As the SUV evolves, refinement and car-like dynamics have risen as key tenets in vehicle development.
Not every SUV follows this path, though, and perhaps one of the most obvious examples comes from Lexus. The flagship LX range errs more on the side of ‘traditional’ SUVs, and the 2020 Lexus LX450d represents the entry point of the range.
Beneath the unique exterior styling elements, there are plenty of shared mechanical and structural components from Toyota’s LandCruiser. Engine, transmission and four-wheel-drive hardware are common between the two, but Lexus has armed itself with a range of interior and exterior details to give it some breathing space.
Petrol versions are more expensive, but as a starting point, the LX450d starts from $137,636 before on-road costs, and just under $13K more than a top-spec Toyota LandCruiser Sahara.
While Toyota fills its interior with seven seats, a little oddly, the LX450d only has five. Opt for the petrol LX570 and there’s room aboard for up to eight occupants. Payload and maximum permissible weight are the unofficial reasons, with the 570 and 450 carrying matching kerb weights despite their spec differences.
The upswing is greater cargo freedom. In a petrol LX or a LandCruiser, the third-row seats never go away, they just fold up to the sides of the boot. Since not everyone needs the extra seating, but might want to lug an extra suitcase or pack in a few sets of golf clubs without Tetris-style packing, the LX450d can do that.
It can also – potentially – venture further off-road, tow a horse float on weekends, make its way up washed-out rural roads, venture to the snow, and generally promise to be a little bit more robust than most SUV competitors. Less of a Benz, Audi or BMW rival and aimed straight at something from Land Rover’s stable.
As the grandest of grand touring vehicles, the LX450d’s super-soft height adjustable adaptive suspension deals with most ruts, bumps and blemishes perfectly. Patchy road surfaces become settled and most of the minor blemishes are cushioned away.
Soft-riding suspension comes with some compromises, however. There’s quite a bit of suspension dive, squat and roll in Normal and Comfort drive modes, though for the most part the big Lexus doesn’t tend to wallow or quake alarmingly – recovering quickly enough, though not instantly, from bigger hits.
Selecting Sport S or Sport S+ makes a big difference. The ride firms up enough to resist rolling and bobbing during cornering, but it can also become a little pogo-ey over chatty road surfaces.
The original plan for this car was to head out of town and hit the trails, but Melbourne’s then current COVID lockdowns put the brakes on leaving the metro area, so a few long freeway loops became plan B instead.
That said, interest in local travel means cars like these, for the ‘big lap’ of Australia, are supplanting overseas travel. You can’t see the world for a while, but you can explore your own backyard – with a saleable asset at the end, which is something a plane ticket just doesn’t offer.
If that’s the case, comfort from behind the wheel is paramount, and the plus-sized dimensions do plenty to help.
Having moved even further away from the 200 Series LandCruiser’s closely matched design in 2017, the LX range benefits from a selection of unique interior fittings for the dash, doors, and instruments.
Still, Lexus adheres to a very traditional styling approach. The dash is upright and there are buttons aplenty spread across the wide console, mostly tied to driving and off-road modes.
Instruments are traditional analogue gauges with a huge range of info: engine/coolant temp, fuel, oil temp and volts, plus a small digital screen for driver assist, trip computer and speed info.
It’s a conservative approach when viewed alongside the multiple touchscreens and digital instrument displays of other luxury 4x4s, but one that’s sure to keep traditionalists on side. There’s also the handy benefit of being able to navigate more controls via muscle memory, and keeping your eyes fixed on the road ahead.
Those inviting front seats are incredibly broad, soft, supple and easy to get comfortable in. There’s a huge amount of space in every direction, and a big broad console and armrest, which means no fighting for elbow room.
Interior storage is a little less generous than dimensions suggest. The centre console is quite small, but also houses a cooler box for keeping food and drinks chilled, there are two cupholders up front, a two-tier glovebox, and hidden from view under a lift-up panel in the centre stack are two USB ports plus an AUX input.
That same flap hides a wireless charge pad from sight, though it’s right on the cusp of useful size for phones that bear the ‘plus’ size designation.
At a glance, the centre stack design is a little reminiscent of a Vertu mobile phone (remember those?), but without the carefully damped, precisely machined button-press positivity. Importantly, key functions like climate and media shortcuts are physical controls, not soft keys or touch displays, which is particularly handy when the going gets rough.
Deeper infotainment functions are accessed by a jog controller on the centre console, which suffers the usual compromises to functionality on the go. It’s here the Lexus loses its rough-road advantage, though in fairness you’re less likely to want to change any of the infotainment system’s deeper functions on the go, and it’s much easier to wrestle with when stopped.
While most of the Lexus range has embraced Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the LX is yet to catch up and lacks native smartphone mirroring. The 12.3-inch display instead plays host to AM/FM/DAB+ radio, Bluetooth, USB and AUX inputs, plus the LX still comes with an in-dash CD player.
Heated and power-adjustable seats, powered steering column, three-position driver seat memory, and front and side two-piece sun visors all pad out the equipment list, and feel like natural fits for comfort in variable weather conditions and as a means of dealing with harsh evening glare.
Lexus equips the LX450d with four-zone climate control, but if you’re looking for the rear dials, they live in the armrest. With five aboard, you’ll have to ask nicely if the front row can make climate changes for you.
While for the most part the 450d looks like a match for the petrol LX570, a few items go missing from the spec sheet. Along with the third-row seating, the sunroof, rear-seat infotainment screens and 19-speaker Mark Levinson audio system are stripped out of the diesel LX, along with access to the optional enhancement pack with additional seat heating and cooling and 21-inch wheels.
In some overseas markets, the diesel LX doesn’t get quite so heavily stripped back – consider it a positioning tactic for Australia.
