When Toyota needed a sport-utility vehicle to supplement its line of Lexus luxury cars, it didn’t have to look further than its own Toyota Land Cruiser to come up with the full-size Lexus LX 450.
There was some disappointment with the LX 450 among those shopping for a large limousine-like SUV, however. The first problem was the inline six-cylinder engine, which some shoppers found to be a bit anemic for a 2 1/2-ton truck.
Other problems included the tight middle seat, which wasn’t as comfortable as it should be in a vehicle that cost $50,000 and was meant to be a luxury eight-passenger people-mover; and the Land Cruiser/LX 450’s ride, which was a bit too harsh for a vehicle in this cushy-ride class.
But all of those problems have been addressed with the all new 1999 Lexus LX 470, which made its debut earlier this year alongside an all-new ’99 Toyota Land Cruiser. The only components carried over from the previous models are the four-speed automatic transmission and the two-speed transmission transfer case for low-range off-roading.
The new LX 470 and Land Cruiser now are powered by a 4.7-liter V-8 engine based on the 4.0-liter V-8 used in the Lexus LS 400 luxury sedan. Horsepower has increased from 212 with the previous six-cylinder to 230 with the V-8, but more importantly, torque has improved dramatically, from 275 foot-pounds with the six-cylinder to a whopping 320 foot-pounds with the V-8.
Even more important is the fact that 80 percent of that torque is available at engine speeds as low as 1,100 rpm, which is extremely important to get this heavy vehicle moving quickly off the line.
As heavy as it is, the LX 470 can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in just 10 seconds, which is unmatched in the full-size SUV class. Neither of the LX 470’s two top rivals — the Lincoln Navigator and the Range Rover — are quite that quick.
The LX 470 interior.
The LX 470’s ride is much smoother and softer than before, and the vehicle doesn’t lean in tight turns as dramatically as the LX 450 does. That’s due in part to a new independent double-wishbone front suspension system that uses lower torsion bars rather than coil springs for better on-road performance, while allowing for exceptionally long travel to handle uneven off-road surfaces.
Two high-tech additions also help give the LX 470 a limo-like ride:
An adjustable height control that sets the body at one of three different levels from up high for the best off-road clearance to down low for the best road-hugging performance. This doesn’t improve the ground clearance, it just raises or lowers the body on the frame. At the lowest point, which is the setting most people will use most of the time, the vehicle is low enough to the ground for easy entry and exit. The highest level, for off-roading, works only below 18 mph; it automatically switches to a lower setting above that speed.
Adaptive variable suspension, a fancy name for a computer-controlled variable shock ab sorber system. This system has driver-selectable ranges that control a computerized shock absorber setup that can choose from among 64 different settings, from extra cushy for bumpy roads to extra firm for interstate cruising. Although the driver can set one of three ranges from soft to firm, the computer does the work automatically after that, detecting road surface and ride harshness and adjusting the shock absorber firmness accordingly (as quickly as 2.5 milliseconds).
The third seat row, which was best left to the kids before, is even tighter now, thanks to extra room given to the middle seat. You won’t want to stick adults back there. In the new vehicle, the third seat is easier to fold down or remove than before, and many people will want to take it out for extra cargo space on trips if it isn’t needed for passengers.
While most of the changes from the previous model have been good ones for a luxury on-road SUV, there have been some trade-offs that affect the LX 470’s of-r d performance.
The Land Cruiser and LX 450 were arguably the best stock-equipped off-road vehicles on the market, primarily because of the suspension system that allowed for extra leaning (and therefore better agility over rocks and logs), and a better four-wheel-drive system.
The basic full-time four-wheel drive of the older models continues on the LX 470, minus two highly important features for serious off-roading: the previously available locking front and rear differentials. The LX 470 still has the locking center differential, which forces power to both front and rear when locked; but no locking front differential is offered and the locking rear differential is available only on the Land Cruiser version of this car.
The LX 470 has only a limited-slip rear differential, which isn’t as effective in sand and mud as a locking mechanism. The wheels, unfortunately, will slip when the going gets tough — something you never had to worry about with the former models.
Now, even though the LX 470 is still a capable off-road machine in most situations, it no longer is the champ in the toughest stuff; that crown goes to the Range Rover.
But Lexus made these trade-offs knowing that most people won’t ever do any rough off-roading with the LX 470; its use will be primarily as a luxury on-road, high-profile people mover, and in that regard, it has no equal.
Among the luxury fittings, which are almost identical to what you get with the LS 400, are walnut interior trim, leather seats, power-everything, heated outside mirrors (designed to dry up raindrops as well as melt ice), separate front and rear automatic climate control with smog sensor and air filter, premium 250-watt AM/FM/cassette stereo with seven speakers and a six-disc in-dash compact-disc player, cruise control, remote entry, lots of cup holders, power tilt and telescopic steering column, and a programmable garage-door opener.
Off-roaders or anyone trying to park this big truck in a tight space, like a parking garage, will appreciate the electric fold-in exterior mirrors, controlled from a dashboard switch.
Safety features include dual front air bags and four-wheel anti-lock brakes, which also work in low-range transmission mode. There is a computerized control that decreases anti-lock braking effort at low off-road speeds for better driver control on steep slopes, however; this was almost a requirement to keep the LX 470 up to standards for off-roading.
The base price of $54,950 (plus $495 transportation) brings almost everything as standard equipment. The only options on ours were a tilt-and-slide moon roof ($1,270), floor mats ($112), cargo mat ($65), towing-hitch receiver with wiring harness ($264), and roof luggage rack ($545).
Total price, including transportation, was $57,701, which put the LX 470 on par with the Range Rover 4.0 SE ($56,625), but well below the Range Rover 4.6 HSE ($64,125). The LX 470 still is way above the four-wheel-drive Lincoln Navigator’s $43,300, however.
EPA fuel-economy estimates are 13 miles per gallon in the city and 16 mpg on the highway, which is slightly better than the 13/15 with the LX 450’s six-cylinder engine.
The tank holds 25.4 gallons of gasoline; the vehicle can operate on regular gas, but high-test is recommended.
1999 LEXUS LX 470 SPORT-UTILITY WAGON
The Package: Full-size, four-door, eight-passenger, V-8 powered, full-time four-wheel-drive, luxury sport-utility wagon, an all-new replacement for the LX 450.
Highlights: Power has increased from the previous model, thanks to an upgrade from an inline six-cylinder to a high-torque V-8 engine; excellent ride and handling on and off the road; superb luxury in a massive people-mover.
Negatives: Off-road performance isn’t as good as with the LX 450; the front and rear locking differentials are no longer available; only a limited-slip rear differential is offered.
Major competitors: Range Rover, Lincoln Navigator.
EPA fuel conoy 13 miles per gallon city, 16 highway.
Base price: $54,950 plus $495 transportation.
Price as tested: $57,701, including transportation.
On The Road rating: A-plus.