After Consumer Reports gave the $52,000 Lexus GX 460 luxury SUV a stunning "Don't Buy" rating because of concerns about its electronic stability control system, MoneyWatch rang up Jake Fisher, the magazine's senior automotive engineer. Fisher's one of four drivers who found dangers with the Lexus and has suggestions for models you might want to consider instead:
Q. What does it take for Consumer Reports to label a vehicle "Don't Buy?"
A. It requires a real safety issue. This is a situation where we believe the vehicle is not very safe and people should avoid it. If it is a reliability or performance issue, that vehicle would just not be recommended. It is rare for us to issue a Don't Buy. The last time was in 2001 for the Mitsubishi Montero SUV.
Q. What triggered this Lexus rating? A. This particular test simulates a situation where you are heading into a highway off ramp and are going a little too fast for the corner. The driver's first reaction would be to lift the foot off the gas pedal and begin to slow the vehicle. With the Lexus GX, the tail skidded quite a distance before the stability control reacted, and the vehicle was already sliding sideways.
Q. What could happen on a real roadway? A. If the tail slides out, it is a dangerous situation. Hitting the brakes or lifting off the throttle often makes matters worse. If you travel off the road sideways in a tall SUV, you can potentially trip it and roll over if the tires dig into the grass or hit a curb.
Q. The Lexus stability control did kick in, but it was too late? A. It did kick in, you can tell by a series of beeps. At that point I was completely sideways and sliding. Clearly it was too little, too late. In 11 years of testing, this is the worst reaction I have seen even among vehicles with no stability control.
Q. If Toyota does find the problem and make a fix, would CR remove this Don't Buy rating? A. Absolutely.
Q. If a consumer had been thinking of buying a Lexus GX, what alternatives would Consumer Reports recommend? A. A really good choice if you are looking for a luxury SUV and need three rows of seats is the Acura MDX (pictured at right). It is more fuel efficient than the Lexus, it drives better even in normal driving situations, it is very car-like it is sporty, roomy, and quick.
Q. Any others?
A. A really good choice that may not get as much press is the Buick Enclave (pictured below). That is an excellent vehicle that drives like a car. It has far better seating for 7 than the Lexus and the Acura and it is very affordably priced (about $40,630 for a comparable model). You could save at least $10,000 off the Lexus GX.
Q. What if you don't need the third row of seats? A. The Mercedes-Benz ML is very luxurious and we recommend it. And another Lexus, the RX350, is a very comfortable, coddling and quiet SUV that we highly recommend.
Q. The Lexus RX350 did well in the emergency handling tests? A. Yes, it is very safe and secure.
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