2022 Lexus LX 600 First Drive Review: Solo Story
In 2007, George W. Bush was in the White House, Kimi Raikkonnen won the Formula 1 World Drivers Championship, and the original iPhone went on sale. I was in college, living in a fraternity house. And Toyota gave us our first taste of a new Land Cruiser when the 2008 Lexus LX 570 debuted six months ahead of the J200.
Two administrations, five World Champions, a baker’s dozen iPhones, and an embarrassing amount of cheap beer later, we’re seeing a new Lexus LX again. The 2022 model arrives after its Land Cruiser counterpart, unlike in the 2000s, but it stands alone for the first time following Toyota’s decision to shut out the slow-selling but lovable off-roader for North America.
But fret not, fans. While the LX 600 wears a premium badge, Lexus has made accommodations for what it affectionately calls Land Cruiser Orphans while presenting a much stronger competitor to luxury off-roaders like the Land Rover Range Rover and premium on-road competitors such as the Cadillac Escalade. Toyota isn’t bringing the Land Cruiser to North America, but the new LX is a nudge nudge, wink wink for dirt road fans that better appeals to customers that will never set a wheel off pavement.
|Quick Stats:||2022 Lexus LX 600 Luxury|
|Engine:||Twin-Turbocharged 3.5-liter V6|
|Output:||409 Horsepower / 479 Pound-Feet|
|0-60 MPH:||6.9 Seconds|
|Fuel Economy:||17 City / 22 Highway / 19 Combined|
Orphans And The Ultra-Wealthy
The 2021 LX 570 relied on a simple menu: two-row and three-row trims, with individual Luxury and Sport packages. But the 2022 LX 600 covers more ground with five separate trims, including a base model targeted at Land Cruiser Orphans that retains the model’s classic five-seat arrangement – it’s also the only way to get a two-row with a rear bench – while its $88,245 starting price (including a $1,345 destination charge) adds just $1,385 to the base cost of the last Land Cruiser.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Ultra Luxury, a $127,345 answer to the range-topping Range Rover SVAutobiography and Mercedes-Maybach GLS that rips out the bench in favor of a pair of extravagant captain’s chairs and upgraded cabin materials – no third row here, either. Touch controls appear on the new rear center console, allowing passengers to activate a massager and push the passenger’s seat all the way forward, recline to 48 degrees, and rest their feet on a powered, pop-out ottoman. It’s a decadent environment and, I imagine, will be popular with well-heeled businesspeople who need to regularly cross deserts or jungles.
The meat of LX sales will come from the three middle trims, says Lexus, the Premium, F Sport Handling, and Luxury models, all featuring seven-passenger seating. Ranging from $96,345 to $105,345 and with a refreshingly unfussy option and packaging lineup, the LX targets a far greater swath of the marketplace.
I spent my day driving around rural Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the F Sport and Luxury, but there’s no glaringly poor choice in this lineup. Whether you buy the base model or the Ultra Luxury, you’ll find the same host of active safety equipment and off-road performance gear. The F Sport Handling adds some aesthetic tweaks and small suspension upgrades, and all but the LX 600 Standard come with adaptive dampers, but the drive experience from $88,000 to $127,000 is largely consistent.
Setting off on a route past the Los Alamos National Laboratory toward Bandelier National Monument in an LX 600 Luxury wearing appropriately named Atomic Silver paint, the first thing that struck me was the SUV’s immense size. Despite the move to the same modular platform as the Tundra, the 2022 LX’s dimensions are virtually identical to the old LX 570. The 112.2-inch wheelbase remains, while the length and width grow barely half an inch, at 200.6 and 78.4 inches, respectively.
And in the grand scheme, this is not a huge vehicle. A standard-sized Cadillac Escalade is a foot longer, for example, and the ESV model adds 2.25 feet to the LX’s length. But plop in the Lexus’ cushy leather seat, grip its smallish steering wheel, and gaze across the huge, flat hood, and a sense of disorientation sets in. It’s easy to feel lost in the LX because there’s so, so much sheet metal in front of you.
The poise and stability on rough surfaces is a pleasant surprise, but then so is the way the LX behaves in corners.
