Toyota Motor Sales USA’s new Lexus GX460 SUV, launched late last year, has been called a “safety risk” by the influential Consumer Reports magazine in the US and given a “don’t buy” recommendation because of what the publication describes as “handling in emergency driving tests”. Last night, TMS temporarily withdrew the luxury SUV from sale.

The magazine, published by the New York-based Consumers Union, said it had not deemed any vehicle a potential safety risk since 2001. It said the rear-end of the 2010 GX 460 “slid out until the vehicle was almost sideways before the electronic stability control system was able to regain control” at a test track.

The magazine said this could lead to a rollover accident. It added that it has checked the initial findings by repeating it on a second vehicle. Consumer Reports said it shared the results with the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

A statement on Consumer Reports’ website said: “We believe that in real-world driving, that situation could lead to a rollover accident, which could cause serious injury or death. We are not aware, however, of any such reports.

“All four of our auto engineers who conduct the test experienced the problem in an exercise used to evaluate what’s called lift-off oversteer. In the test, as the vehicle is driven through a turn, the driver quickly lifts his foot off the accelerator pedal to see how the vehicle reacts.

“We perform this evaluation on every vehicle we test, which includes the 95 SUVs in our current auto ratings. No other SUV in recent years slid out as far as the GX 460, including the Toyota 4Runner, which shares the same platform as the GX.

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“To confirm our results, we paid for the use of another GX 460 from Lexus and experienced the same problem. “

The report is a further setback for Toyota which has had to recall more than 8m vehicles worldwide for defects linked to unintended acceleration and brake issues.

Lexus US group vice president and general manager, Mark Templin, said in a statement: “We are taking the situation with the GX 460 very seriously and are determined to identify and correct the issue Consumer Reports identified. At this time we have asked our dealers to temporarily suspend sales of the 2010 GX 460.
“Lexus’ extensive vehicle testing provides a good indication of how our vehicles perform and we are confident that the GX meets our high safety standards.  Our engineering teams are vigorously testing the GX using Consumer Reports’ specific parameters to identify how we can make the GX’s performance even better.
“For any customer who has purchased a 2010 GX 460 and is concerned about driving their vehicle, we will provide a loaner car until a remedy is available.”
A Lexus spokesman in the US told Bloomberg News: “We’re concerned with the results of Consumer Reports testing on the Lexus GX 460 and their suggested buyer recommendation.” He added that while the model meets or exceeds US safety standards, the company will try to duplicate the test results.

US transportation secretary Ray LaHood last week assessed a US$16.4m penalty against Toyota for delaying its recall of sticky accelerator pedals and said there may be more fines.

Despite recent setbacks, Toyota’s US sales rose 41% in March after two months of declines. The company has offered incentives such as no-interest loans and discount leases. The March gains included a 42% increase for Lexus with GX sales trebling to 1,785 and up almost threefold to 4,787 in the first quarter.

The GX has a starting price of about US$52,000 in North America. About 5,000 units of the redesigned US model have been sold so far.

Bloomberg News noted that Consumer Report’s safety ratings have caused other automakers to sue Consumers Union. Isuzu Motors sued over a “not acceptable” rating for its 1996 Trooper SUV although a federal jury later ruled that Consumers Union hadn’t libeled or defamed the company.

A Suzuki lawsuit over a poor rating by the magazine of the Samurai small SUV was also dismissed by a federal judge. Mitsubishi Motors in 2001 attacked the magazine’s “not acceptable” safety rating on the Montero [Pajero/Shogun] Limited SUV as a misrepresentation. Consumers Union stood by its tests, in which it said the vehicle tipped onto two wheels in turns.