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1997 Lexus LX 450 Sport-Utility Vehicle Review

by Carey Russ


SEE ALSO: Lexus Rover Buyer's Guide

Lexus is one of the most successful marques in automotive history. It has become one of the standards of the luxury market in an incredibly short time, and an acknowledged automotive symbol of quality and status rivaling many long-established names.

One reason for Lexus's success has been a product line that has grown to encompass all aspects of the luxury car market. The original, top-of-the-line LS400 sedan was joined, in short order, by an entry-luxury sedan, a couple of luxury-sports coupes, and a mid-priced luxury/sports sedan. Since luxury sport-utility vehicles are currently among the most desirable things on four wheels, a Lexus sport-utility was inevitable. So the LX450 was introduced early in 1996.

The Lexus LX450 builds on the already-luxurious and ruggedly offroad-capable Toyota Land Cruiser. It has an even more opulent interior, recalibrated suspension, and its own unique grille and body cladding. With a torquey 4.5-liter engine, all-wheel drive, and plenty of ground clearance, it is designed to be as suitable for an evening at the opera as a week in the woods.

One experience during my week with a 1997 Lexus LX450 stands out. Merging on to the freeway in a local upscale suburb, I looked in the lane next to me. What should I see but another LX450, identical to my test vehicle. I wasn't too surprised - the local demographics were perfect. A Lexus LX450 in its natural habitat. The driver of the other LX was surprised, however. If looks could kill, I wouldn't be writing this. Her feelings must have been the same as if she showed up at a party in original designer clothes and encountered someone else wearing the same outfit. Well, luxury sport-utilities are the status symbols that high-priced sports cars used to be. What other status symbol can haul seven people, tow 5,000 pounds, and go almost anywhere?

APPEARANCE: The LX450 is a high, wide vehicle that would have presence even without the Lexus logo in the middle of the LS400-inspired chrome grille. It is big and boxy, with fashionably rounded corners and enough character lines on the hood and flanks to prevent a slab-sided truckish look. Color-coordinated bumper fascias and lower body side cladding and fender flares give a contemporary automotive look and protect against hazards from shopping carts in suburban parking lots to rocks and trees on the Rubicon. Spoked 16-inch alloy wheels and high- profile tires give an offroad-ready appearance.

COMFORT: The LX450 is a Lexus, so cabin accommodations are first- rate. It's a good climb up to get in, but running boards and grab handles make it easy even for the vertically-challenged. The interior is outfitted in the same two-tone leather as is used in the Lexus LS400, with plenty of wood-grain trim. Power-adjustable front seats feel like they came right out of an LS400. The split folding bench second row seat is mounted higher than the front seats for improved passenger comfort and visibility. Fold- up third-row jump seats are just the place for young adventurers. Interior space and visibility are enhanced by the placement of the full-sized spare tire underneath the rear of the vehicle. A great climate control system keeps the inside temperature just right, and a good AM/FM/cassette/CD sound system with an optional CD changer in the console ensures information and entertainment. A tilt-adjustable steering wheel and power door locks, windows, and mirrors add convenience.

SAFETY: The 1997 Lexus LX450 has dual airbags, front crumple zones, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, side impact-resistant door beams, and a first aid kit as standard safety equipment.

ROADABILITY: Technically, the Lexus LX450 is a truck. Especially on smooth surfaces, it feels more like a luxury car. The Land Cruiser's rugged solid-axle suspension has been softened a bit for the Lexus, and gives it a sumptuously comfortable ride. Bumps are felt, but are well controlled, and road feel is good. The LX450 has no tendency to wander on the highway, and is as stable and poised as its high center of gravity allows. It has typically Lexus near-nonexistent levels of road and mechanical noise. Full-time four-wheel drive ensures secure traction on od off pavement, and ten inches of ground clearance reduces the chance of damage from road or trail debris.

PERFORMANCE: The 4.5-liter inline six-cylinder engine used in the LX450 makes ninety percent of its peak amount of torque from 1400 to 4600 rpm. That means almost 250 lb-ft of torque is instantly available when needed. This means reasonable acceleration, particularly from low speeds. It also makes the LX450 a good vehicle for towing. A 5,000 lb. towing capacity allows it to handle moderately large boats in style. CONCLUSIONS: Lexus has entered the premium sport-utility market in a big way with its LX450.

1997 Lexus LX450 Sport-Utility Vehicle

Base Price               $ 48,450
Price As Tested          $ 52,446
Engine Type              dual overhead cam, 24-valve, 
                         inline 6-cylinder
Engine Size              4.5 liters / 273 cu. in.
Horsepower               212 @ 4600
Torque (lb-ft)           275 @ 3200
Transmission             4-speed electronically-controlled 
Wheelbase / Length       112.2 in. / 189.8 in.
Curb Weight              4,971 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower    23.5
Fuel Capacity            25.1 gal.
Fuel Requirement         unleaded premium
Tires                    P275/70 R16 Michelin LTX m+s
Brakes, front/rear       vented disc/ vented disc, 
                         4-wheel antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear   solid axle with coil springs / 
                         solid axle with coil springs
Ground Clearance         10.8 inches
Drivetrain               front engine, full-time 
                         all-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed      13/15/13
0 to 60 mph                        10.6 sec
Towing Capacity                    5,000 lbs.