The ride brought me back, though, because it’s unlike any body-on-frame vehicle I’ve experienced. Typically, when BoF trucks and SUVs hit a bump, the frame responds half a second before the body that’s bolted to it. This disjointed reaction, which is a common and accepted sacrifice for the capability and durability inherent in this type of vehicle assembly, is nonexistent in the LX.
I could feel it in my backside as the chassis soaked up an impact, but the secondary reaction in the LX’s body never arrived. Part of this impressive isolation is down to the new TNGA-F platform, which improves torsional rigidity compared to last year’s LX by 20 percent, but I suspect a fair amount of the improvement is just magic. That how’d-they-do-that feeling extends to the new electric power-assisted steering, which replaces a hydraulic tiller and is so well isolated that even tackling rutted dirt trails at speed couldn’t disrupt the LX.
This is no Mazda MX-5, but body movements are predictable and linear enough that a twisty road is a thing to approach with confidence rather than trepidation.
The poise and stability on rough surfaces is a pleasant surprise, but then so is the way the LX behaves in corners. This is no Mazda MX-5, but body movements are predictable and linear enough that a twisty road is a thing to approach with confidence rather than trepidation. In fact, even as I upped my pace through curves, it felt like the LX 600 had more to give.
Only the difficulty in picking out the vehicle’s corners and placing it on the road held me back. In that sense, this Lexus is an odd contrast – a large vehicle that handles like something far smaller, which is good for folks lacking full-size SUV experience, but the LX is so difficult to place that it’s hard to recommend to those same customers.
The LX has always shared a powertrain with the Land Cruiser and (since it’s existed) the Tundra, but 2022 is the first model year where it feels like the Tundra/Land Cruiser have a Lexus engine, rather than the other way around. The new twin-turbocharged 3.5-liter V6 and 10-speed automatic are that smooth and civilized.
This setup replaces the LX 570’s long-running 5.7-liter iForce V8, and the improvements are legion. Power and torque swell from 383 horsepower and 403 pound-feet to 409 ponies and 479 pound-feet, the sprint to 60 falls from 7.3 seconds to 6.9 (although real-world performance feels closer to the Lincoln Navigator, which does the deed in around six seconds), and the 8,000-pound towing capacity is up half a ton on the LX 570.
2022 is the first model year where it feels like the Tundra/Land Cruiser have a Lexus engine, rather than the other way around.
At the same time, the twin-turbo engine realizes dramatic fuel economy gains – the EPA-estimated 17 city, 22 highway, and 19 combined miles per gallon represent five-, six-, and five-point improvements, respectively. Frankly, for those gains I’d settle for a noisy, recalcitrant thing that’s prone to small fires. But no, the LX’s powertrain is perfect for a luxury application.
Quiet on startup and somehow nearly as stealthy at speed, the V6 requires little prodding to get moving. There’s a hint of lag off the line or when suddenly accelerating, but with peak torque available from 2,000 to 3,600 rpm, the 3.5-liter engine’s mid-range performance is admirable. Partial throttle is the sweet spot for pace and refinement. Unfortunately, the steam it builds comes at the expense of the soundtrack, which is more present north of 5,000 rpm. And yes, the LX possesses the dull, flat throb of a V6. Fly, meet ointment.
Overall, the shift to this new powertrain means the 2022 LX performs more effectively and more immediately.
Working alongside the twin-turbo engine is an excellent 10-speed automatic that’s a match for either the Cadillac Escalade or Lincoln Navigator. Like the engine, half-throttle acceleration is the gearbox’s happy place – it’s so smooth that picking out individual changes becomes a challenge. Unlike the engine, though, the transmission gives up little as the tach climbs. Gear changes happen quickly in either direction, and the LX seemed plenty happy dropping multiple cogs as needed. Overall, the shift to this new powertrain means the 2022 LX performs more effectively and more immediately.
Beat An Unbeaten Path
While the Land Cruiser made its name in rough and dusty situations, a limited number of vehicles due to the global supply chain crisis prevented me from doing any hardcore off-roading in the LX. Lexus had just over half a dozen vehicles available for testing and many more journalists after me to get through them. Keen to reduce wear and damage, the company set out a simple 1.5-mile trail that started with a hill I could have managed in an all-wheel-drive crossover.