That’s not to say the LX470 goes without much, though. Equipment highlights still include keyless entry and start, surround-view camera, LED headlights with adaptive high beam, head-up display, 20-inch alloy wheels and 285/50R20 tyres, all-speed adaptive cruise control, and more.
The rear seat has overhead and console vents, door window blinds, and a 12V outlet but not too much more. The backrest is manually angle adjustable, with power slide but no heating.
Folding the seats forward is a relative breeze to expand cargo space, with the tumble-forward action of three-row models retained. The rear also includes two ISOFIX points and three top-tether child seat mount points.
There’s plenty of width for three across. With the rear seats in the rearmost position, leg room is useful, though toe space can be a little tight for taller passengers. Without a third row to worry about, it would have been nice if Lexus could have found some extra rearward slide.
Boot space is more generous thanks to no third-row seats. A 100W household power socket, four tie-down points and a cargo blind are included. There’s no place to store the cargo blind and no shopping hooks or built-in load straps, which would come in handy to stop smaller things from sliding about the big boot.
The 450d claims 909L of luggage space in five-seat format against 701L for a 570 with the third row folded. That’s a pretty handy boot. Fold the rear seats out of the way and there’s up to 1431L.
To help loading, the upper tailgate is powered, but the lower gate has damped opening and soft-close but no power operation. You’ll have to pull it up yourself, but once it hits the latch it can draw itself closed.
Under the bonnet, the LX450d is pretty close in specification to the Toyota LandCruiser. Both use the same 4.5-litre twin-turbo diesel V8 and are rated to 200kW at 3600rpm and 650Nm between 1600 and 2800rpm.
It may not be a technological tour de force – a Mercedes-Benz GLE400d lays down 243kW and 700Nm from just 2.9 litres, for instance – but it has its merits. For some, the ‘understressed’ nature of the Lexus engine will be reassuring.
Even though it’s not working particularly hard, the Lexus V8 feels brawny. Perhaps not what you’d call rapid, but with plenty of torque to move things along. An 8.6-second 0–100km/h claim isn’t too shabby, really.
Tired land-yacht associations aside, the way the LX450d picks up speed feels a lot like a boat under throttle. It’s clear the response isn’t razor-sharp or immediate, but it’s formidable all the same.
The engine and transmission move from a very relaxed feel in the Normal drive mode to much more alert in Sport S. Dial in the more direct sport program, and the gentle throttle map and early shifting transmission gain a new eagerness that makes the LX450d feel much sharper and more like a plus-sized wagon than a lumbering four-wheel drive.
Pick the sharper mode around town, and let the less alert Normal or Comfort modes soothe on long drives.
While the refinement of diesels can sometimes be off the pace of petrol engines, the twin-turbo 4.5-litre V8 is well insulated. There’s little in the way of engine noise or vibration at idle. The V8 burble is pleasant while accelerating, but never intrusive.
There’s even just a touch of old-school bent-eight rumble from inside the cabin, but it’s also pretty easy to keep things hushed and civil. With just a six-speed auto, against increasingly common eight- or nine-speed automatics, the LX450d also tends to shuffle through gears less, getting more from each one, adding to the civility.
For owners who plan to do a little more than just hitching up a van or horse float (with up to 3500kg of towing capacity), there’s full-time 4x4 with a two-speed transfer case to help off-road. Crawl control helps keep things moving in the rough stuff, and multi-terrain control adapts throttle, transmission and traction for progress over loose rock, mogul, rock and dirt, or rock via preset modes.
Getting the LX into low-range is quick and easy via the console rocker switch. The transfer case is quick to engage, and doesn’t need to be rolled or rocked back and forward the way some systems might.
Standard ride clearance is set at 225mm, but an extra 60mm of lift at low speeds can be accessed via the suspension toggle. The suspension can also be set to lower when parked for more graceful cabin access.
To go with imposing dimensions, the LX450d packs a solid 2740kg kerb weight, so there’s no mistaking it for a lightweight vehicle. Fuel consumption reflects this somewhat, as official figures suggest 9.5 litres per 100km fuel consumption. On test, this LX450d racked up an indicated 13.3L/100km around town and settled to 11.8L/100km after a few hundred highway kilometres.
The diesel Lexus also offers a shorter potential driving range thanks to a 93L fuel tank, versus 138L in either the LandCruiser Sahara or the petrol LX570.
There’s no ANCAP safety score for the LX range, and the structurally similar LandCruiser carries a rating from 2011, which renders it incomparable to the more stringent modern test criteria, though it was five stars at the time.
The LX lays claim to 10 airbags, pre-collision safety system with pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and lane-departure warning. The more advanced safety systems on rivals, including partial self-driving functions or advanced lane-keeping and centring, aren’t available on the LX range.
Lexus provides a four-year/100,000km warranty and three years of capped-price servicing at six-month/10,000km intervals priced at $495 per visit. Under the Encore owner benefits program, things like vehicle collection and return, a loan vehicle, and a wash and vacuum are part of the service deal.
For buyers, the hard question may not be how the Lexus stacks up against its European price-match competitors, but rather LX against Sahara. An in-house battle that’s much closer and much harder to define.
While the two are incredibly closely matched, taking the venerable LC200 platform and wrapping it with an extra layer of refinement, comfort and design difference provides an intriguing alternative. For those who can't quite reconcile the Sahara's price with its shared lower-level LandCruiser interior tactility, the LX could be the ideal solution.
The Lexus LX450d may not be widely spotted outside of affluent suburbs, but it has what it takes to leave that all behind. It may not be the first choice of 4x4 to go remote in, but it can readily get you close – without forsaking comfort or luxury along the way.