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.
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?