If consumers were willing to stand in line and beg salesmen to take the $25,000 out of their hands in exchange for a compact sport-utility vehicle, they probably would do somersaults as they waived $50,000 at those salesmen to get an even bigger luxury sport-ute with a status nameplate.
So Lexus, Acura and Infiniti rushed to market with dolled-up machines coated in metallic paint and bathed in leather and wood grain interior trim.
But in the rush to take advantage of consumer eagerness to part with cash for a loaded sport-ute, Lexus simply added leather and wood to the Toyota Land Cruiser and Infiniti the Nissan Pathfinder. Acura borrowed an Isuzu Trooper and called it the SLX.
So Lexus ended up with an LX450 name plate on a spiffed-up Land Cruiser, as much as you can spiff up a vehicle with ride and handling characteristics like those vehicles with “Brinks” lettered on their door panels.
But the rush to market was successful, as many people paid for a prestige nameplate. More important, none of the Big Three domestic automakers had a competitor.
For 1998, it’s time for Lexus to pause, take a breath and bring out a sport-ute in which the luxury is built in, not added on, because, after all, even bucking broncos come with leather seats.
Enter the LX470–just what Lexus needed. Actually, it’s just what the Lexus LX450 needed. The LX450 has become the LX470, giving the luxury sport-utility vehicle a much-needed more powerful, yet far more quiet and civil engine. The 4.5-liter in-line six has been replaced by a 4.7-liter V-8, driving the name change.
The 4.7-liter, 230-horsepower, 32-valve V-8 is smooth and whisper-quiet. It is based on the 4-liter V-8 in the Lexus LS400 sedan.
The 4.5-liter 6 produced 212 h.p. and 235 foot-pounds of torque at 3,200 r.p.m. The 4.7 develops 230 h.p. and 320 foot-pounds of torque at 3,400 r.p.m. In other words, when you tap the pedal, the 4.7 knows what to do and does it without hesitation.
The price you pay for quick vehicle response to pedal input is watching the fuel gauge move whenever the LX470 does. The mileage rating is 13 miles per gallon city/16 highway. The tank holds 25 gallons, but not for long. A larger tank would help extend travel range, though a larger tank would also add more weight for the 4.7 to pull and defeat the purpose. One solution would be to lighten the vehicle, but then you’d have a 4Runner and Toyota doesn’t carry the same status as Lexus does.
By the way, that same 4.7-liter V-8 will power the full-size Toyota pickup truck being built in Indiana and coming to market in about a year. It is Toyota’s first full-size rival to the Ford F-Series and Chevrolet C/K as well as its first V-8 powered pickup.
Other than fuel economy, the LX470 has only a few problems, one of which only is a problem if you are shorter than 5 feet 10 inches. The LX470 stands tall and when someone says, “climb aboard” the word “climb” must be taken literally. The shorter the inseam, the tougher the climb.
Inside, there are a few annoyances, as annoying as an interior can be that penetrates your senses with the smell of leather from soft, very supportive seats. You probably could nap in those seats if you didn’t have to stay on the lookout for fuel pumps, or, in Lake Forest,to try to spot your one and only Mickey D’s, which there is called “Le Mick’s.”
Lexus’ big sport-utility is less of a brute for 1998. Front and rear tracking were widened to improve stability and cornering, but adaptive suspension similar to that of Cadillac is the main contributor.
With this system, the shock settings automatically and continuously adjust to the road surface and driving habits when you accelerate, brake or take a corner or curve. The shocks provide optimum ride and handlin and minimal shake, rattle, roll, sway, pitch or dive so you and your vehicle maintain equilibrium.
Ride and handling also benefit from the rack-and-pinion steering added for the first time for more precise reaction to wheel input.
The LX470 employs full-time four-wheel-drive. A little transfer case lever is out of the way on the corner of the center console. You use that lever to get out of full-time 4WD high and into full-time 4WD low, but only if you intend to do some serious off-roading or climb mountains or travel sandy sea shores or if “Le Mick’s” is up to its arches in snow and you just gotta have a Big Mac.
