It seems like everyone is doing it these days. Now Consumer Reports is the latest to try to cash in on Toyota's recent bad press. The issue this time? The Lexus GX 460 skids in emergency maneuvers:
video of Lexus SUV not rolling over
If I remember correctly, the last time Consumer reports made a big deal out of a high roll-over risk SUV, the thing actually DID roll over when they did their maneuvers. This time, it's simply skidding instead of holding the road like a car would. So, to clarify, they're taking a large, softly-spring, top-heavy SUV, and complaining that it doesn't handle well. Really, people! Of course, they correctly state that skidding sideways creates roll-over potential, but that was probably for the sake of jumping onto the "Toyota=unsafe" bandwagon and cashing in on a few headlines.
Now, as for why. Is it because it's a large SUV with a high center of gravity and a Toyota-soft suspension? NooOOOOOooooo... apparently, there must be a software glitch! This is amazing. Actually, no. It's taken the amazing and soundly chucked it into the realm of the absurd. In the IT industry, we have a joke: Q: how does a product engineer fix a hardware bug? A: they don't: "We'll fix it in software". Now we can finally modernize that old joke: "How does a Toyota engineer fix an inherent conceptual design flaw?"
Consumer Reports says you shouldn't buy the GX 460 until the software is fixed. I have a better idea. How about you:
a) Don't buy a large SUV unless you actually have some towing or off-roading to do.
b) Don't buy a vehicle which, by virtue of its design, should be expected to handle with all of the agility of an elephant.
I'm sure no one wants to read this sort of over-rationalized drivel. After all, it's no fun. Instead, let's think of all of the other things that they can also try to fix with software, aside from trying to make large SUVs handle like cars. Here are some ideas for starters:
1) Fuel efficiency. Large SUVs don't fare too well, and no amount of tweaks to the engine computer is likely to help. So, let's at least allow the use of hybrid technology, which GM was able to use to coax a 20mpg average out of the full-size Tahoe. That's still not car-like. Well, I'm sure we can fix the software so it can average at least 25.
2) Styling. Why are most SUVs so ugly, the GX 460 being no exception? Well, come on, it's no small task to make a really large box look good. A few car companies have succeeded (examples: Infinity FX, Hummer H2). Most fail miserably. Maybe they can install a device that emits hypnotic brain waves that send suggestions of aesthetic pleasure to anyone near by, or simply suggests that they shut their eyes.
3) Garagability. OK, this is a tough one. If your Excursion's butt won't quite fit into the garage... ah, got it! The truck's computer can intercept transmissions from the garage door remote, and block it from actually closing the garage door! Then, to protect your garage, the truck's backup warning system can be used to detect anyone trying to enter and sound the alarm (or maybe even just start the engine and run them over? Hmm, no...).
Anyway, I think we're getting somewhere here! The future of SUVs may be promising afterall. For anyone who needs the capacity of a large SUV and who's not willing to wait, though, don't despair. Unless you are among the few who actually do need towing and offroad capability, in which case you'll be willing to put up with the vehicle's weak points, there are, and have always been, some really good mini-vans out there. They offer what most people are likely to need: all-wheel-drive, huge interiors, and even modest towing capabilities. Check out the Honda Odyssey or the upcoming Toyota Sienna. The upcoming Sienna, amazingly, is a large Toyota vehicle that's not the FJ and that actually looks cool. And, even more amazingly, it's rumored to handle well! If you're concerned about unintended acceleration (which, BTW, might actually be a software problem!), there will even be a 4 cylinder model. There might still be unintended acceleration, but there sure won't be much!
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