Payne: Furniture shopping in the giant Lexus TX500h

Posted by Talbot Payne on January 25, 2024

Sterling Heights — Three-row SUVs are pickups with hatchbacks, so Mrs. Payne and I took my 2024 Lexus TX 500h Direct 4 to Gardner White to complete our month-long search for a big, stuffed sofa chair.

Ahead of our chair pickup, we called the GW furniture department to make certain the mega-chair would fit.

Salesman: What’s a Lexus TX?

Me: It’s like a Chevy Traverse.

Salesman: Oh yeah, you should be fine.

The Paynes load a sofa chair into the 2024 Lexus TX 550h F Sport at Gardner White’s loading dock.. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

We measured, he was right. The chair was 25” tall x 38” deep, which fit (sideways) through the rear hatch. The chair’s biggest dimension was width at 52” but the interior easily swallowed that with the rear two rows of seats flattened. Heck, with 85” of room from the back of the front seat to the hatch, we could have fit our living room sofa in there. TX for Texas-sized.

For all their utility, three-row mid-sized SUVs are a varied lot depending on brand. A BMW X7 has more technology than the space shuttle (and probably horsepower, too). The Dodge Durango Hellcat is also a rocket ship on wheels — and, like a Charger Hellcat, offers cinema-size rear seats so the whole family can enjoy the theatrics. The Mazda CX-90? Honey, I blew up the Miata.

Now along comes Lexus with its first mature three-row unibody ute, and it’s got all of the Toyota family DNA: Hybrid power, Lexus RX interior, Papa Prius quirkiness.

What big utes are for. The 2024 Lexus TX 550h F Sport swallows a sofa chair at Gardner White.What big utes are for. The 2024 Lexus TX 550h F Sport swallows a sofa chair at Gardner White. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

Being a descendent of Prius used to mean geeky design and interior features in weird places (think shifters on the dash). But for ‘24, Prius has cleaned up its act with a handsome, minimalist design. So, too, Lexus TX. Circling the TX in the Gardner White parking lot, I was struck by how much my tester looked like … well, a Chevy Traverse parked nearby.

Clean lines, boxy shape, slab sides, square jaw. Made in Indiana, which may explain the Midwest accent. “That’s really nice looking,” said my wife’s gal pal Jameson.

Where was the Darth Vader maw (“Spindle Grille” in Lexus speak) that I had just tested on the Lexus UX 250h? Where were the deeply scalloped side flanks? Zany rear hatchback design? The TX is spare, purposeful — dare I say conservative? The front fascia could pass for the simple Shake Shack logo.

I pressed the key fob’s unlock button just to make sure I had the right vehicle. Like GM’s three-row products — Traverse, Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia — the Lexus is built for travel. German SUVs are built for vroom, TX for room.

The spacious interior of the 2024 Lexus TX 550h F Sport doesn't wow like a BMW or Mercedes - but it's a comfortable place to be.

The spacious interior of the 2024 Lexus TX 550h F Sport doesn’t wow like a BMW or Mercedes – but it’s a comfortable place to be. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

It’s not just the chair-swallowing rear cargo hold. With all three rows of seats upright, the Lexus will carry a men’s basketball lineup and its sixth man. At 6’5”, I could sit behind myself in the third row. Lexus engineers were thoughtful enough to add space under the second row for my size-15 shoes as well. Access to the third row is easy: push the button on top of the seatback or yank the handle on the seat bottom, and the captain’s chair will collapse forward.

Careful exiting, though. After collapsing the seat forward, I tried to exit the third row facing forward. Bad idea. My foot slipped on the slick door rail and — YAAAHHH! — I sprawled forward, my right knee buckling under the middle seat. Note to self: Exit backward, like climbing down from a ladder.