A very nice feature is the addition of a third seat in back. Up front there are two buckets and behind those are two buckets and behind those is a little bench to hold two. In truth, with all those seats, most of which will never be used, it looks a bit congested inside, and when you peer back out the rear window, you get headrests blocking your vision.
But that third bench is neat. It splits in half and each half folds up and against the sidewall. A plastic strap and clip attaches to a holder in the ceiling to keep those seats in place and open cargo capacity in the rear.
When those seats are lifted and housed in the sidewall, you look down and see the exposed metal seat latches in the floor. Hmm. Metal latches can scrape cargo. Don’t want to do that. So you pop out the plastic covers on the bottoms of those seats in the sidewall and they fit tightly in the metal holders in the floor over the latches so you won’t scrape anything. Very nice touch.
It’s also nice that the rear deck lid is a dual-mode unit. You can open just the glass window or the window and deck lid as one unit. And the load height is low enough to present no problems getting your cargo on board.
The LX470 had one feature we would have liked to appreciate, and probably would have if we’d understood it better: The vehicle can go up or down with a little prompting from a button in the console. Press the button and vehicle rides lower for on-road or higher for off-road clearance.
But to regulate the height, the vehicle must be in park and standing still except when in high and not low and traveling at speeds ofmore than 31 m.p.h. and less than 12.5 m.p.h. and . . . have your salesman explain it to you.
All we know is it didn’t help get our short inseams in or out any easier.
We test drove a prototype and Lexus says the production model will come with a running board. We hope.
Anyway, anyone who needs to raise vehicle height to take a $50,000 machine off-road through boulders, gravel and sport-ute-body-devouring trees, bushes and shrubs should have his or her melon examined.
Along with the new engine, LX sheet metal gets a slight cosmetic makeover to make it look bigger and bolder. The split sliding rear quarter windo ws have been replaced by a one piece glass for a cleaner, less cluttered look.
Overall exterior length grew 2.8 inches, interior cabin room 3.5inches, thanks to moving the windshield farther forward.
Standard features include all the power goodies plus compact-disc changer, air conditioning, outside temperature gauge, electronic tilt and telescoping steering column, first-aid kit, tool kit, dust filter and nine cupholders.
New as standard for 1998 are individually reclining second seats, heated front seats, power swing out rear quarter windows, one-touch open/close windows and moonroof, heated and retracting (to prevent carwash damage) outside mirrors, automatic on/off headlamps and a trio of auxiliary power plugs.
Safety features include dual air bags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, daytime running lamps and a jam prevention mechanism on each power window that stops the glass and lowers it seven inches if there is an obstruction.
The Lexus LX470 and restyled ’98 Toyota Land Cruiser, share the 4.7-liter V-8 but to separate the two and give Lexus more luxury, the LX470 gets a few items that Land Cruiser doesn’t, such as automatic load-leveling suspension, active suspension, height control, CD changer, rear-seat air conditioning, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, memory setting for driver seat/mirrors/steering column, programmable garage door opener, self-dimming mirrors and power folding mirrors that tilt down toward the curb when you engage reverse.
>> 1998 Lexus LX470 Wheelbase: 112.2 inches Length: 192.5 inches Engine: 4.7-liter, 230-h.p. V-8 Transmission: 4-speed automatic EPA mileage: 13 m.p.g. city/16 m.p.g. highway Base price: Not available ($51,000 estimated) Price as tested: Not available. Only options are power moonroof and premium sound system. Pluses: 4.7-liter V-8 quieter, yet more powerful than the 4.5-liter inline 6 it replaces. And it gets 1 m.p.g. better highway mileage. All-wheel-drive. Adaptive suspension with almost limitless soft to firm ride automatic settings. Most comfortable luxury cruiser. Third seats in back fold into sidewall for more cargo capacity. Minuses: The fuel gauge moves when everyone do. Stands high for adventure some entry and exit by those who don’t stand as high. >>