vehicle that also wears the Toyota badge. In fact, one man pulled up next to me at a stoplight in Washington and asked: "Yo, is Lexus making the Land Cruiser, now?"No, Toyota makes 'em both -- the Land Cruiser for the possibly rich and the Lexus for the certainly rich.Lexus is Toyota's luxury vehicle division. Lexus had a problem: People have been getting out of cars and into sport-utes -- 42.4 percent of all new-vehicle buyers in the United States buy the things. Lexus didn't have a sport-ute. Its buyers were going to Land Rover and plush versions of the Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee and Isuzu Trooper.No way was Toyota going to pop for a couple of billion bucks to develop an all-new Lexus sport-ute. So Toyota took a vehicle from another division, dressed it up and sold it as something else. Thus, the LX450, a Land Cruiser from a better neighborhood.The only things different are the grilles, nameplates, suspension spring rates and option packages. Put another way, there is more standard stuff in the LX450 than there is in the Land Cruiser. Examples: Leather seats and deep-tinted "privacy glass" are standard in the LX450 and optional in the Land Cruiser. The LX450 has standard automatic air conditioning, whereas the Land Cruiser comes with standard manual air conditioning (you must actually use your fingers to set the temperature and fan controls).Lexus also brags that you get the "Lexus customer experience" with the LX450, implying that you get something less from Toyota when you buy the Land Cruiser. Baloney!But what about the real stuff -- engines, transmissions, electrical systems, things that make both vehicles work? Not much different there, except what Toyota did to the suspension in the LX450. Simply stated, the LX450 has a discernibly softer, more carlike ride than the Land Cruiser. Big whoop. Vehicles such as the LX450 and the Land Cruiser are supposed to be rugged, they're trucks after all.Anyway, both the LX450 and Land Cruiser are equipped with splendiferous 4.5-liter, d ouble-overhead cam, 24-valve, inline six-cylinder engines rated 212 horsepower at 4,600 rpm. Torque is rated 275 pound-feet at 3,200 rpm. Both vehicles have electronically controlled, four-speed automatic transmissions as standard equipment, as well as standard four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock backup.Other shared standard features include all-wheel-drive, rugged body-on-box-ladder-frame construction, and front-and-rear bumpers that will pass anybody's 5 mph crash test. And both can be equipped to pull trailers weighing up to 5,000 pounds. Complaints: Mileage is worse than lousy in both vehicles.Praise: Both the LX450 and the Land Cruiser are better made than any other sport-utes, including those from Land Rover.Head-turning quotients: Land Cruiser: big, muscular, overpowering. LX450: big, muscular . . . hmmm . . . overpriced?Ride, acceleration and handling: The Land Cruiser has a more trucklike ride and handling than the LX450. Acceleration is reasonably go od in both vehicles, especially considering their huge weight -- about 5,000 pounds. each. Excellent braking in both vehicles.Mileage: Ha! Barely 12 miles per gallon for both in highway and city driving (25.1-gallon tank, estimated 288-mile range on usable volume of recommended regular unleaded gasoline), running with two to three occupants and 500-pound cargo loads in both vehicles.Sound systems: LX450: AM/FM stereo radio and cassette with seven speakers and optional six-disc CD player in the floor-mounted center console. Land Cruiser: AM/FM stereo radio and cassette with nine speakers. Both systems, installed by Toyota, are excellent.Price: If you put all of the LX450's standard equipment in the Land Cruiser, you wind up paying pretty close to the LX450's base price. Here's the breakout:LX450: Base price is $47,500. Dealer invoice price on base model is $40,375. Price as tested is $53,342, including $5,347 in options (compact disc, sun roof, front-rear locking differential, etc.) and a $495 transportation charge.Land Cruiser: Base price is $40,258. Dealer invoice is $34,287. Price as tested is $46,968, including $6,290 in options (leather seats, sun roof, front-rear locking differential) and a $420 destination charge.Purse-strings note: What price prestige? Compare the Lexus with Land Rover's Range Rover 4.0 SE, Acura SLX (a maxed-out Isuzu Trooper), Mercury Mountaineer (a maxed-out Ford Explorer), Oldsmobile Bravada (a maxed-out Chevrolet Blazer), Jeep Grand Cherokee and Mitsubishi Montero SR.
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