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Consumer Reports on Lexus SUV: Don't buy it

2009 Lexus GX470 photographed at the 2009 Wash...

Image via Wikipedia

Consumer Reports has given its rare "don't buy" rating to the Lexus GX 460, saying the SUV can roll over in certain driving situations, adding to the string of problems being suffered by Lexus's owner, Japanese auto giant Toyota.

Consumer Reports says that during routine handling tests, the Lexus SUV exhibited handling problems that could lead to a rollover and that the vehicle should not be purchased until Toyota fixes the problem.

The problem is a sliding rear end in turns when drivers take their foot off the gas, Consumer Reports says. In handling tests, the SUV's rear end slid nearly sideways before its electronic stability system kicked in. In extreme conditions, this could lead to a rollover, the magazine said.

An example: Say a driver is exiting the interstate onto a curving off-ramp and he takes his foot off the gas to avoid an obstacle. This could cause the SUV's rear end to begin sliding sideways and end in a rollover.

Toyota said it takes Consumer Reports testing seriously and will try to duplicate the results on its own. "Please keep in mind that the 2010 GX 460 meets or exceeds all federal government testing requirements," the company said in a statement.

The $52,000 GX 460 is a high-end, small-volume vehicle for Toyota. It was introduced in November and has sold only about 5,000 units. (The Lexus in the photo is a 2009 GX 470.)

The last Consumer Reports "don't buy" rating was issued to the 2001 Mitsubishi Montero Limited for a susceptibility to rollover.

If Toyota deems the Lexus to have a handling problem, fixing it could be a simple matter of adjusting the vehicle's electronic stability system. Every modern vehicle has an electronic stability system made up of sensors that monitor the vehicle's wheels, including speed, traction and so forth, multiple times every second. It sends the data to the vehicle's computers, which in turn send more or less power to the wheels to increase the vehicle's stability in driving conditions. Perhaps the Lexus SUV's electronic stability system needs to be "tightened up" to kick in sooner in this particular driving condition.

Vehicle stability monitoring and control may be the most important modern innovation in the auto industry, as it makes cars much safer and adjusts to driving conditions faster than drivers could.

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By Frank Ahrens  |  April 13, 2010; 11:38 AM ET
 | Tags: Automobile, Consumer Reports, Lexus, Lexus GX, Recreation, Rollover, Sport utility vehicle, Toyota  
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Comments

Good luck to Toyota if they think they can resolve this issue. The problem is likely more than a set badly configured stability control parameters. A second major flaw is the vehicles configuration. It is very tall for its wheelbase, even for an SUV, thus giving it a high center of mass relative to other vehicles. A vehicle with a high center of mass is much more susceptible to rollover in the exit ramp scenario described above. Toyota may be able to somewhat decrease the susceptibility to rollover, but it can't totally compensate for the vehicle's high center of mass unless it does what Land Rovers does, and puts a lot of ballast weight down low, around the wheel wells.

Posted by: angelos_peter | April 13, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Toyota needs to call up John Deere for some tractor weights?

Posted by: NovaMike | April 13, 2010 12:33 PM | Report abuse

It turns out that this problem may not be easily corrected by simply "tightening up" the electronic stabilization system. All automatic control systems are feedback systems and can exhibit instability unless they are sufficiently "damped". Damping is what causes the slow response.

The designers could easily reduce damping, improving the speed of response of the stabilization system, but perhaps making it even more vulnerable to instability - when making quick turns for example.

On the other hand, the problem of too high center of gravity might be corrected by putting more mass below the center line but it would have to be done without decreasing the road clearance - this is an SUV after all.

If they have only sold a couple thousand anyway, why not discontinue the model and take a hit on design and tooling costs and at least protect what reputation they have left?

Posted by: loyalsyst | April 13, 2010 12:37 PM | Report abuse

I'd be happy to give Toyota 50% of the MSRP and sign a waiver absolving them of liability.

Posted by: fenoy | April 13, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

The potential for getting it sideways or upside down sounds fun to me. I'd put a lift kit on it and take it out into the mud with beer in the back and a crazy broad riding shotgun in the front. Then we would test it and see what happens. Maybe disconnecting the computer would help. I guess it has a great stereo. Buy one and see.

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Posted by: itkonlyyou5 | April 14, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

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