HOT SPRINGS, Ark.—A few days before Beautiful Blonde Bride and I headed out to the hills of Arkansas—lovely just now—for our annual honeymoon pilgrimage, we were delighted to learn we would make the journey in a 2018 Lexus LX 570.
Really, what better way to absorb the grandeur of a brilliant fall weekend than in the biggest and baddest entry in Lexus' fleet, the very pinnacle of power and prestige? Big, strong, quiet, loaded with nearly every safety, comfort and electronic feature available, reliable as my grandpa's pocket watch, and as nimble off-road as the Dall sheep that prowl Alaska's mountains. What's not to like?
Sure, it's old style, a three-ton dinosaur with truck-like, body-on-ladder-frame, a foundation that some people still equate with safety, though today's lighter-but-stronger unibody construction offers more pliable crumple zones and stouter protection against cabin intrusion.
Still, if it's safety you seek, modern driver assist technology—adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, 360-degree cameras—will save both money and lives by preventing crashes big and small. Toyota makes most of those standard on every vehicle it builds, so of course the flagship has the best versions available.
Then, too, like many entries in this high-end market, the LX 570 is a gas hog. One is lucky to average 15 mpg on the required, high-octane, premium fuel. With a 24.5-gallon fuel tank and premium fuel going for around $2.55 a gallon these days, that translates into a $60 fill-up every 350 miles. That is probably perfectly acceptable to someone who can afford a vehicle that starts out at $89, 980 and with all the bells and whistles retails for about 10 grand more.
One wonders when we will come to see fuel economy calculations as not a dollar-and-cents issue, but a social responsibility one; but one digresses.
Competitors, such as the Mercedes-Benz GLS S-Class—the cream of this crop—BMW X5 and Audi Q7, Volvo XC90 and Acura MDX offer better fuel economy. Personally, if I were in the market for a luxury, three-row SUV, my pick would be an MDX hybrid, which sells for $40,000 less and gets 67 percent better fuel economy, but we all are driven by particular needs. Mine is penury.
The LX 570's vestigial fuel economy is largely a product of Toyota's continued delay in re-engineering the V8 engine that powers the Tundra pickup, Toyota Land Cruiser and Lexus LX 570. Why doesn't Toyota, known as the engineering company, address that? It doesn't need to.
Since the LX was last redesigned eight years ago, Lexus has sold between 5,000 and 6,000 per year. That's not even a drop in the retail bucket; Ford sells that many F-150s twice a week. Tundra sales have leveled off around 150,000 units a year, or about 1/8 of what top-selling Ford pushes out the door. Still, the numbers are stable and apparently Toyota's calculus says the costs of re-engineering a proven driveline don't justify the benefits of projected growth in market share.
To be sure, the 5.7-liter, 383-hp, V-8, mated to a silky eight-speed automatic, is a champ. Zero to 60 happens in a skoosh over seven seconds; 100 mph happens in 19 and top speed is governor-limited to 113. Those are acceptable, if less than head-snapping, numbers.
Heavy acceleration is accompanied by a pleasing exhaust note. Because the engine is naturally aspirated, tip-in happens immediately and smoothly. In our all-important "log-truck test," the LX, with more than 400-lb-ft of torque, got up and around the lumbering semi smoothly, quickly and safely.
For all its mass, the LX handles well. Think rhino in a tutu and pointe shoes. Braking is stout, and the big rig zigs and zags down a mountain road with commendable control. One would never confuse it with a sports car, but steering feels firm with just the right amount of assistance, even at parking lot speeds. Beautiful Blonde, who tends to overwork her imaginary, passenger-side brake pedal, did no floor pounding on this journey.
Not that one would take a $100,000 vehicle rock climbing, but the LX is as competent off-road as anything with a Jeep or Land Rover badge. A Torsen limited-slip locking center differential provides full-time four-wheel drive, splitting torque 40:60 under normal driving conditions. The differential responds on the move to changing conditions, automatically adjusting the torque distribution as necessary. Off-road, the driver can lock the center differential for challenging surface conditions.
A traction-control system helps to control wheel slip. A selection knob lets the driver choose between rock, rock and dirt, mogul, loose rock, and mud and sand. A low range provides low-speed crawling capability for handling steep off-road hills and uneven terrain. Yes, I have driven one of these things down a gravel-covered mountain face. Crawl control with turn assist, hill-start assist control and variable gear ratio steering kept the truck straight and calm, giving the appearance that I knew what I was doing.
The LX 570's interior is as plush and sophisticated as one should expect of a vehicle in this class.
Wood trim selections include matte walnut, linear dark mocha, linear espresso and dark brown walnut. Heated/ventilated middle row add to the sense of luxury. We especially liked a center console cool box that kept Bubbly Bride's always ample supply of Diet Cokes refrigerator-cool.
There were so many nice touches: a 19-speaker premium sound system, ambient LED lighting, a wireless phone charger tray, a heads-up display that projects vital information, such as speed, speed limit and cruise control setting, in the driver's line of site and a 360-degree camera system that made parking the big rig a breeze.
Among other things, that allowed us to find a spot near the Quapaw Bathhouse, which for a reasonable fee offers bathers a chance to ensconce themselves in one of three steamy mineral-water pools, hot, cool and—Goldilocks' favorite—just right.
Goldilocks loved it, and my knee finally stopped hurting, at least for a few days.
Bottom line: For luxury in a package not prone to breaking, the Lexus LX 570 continues to be a smart choice.