The ascent itself barely challenged the LX, but it was enough to show off the refined Crawl Control system. Automakers have been dabbling with off-road cruise control for years, but I’ve yet to find one that executes its mission with so little drama. Even in the best mainstream off-roaders – the Jeep Wrangler, Ford Bronco, and Toyota 4Runner – asking the computer to manage acceleration on the trail leads to all sorts of unpleasant groaning and noises from under the hood and at each corner as the software manages individual brakes. But the LX simply surges ahead, barely making a peep except when the revs climb.
As Lexus is offering a trim targeted specifically at Land Cruiser loyalists, limiting AHC to six-figure models is very disappointing.
There is some small cause for concern, of course. Despite similar dimensions, the 2022 LX’s ground clearance drops to 7.9 inches in most trims (models with 22-inch wheels pack 8.3 inches of clearance), a full inch less than an old LX 570. The turning circle is slightly larger, although a trail turn system can brake the inside rear wheel for particularly tight off-road corners. This system works much as it did on the old Land Cruiser and LX, requiring the driver to apply a fair amount of throttle and steering angle to cause the back to come around.
Depending on which LX you order and how, you’ll sacrifice some of the 2021 model’s angles. Only the top 60 percent of LX trims can beat last year’s approach, departure, and breakover angles (25.0 degrees, 20.0 degrees, and 23.0 degrees, respectively) after Lexus made the decision to lockout the previously standard Active Height Control from the base and Premium models. If you have AHC and 22-inch wheels, the maximum angles for the LX are surely impressive (up to 27.4 and 26.3 for approach and departure) but as Lexus is offering a trim targeted specifically at Land Cruiser loyalists, limiting AHC to six-figure models is very disappointing.
On the upside, Lexus has resisted the urge to hide all the off-road functions behind touch-capacitive controls or a touchscreen display. In fact, the cabin is a near-perfect mix of physical and digital controls. The 7.0-inch lower touchscreen shows climate and off-road settings, switching automatically to the latter as needed, but aside from being the only way to engage the trail braking system, I mostly ignored it. Below that display is every physical control I could possibly need for tweaking the temperature, and under that is a knob for selecting 4-Low, along with buttons for Crawl Control, Multi-Terrain Select, the locking differential, and the suspension height adjustment.
The restraint here is admirable, especially considering the otherwise comprehensive rethink of the LX’s digital suite. At the top of the center stack lives a 12.3-inch touchscreen running the same revised infotainment software introduced in the NX crossover and Tundra pickup. It’s excellent, if a little dense. A few minutes at the helm was all it took to climb the steepish learning curve. And if baked-in software isn’t your jam, wireless Apple CarPlay (but wired Android Auto) is standard on every LX, and there’s integration for Apple and Amazon Music.
The Land Cruiser Is Dead, Long Live The LX
The gut reaction to an automaker ending the sale of a vehicle popular with enthusiasts (but mostly ignored by consumers) is usually an emotional one. Fans feel angry and betrayed, and I get it. But the LX is the best possible outcome in this situation. With dwindling sales and the promise of a redesigned Sequoia (almost certainly riding on the same TNGA-F platform as the LX) on the horizon, Toyota had no motivation to bring the redesigned Land Cruiser stateside (even if sales are rocking overseas).
Lexus, meanwhile, had every motivation to redesign the LX to attract the high-dollar consumers that previously ignored it in favor of a Range Rover. It could have done that while also stripping out all the off-road gear those wealthy consumers will never use, and instead reinvesting in materials or tech or simply as a way of maximizing profits. Personally, I’d have taken the money and run. But the company threw a bone to the folks that felt wounded by the end of the US-market Land Cruiser.
The LX that resulted from this decision is better for it, covering a more significant portion of the market. I can’t say whether it will attract Range Rover or Jeep Grand Wagoneer shoppers, but for folks that want Land Cruiser ability and reliability, the 2022 LX 600 is the best and only option on the market. So mourn the Land Cruiser, but don’t miss it too much, because there’s something even better at the dealer next door.