The Lexus: Lx 570: A Larger Lap of Luxury
They call it a "luxury utility vehicle." Sure, it can crawl over rocks. And it can tow plenty. But fundamentally, this is a luxo-cruiser, first and foremost, with seating for eight. You could select the optional 19-speaker Mark Levinson system and be more comfortable than you might be watching DVDs in your living room.
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What do you drive when dealing with that luxury horse trailer?
"The LX now has a towing capacity of 8,500 pounds," boasts Mark Templin, Lexus group vp and general manager, who adds, "That's better than Cadillac and miles ahead of Mercedes, BMW and Land Rover." That would be 7,900 lb. for the Escalade, 7,500 lb. for the GL550, 6,000 lb. for the X5, and 7,716 lb. for the Range Rover HSE. "Lexus has never had a serious tow vehicle, but now the LX can pull nearly every horse and boat trailer our customers' desire." Do the words "serious tow vehicle" and "Lexus" ever come up in conversation? Templin says that the LX owners "have traditionally been our most affluent," with a household income of over $380,000, which puts them in the stratosphere of luxury SUV owners. Their net worth is "three times that of the segment," and they have an average of 2.9 vehicles per household, of which more than 30% have another Lexus in the garage. "They intend to spend more than $70,000 on their next vehicle purchase," which makes it a good thing, perhaps, that the base price of the LX 570 is $73,800. This begs the question of how many are really worried about the 8,500 lb. of towing capability, given that the LX 470 was rated at 6,500 lb. And do these people really tow all that much? However, there it is ready to go and tow.
Third time is a charm.
A 5,590-lb. charm.
This is the third generation of the vehicle. The LX 450 went on sale in January 1996; the LX 470 went on sale in March 1998. Like many successor vehicles, the LX has grown. The wheelbase is the same as the LX 470 at 112.2 in. But the overall length is 196.5 in., up by 3.94 in. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that the previous two generations were predicated on being big, capable SUVs. While the LX 570 is still all that, it is something different. One reason is found in comments by Hideki Watanabe, LX 570 chief engineer: "Even though I have been in charge of truck and SUV products for the last decade, I worked on suspension engineering and was in charge of ride comfort for the very first LS." That would be the LS 400, the sedan that established Lexus in the U.S. "Now I have always admired the LS and when it came to work on development goals for our top-of-the-line luxury utility vehicle, I wanted it to be the most capable vehicle we have ever produced while maintaining the ride comfort of the LS and other luxury sedans." Clearly, focus was placed on the ride, both on-road and off. There is a double-wishbone front suspension that provides 9 in. of total front wheel travel (4 in. on the jounce stroke and 5 on the return); the rear features a four-link trailing-arm design. To be more sedan-like in on-road driving, a system was developed that reduces body sway by more than 30% and suppresses dive and squat during cornering, braking, and acceleration. Part of this is based on the diagonal linking of shock absorber compression chambers with a central control valve. What happens is that small body motions are transferred from the front to the rear, thereby increasing overall vertical suspension damping. In addition to which, there is a spring-rate switch control for the front shocks that stiffens or loosens the spring rate in two steps depending on conditions: for example, it loosens the spring rate for on-highway driving. Also, there is what's called the Adaptive Variable Suspension system that allows driver selection of three levels of damping response. In the event that the LX 570 is taken off road and the driver is not particularly familiar with some of the appropriate inputs for handling round ground or steep grades, there is a Crawl Control feature that can be turned on that regulates engine output and braking force and actuates "virtual" locking differentials (there is full-time four-wheel drive; a Torsen limited-slip locking differential—a physical one—is part of the system); essentially, the driver focuses on steering with the system taking care of the modulations for, say, handling steep descents.
So, how do you get that towing capability?
One part of it has to be the beefier frame compared with the previous generation LX 470. The LX 570 boasts a fully boxed frame with eight cross members. And these members are bigger. For example, whereas the LX 470 had a rail section measuring 2.75 x 4.33 in., the LX 570 offers 3.23 x 5.68 in. Or from 2.56 x 6.57 in. to 3.55 x 7.28 in. And 2.16 x 4.92 in. to 2.48 x 4.8 in. (Someone might note that 4.8 is less than 4.92. It is worth noting that the particular frame section in question has additional reinforcements.) The #5 and #6 cross members are hydroformed.
Also required is a bit more in the drivetrain. The nomenclature for the vehicle speaks to the size of the powertrain. As in the LX 570 having a 5.7-liter engine. This is a V8 (the 3UR-FE) that is shared with the Toyota Tundra pickup and the Toyota Land Cruiser. It offers maximum output of 383 hp @ 5,600 rpm and maximum torque of 403 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm. While the vehicle is assembled at the Toyota Yoshiwara plant, the engine is produced at the Tahara manufacturing complex. That is the plant where the LS sedan is produced (among other products). When Tahara was being prepared for the LS (see: http://www.autofieldguide.com/articles/090601.html), the takumi, or "master craftsman," guild was established. There are 10 of them at Tahara. One specializes in powertrain. (The Tundra 5.7 is not produced in Tahara. It is produced in Alabama.) The powertrain takumi, among other things, hand balance engine components (the components are machined-balanced, as well). There is an all-new six-speed transmission, which has a very low first gear (3.333) and what amounts to double overdrive (5th gear: 0.728 and 6th gear: 0.588). So there is power at the low end and comparative efficiency at the high end.
While the LX 570 is a production vehicle, it is not exactly a mass-production vehicle, at least not based on the local market. Templin anticipates selling "around 9,500 units" per year in the U.S. Still, that could be a multiple of the number of Toyota Land Cruisers, the LX 570's platform-mate, that may be sold. And let's face it: the takumi can only take so much. (It should be noted that the LX 570 is being offered in other markets with different engines, so the total number produced will certainly be greater than 9,500 but the number of engines that need be listened to and balanced may not be significantly greater.)
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