washingtonpost.com  > Business > Columnists > On Wheels

Capable, Luxurious and Thirsty

2004 Lexus LX 470

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 12, 2004; Page G01

We slaughtered flying insects. We spattered them by the hundreds. They had no chance against the massive 2004 Lexus LX 470 sport-utility vehicle.

Slam! Smash! Splat! Insecticide was not our aim. I had flown from Washington, D.C., to Atlanta to pick up my sister Loretta, who is afraid of flying.

2004 Lexus LX 470

Nuts & Bolts

Downside: It's expensive and built to stay that way. If you buy the LX 470, you may as well purchase shares in an oil company. Heck, if you can afford this one, you probably already own some.

Ride, acceleration and handling: It's okay in all three categories for an SUV. But keep in mind that the LX 470's predecessor, the Toyota Land Cruiser, was originally designed to conquer the toughest off-road terrain, as opposed to the smoothest racetrack. BMW lovers need not apply.

Head-turning-quotient: People like rich things, even when they flirt with gaudiness. The same holds true for this Trump-mobile.

Body style/layout: The LX 470 is a full-size, front-engine, four-wheel-drive sport-utility vehicle with four side doors and a rear hatch.

Capacities: It can seat up to eight people. Luggage capacity with the two rear seats folded and latched to their respective walls is 19.1 cubic feet. Maximum cargo capacity with center and rear seats folded is 90.4 cubic feet. The LX 470 can carry 1,270 pounds aboard (payload capacity) and can tow up to 5,000 pounds. Fuel capacity is 25.4 gallons of premium gasoline.

Mileage: We averaged 14 miles per gallon driving mostly on the highway.

Engine/transmission: The LX 470 is equipped with a 4.7-liter V-8 that develops 235 horsepower at 4,800 revolutions per minute and 320 foot-pounds of torque at 3,400 revolutions per minute. The engine is linked to a standard five-speed automatic transmission.

Safety: The most notable components are the front and rear head air bags and the standard rearview camera. Please be aware that you can still back over and kill or injure a child with the rearview camera in operation. That is why a cautionary note appears at the bottom of the center console's display screen, urging you to get out and look around the vehicle before backing up -- the same thing you should do when using traditional rearview mirrors. There is no substitute for adult supervision.

Changes for 2005: Nothing substantial.

Price for 2004 model: Base price is $64,475. Dealer's invoice price on base model is $56,091. Price as tested is $70,295, including $5,195 in options and a $625 destination charge. Dealer's invoice price with options and destination fee is $60,691. Price sources include Lexus and Edmunds.com.

Purse-strings note: The 2005-model prices may be comparable. Compare. Save $2,200 and delete the "night view" option, which doesn't work well. Save lots of money and buy the Land Cruiser instead. If you are more interested in off-road driving than you are in Taj Mahal motoring, forget the LX 470 and the Land Cruiser and get the wonderfully competent, okay-to-muddy-and-scratch, substantially less expensive Toyota 4Runner.

_____Ultimate Car Guide_____
Featured car photos and reviews

We were going to our niece's wedding in New Orleans. I figured I could kill two birds with one stone -- get Loretta to and from the wedding and do a test drive of the LX 470, which I had too long ignored. But I hadn't figured on killing so many bugs.

The carnage continued unabated. Insect remains accumulated on the LX 470's windshield more quickly than gasoline drained from its 25.4-gallon tank. At 14 miles a gallon, that was pretty darned fast -- and expensive.

Get this: Atlanta is 544 miles from the District of Columbia. I flew there, round-trip, for $220. New Orleans is 412 miles from Atlanta. In the LX 470, the round-trip gasoline costs alone -- for the required premium unleaded -- totaled $216.55!

"Why would anybody buy this thing?" Loretta asked.

"For the same reasons they buy luxury homes," I said.

No one needs a $70,00 SUV any more than someone needs a multimillion-dollar mini-mansion. Less expensive, comparably accommodating homes are available. For that matter, you could save $14,400 by buying the unadorned version of the Toyota Land Cruiser on which the Lexus LX 470 is based.

The vehicles share basic components and body structure. With the exception of their grilles and a few other minor exterior alterations, they practically look alike. Most certainly, they have the same soul -- a 4.7-liter, 32-valve, 235-horsepower V-8 engine.

But when it comes to luxury, the LX 470 is the motorized version of a gated community on California's Monterey Peninsula. It is rich -- exclusively rich.

There are leather-covered seats with splendiferous walnut wood accents on the interior door panels, center console and even the shift knob. There is a 124-watt, seven-speaker Mark Levinson audio system. Once you've listened to a Mark Levinson, you'd be hard-put to ever again listen to any other audio system, in or out of a vehicle.

Craftsmanship is Toyota's hallmark. That remains true here. Consider: The LX 470 has a curb weight -- factory weight minus cargo and passengers -- of 5,590 pounds. You'd think that anything weighing much more than two tons would have a few rattles or squeaks somewhere. But there were none in the tested LX 470. It was solid.

Interior silence was interrupted only by the noise of bugs hitting the windshield. When we grew weary of that, we cranked up the volume on the audio system and watched the bugs meet their high-speed demise with the accompaniment of adagios, riffs and a few-odd country tunes.

Handling in the LX 470 was less than desirable when the vehicle's adjustable suspension system was on the "comfort" setting. There was lots of yaw on that menu. The "sport" setting -- which, like the comfort zone, was reached by the turn of a console switch -- offered a stiffer, more controllable ride. We kept the suspension dialed to sport for most of the trip.

High winds, the collateral effect of a weakening but still very troublesome Hurricane Frances, did not help handling much. Nor did they help gas mileage. There is little that is aerodynamically efficient about the LX 470. It, like the Toyota Land Cruiser, is a huge box. Rather than slipping through wind, it got pummeled by it.

Like the Land Cruiser, which is a highly respected off-road vehicle in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East, the Lexus LX 470 is a super-tough, four-wheel-drive runner. But there was no way we were going to risk ruining that leather-and-wood creation, with its costly carpets and paint job, by taking it into the wilds of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana. We did take it off-road, however. We drove around New Orleans, where the streets are genuinely Third World -- unimproved by the kindest standards applied to those in developed countries -- pitted, rutted, sunken, often without proper curbs or drainage, which means they are prone to flooding in moderate rain.

The LX 470 handled the New Orleans "streets" with aplomb. It even managed to zap a few urban bugs of a different sort. Have you ever seen a flying cockroach?

© 2004 The Washington Post Company