Unexpected, Part 1
There are some things that are unexpected. Consider, for example, the career so far of Makoto Arimoto, a chief engineer within the Lexus Development Center in Japan. Arimoto, who holds a Master's degree in material engineering from the prestigious Kyoto University, joined Toyota Manufacturing Corp. in 1984. He was assisted to the Chassis and Drive Train Engineering department. There, he participated in the development of...rain sensors. Next, it was over to the Electrical and Electronics Engineering Dept. There, he participated in the development of audio...and electronically controlled transmission computer systems.
Then, in 1996, Arimoto began a 2-1/2- year assignment in the Technical Administration Division. There, he oversaw the engineering division and was responsible for developing organizational plans for the entire company.
Next, he took another assignment, one that had him developing...fuel cells. Arimoto's development took form in a fuel-cell powered bus that was produced in cooperation with Hino Motors and exhibited at the 2002 Tokyo Motor Show.
Then he was transferred to the Z Division. And he became the chief engineer...for the Lexus 2010 GX 460.
Would you have imagined a degree in material engineering to take such variant forms?
Unexpected, Part II
When Arimoto and his team began work on the GX 460 three years ago, people were still buying body-on-frame luxury sport utility vehicles—that's right, full-fledged SUVs—with some vigor. Two years ago people were buying body-on-frame luxury sport utility vehicles with some vigor. A year ago...not so much.
Now, Mark Templin, Lexus group vice president and general manager, estimates that for a full year they'll sell approximately 14,000 GX 460s, a number which represents 25% of the entire segment, a segment that he admits has contracted significantly—though not as significantly as the one in which its big brother competes in, the LX 570, the Lexus of über luxury SUVs.
And while in the vicinity of things that don't necessarily seem to follow, it is interesting to note that prior to taking his position as the head of Lexus in the U.S., Templin was vice president of...Scion. Yes, the brand for the post-boomers.
If you track Lexus models, you'll note that the alphanumeric names have a pattern over time: they tend to have increasing digits. For example, the original vehicles in the line up were the LS 400 and the ES 250 sedans. The former is now available as the LS 600h L (which means that it is a hybrid and has an extended wheelbase); the ES, now in its fifth generation, is the ES 350.
But here's the unusual thing: the GX is now in its second generation. As indicated, it is the GX 460. The original model was the GX 470. Yes, that's right, the number has gone down.
The GX 460 has a 4.6-liter V8. Its predecessor has a 4.7-liter V8. (See how the numbering works? It's all about the powertrain.)
The 460 has a six-speed transmission. The 470 has a five. The new trans-mission fits in the same space as the older one.
But the engine in the new car is more powerful than its predecessor*. The engine produces 301 hp and 329 lb.-ft. of torque. The 4.7-liter engine offers 270 hp and 330 lb.-ft. of torque. What's more, the 4.6 is more fuel efficient, with an estimated combined city/highway 17 mpg, which is up 13% compared to its predecessor's 15 mpg. While those might not be the numbers that could be construed as the stuff of winning fuel economy challenges, there are a few things to bear in mind. First of all, know that the vehicle has a curb weight of 5,305 lb. Second, it has full-time all-wheel drive, which is great for making the mass move, but is not great for fuel-sipping.
Third, there is the competitive set's numbers. As in the following city/highway/combined mpg figures show:
|• Audi Q7:||13/18/15|
|• BMW X5:||14/19/16|
|• Land Rover LR4:||12/17/14|
|• Mercedes ML550:||13/18/15|
|• Mercedes GL450:||13/17/14|
|• Acura MDX (w/V6):||15/20/17|
|• Lexus GX 460:||15/20/17|
Fourth (and finally), it is interesting to note that while the LX 460 is bigger than its predecessor—the overall width of 74.2 in. is 0.2-in. wider; the 189.2-in. length is 1-in. longer (and although it is lower than the GX 470, that's predicated on the height of the cargo rails on top; sheet metal to sheet metal it's a wash)—it is faster, with a 0 to 60 mph time of 7.8 seconds versus 8.1 seconds.
Although the GX 460 uses the Lexus L-finesse design language that all recent vintage Lexuses have been designed with, it is somewhat puzzling that the vehicle's form and details are meant to evoke a "machined steel bar." This is not to say that steel bars aren't sometimes machined with finesse, but it does seem somewhat discordant. Still, the overall forms from all angles seem to be more geometric in a chunky sense and less ovoid than the previous model.
On the inside, the term is "Tough Premium." And while there is certainly the premium in terms of the suppleness of the leather and the careful fitting of adjoining pieces of trim, there is the use of metallic surfaces that provide toughness.
*The 4.6-liter engine is essentially the same as the 4.6-liter engine used in the Toyota Tundra pickup truck. A primary difference is the engine management system. The engine has dual variable valve timing, which means that it has control for both the intake and exhaust camshafts; the 4.7 engine had intake control. Another interesting aspect of the all-aluminum engine is that there is a new cooled EGR system; whereas cooled EGR systems are ordinarily found on hybrids, this is being deployed to help achieve the fuel economy performance.