Sale of Lexus GX 460 Suspended, Highlighting Inherent Problem with Big SUVs

Photo: Wikipedia, CC

Lexus, Toyota's luxury division, has suspended the sale of its GX 460 SUV mastodon (Curb weight: 5,305 lbs). The reason? Consumer Reports has discovered that it has a dangerous handling problem that could lead to a rollover and possibly "serious injury or death." It's not a problem specific with this model in the sense that all big SUVs are naturally tippy; the problem is that the onboard electronic stability control fails to properly compensate for that inherent problem under certain conditions.
Photo: Wikipedia, CC

The handling problem arises if the driver of a Lexus GX 460 S.U.V. eases off the gas pedal while driving quickly through a sharp turn. That causes the rear end of the vehicle to slide toward the outside of the turn, a condition known as trailing throttle or lift-throttle oversteer. [...]

A "don't buy" warning is rare for Consumer Reports, but there was no doubt it was necessary, said David Champion, senior director of its auto test division. The litmus test was whether the testers would want their families in the vehicle. The answer was no, he said, so "I wouldn't want anybody else in it." (source)

That's the difference with vehicles that have a lower center of gravity and handle well without the need for an onboard computer to watch over your shoulder. You have good handling by default, and the stability control provides extra safety. On a big SUV, you have bad handling by default, and the stability control tries to keep you from losing control or rolling over; if that system fails or has a defect, well, we know what happens... Hopefully these problems will remain rare, but they remind us that these vehicles weren't designed to be driven like cars.

A Thousand an One Reasons
Big SUVs are wasteful (it takes a lot of fuel just to move all that weight around), block the view of drivers behind, blind those in front with high headlights, are more dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists, take more parking space and contribute to the road's arms race ("Why did you buy a SUV? Because everybody has a SUV..."). Even without these stability problems, they would still be the wrong kind of vehicle for most people, especially since most are driven in urban areas, without any passengers and nothing in tow.

I know we've all been sold the idea that buying a car is a "fashion statement", but it's more than that. Over its life, a vehicle will burn vast quantities of non-renewable and polluting fuel. Please don't buy a big SUV that you don't really need for superficial reasons.

Via New York Times
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Tags: Less Is More | Transportation


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