The roomy theme pervaded the cabin, including a console that can charge phones and square cupholders that accommodate a variety of bottles. Even the name is big: TX500h F SPORT Performance Direct 4. Allow me to translate:

TX tops an (out of order) alphanumeric SUV lineup that includes the subcompact UX, compact NX, midsize RX, rugged GX and full-size LX. The number 500 is the top trim model and h = Hybrid. F SPORT designates a performance trim with standard Direct 4 all-wheel drive with four-wheel steer.

The 2024 Lexus TX 550h F Sport features a 360-degree camera which helps back the big ute into tight sports.

The 2024 Lexus TX 550h F Sport features a 360-degree camera which helps back the big ute into tight sports.. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

It all gels for a surprisingly peppy driving experience anchored by a hybrid 4-cylinder drivetrain that debuted in the geeky Pious — er, Prius — 25 years ago.

That’s right. Behind that Shake Shack grille is a Prius-like gas-hybrid powertrain made up of a nickel-hydride metal battery, electric motors and a 2.4-liter turbocharged 4-banger. No Bimmer-like V-6 or Durango-like V-8. Just a good ol’ Toyota hybrid that somehow pumps out 366 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. The same turbo-4 is available in the standard TX 350, or you can move up to hybrid V-6 in the 550h plug-in to creep silently around town for 33 miles on electrons.

My F SPORT dressed in Incognito (clay gray) is the sweet spot. Without a giant sofa chair in the cargo bay, I nailed the throttle onto I-75 and the 4,949-pound land yacht merged with authority.

From geek to chic, Prius’s hybrid powertrain is so mainstream it powers a three-row family luxury SUV. Lexus also indulges its inner geek in operation. The space-saving monostable shifter is right out of the Prius and helps save console room. Happily, Lexus has abandoned its unworkable console touchpad for a proper, 14-inch touchscreen. With fat temperature dials, TX’s system echoes the best-selling RX.

The Payne unload their sofa chair from the 2024 Lexus TX 550h F Sport in their garage.
The Paynes unload their sofa chair from the 2024 Lexus TX 550h F Sport in their garage. Henry Payne, The Detroit News

The TX’s haptic adaptive cruise control steering wheel controls are more problematic. GM products do this best with raised switches, roller and buttons that allow you to adjust speed and volume without taking your eyes off the road.

The Lexus attempts that same feat with a steering touchpad that controls info in the head-up display. On I-75, my eyes never left the road, but the touchpad was cumbersome to operate. That head-up display comes with a pricey $2,380 Technology package that includes two essentials in a three-row this size: auto park and panoramic camera.

The latter came in handy as I backed into the Gardner White loading dock to load our chair (and again when I unloaded the chair in our garage). Between the cameras, collapsing side mirrors and the constant beeping of sensors, I was able to back right up to the GW dock where the chair awaited.

Gardner White dock operator: I love Lexus. My 2005 E350 sedan has 350,000 miles on it and runs like a top.

Me: That’s the Lexus secret sauce.

Plus, this one will carry a sofa chair.

Next week: 2024 Nissan Leaf

2024 Lexus TX

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front- and all-wheel-drive six- or seven-passenger SUV

Price: $55,050, including $1,350 destination fee ($77,159 TX500h F Sport as tested)

Powerplant: 2.4-liter turbocharged inline 4-cylinder (TX350); Hybrid 2.4-liter turbocharged inline 4-cylinder with 1.4 kWh nickel metal hydride battery and two electric motors (TX500h)

Power: 275 horsepower, 317 pound-feet of torque (turbo-4); 366 horsepower, 406 pound-feet of torque (hybrid)

Transmissions: 8-speed automatic (TX350); 6-speed automatic/direct drive (TX550h)

Performance: 0-60 mph (5.7 seconds, Car and Driver); towing capacity, 5,000 pounds

Weight: 4,949 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA, 27 mpg city/28 highway/27 combined

Report card

Highs: Simple styling; roomy interior

Lows: Bland interior by luxe standards; finicky head-up display

Overall: 3 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or @HenryEPayne.

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