Most people think of luxury SUVs as a 21st-century trend, but several of today's prominent name plates date back to the 1990s. One of these is the Lexus LX series, which debuted in 1996 as the Lexus LX 450. Like most other premium sport-utilities of the first wave, the LX 450 was a true off-road vehicle that just happened to be loaded with luxury amenities. "While most owners of luxury SUVs will seldom put their vehicles to the ultimate test, LX 450 owners can have the utmost confidence in their vehicle in poor weather or while fighting their way through the worst hazards of urban life," says the '96 LX press kit.
This was a more prophetic statement than anyone probably realized at the time. It is, in fact, the essence of the LX series' ongoing appeal: Buyers crave its combination of sumptuous luxury and go-anywhere capability and are willing to pay top dollar for it. Although the Lexus LX 450 wasn't as powerful or refined as its LX 470successor, it secured the company's foothold atop the burgeoning luxury SUV segment.
Most Recent Lexus LX 450
Sold during the 1996 and '97 model years, the Lexus LX 450 was based on the rugged Toyota Land Cruiser of the time, and thus used body-on-frame construction and an old-fashioned solid-axle suspension setup in both the front and rear. However, Lexus engineers specified softer springs for the LX 450 to give it a more forgiving ride on pavement.
The humble power source for the first LX was a large-displacement 4.5-liter inline six-cylinder engine rated for 212 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque. A four-speed automatic transmission drove all four wheels through a permanent four-wheel-drive system. A center locking differential and high- and low-range gearing were standard, and buyers with hard-core off-road intentions could get front and rear locking diffs as an option. Fuel economy ratings on the Lexus LX 450 were as dismal as on any other SUV of that day, with an EPA estimate of just 13 mpg in the city and 15 mpg on the highway. Maximum towing capacity was 5,000 pounds.
Inside, Lexus designers attempted to disguise the utilitarian Toyota cabin by fitting supple leather upholstery and rich wood surfaces. A standard 50/50-split third-row seat gave the LX seven-passenger capacity. With this seat removed and the second-row bench folded, the LX 450 offered 90 cubic feet of cargo space.
Standard equipment highlights included an automatic climate system with a solar sensor, a separate heating unit for the rear seats, a seven-speaker cassette stereo, full power accessories and an alarm system. Antilock brakes and dual front airbags were also standard, but there were no side airbags of any kind in the LX 450. Other than the differential locks, a sunroof and a six-disc CD changer (mounted in the center console) were the only options.
Consumer reviews of the Lexus LX 450 generally focus on this luxury SUV's high level of off-road capability and impressive long-term dependability. Owners are typically annoyed by the limited seat-track travel up front, the lack of rear-seat air-conditioning ducts and inadequate cupholder provisions.
Keep in mind that most of the LX 450s you come across on the used car market will now have very high mileage. As a result, purchase prices are convincingly low, but a thorough mechanical inspection is a must before you buy. If the vehicle checks out clean, though, this luxury SUV can easily take you to the 200,000-mile mark.
Given the Lexus LX 450's brief, two-year run, it does take a bit of hunting to find used examples. It's probably worth your while to expand your search to include 1993-'97 Land Cruisers, which also had the 4.5-liter engine. Alternatively, you could search ahead to the LX 470, which is a considerably better drive, thanks largely to its V8, but does command higher prices on the used market.