Lexus is well known as a purveyor of quality sedans, less so for high-end off-roaders. Well, that’s changed and since April, South Africans have been able to order the LX570 — a hardcore 4×4 of gargantuan proportions. What’s also going to have to change in the light of that development is Lexus’s stance on not sharing Toyota platforms – a fact until now
You don’t have to be an automotive expert to spot the Land Cruiser 200 genes, though Lexus has gone to great lengths to make this new model look different and there are significant changes under the skin, and inside the cabin. There have to be, to justify a price premium of R209 000.
The Lexus is an imposing machine, with mirror-filling presence. The frontal view is far less agricultural than the Cruiser’s, and it gets reshaped headlights – which look into corners when you turn the wheel – a wider grille with strong Lexus DNA, and a bespoke bumper/valance assembly.
The silhouette is as per the Toyota, apart from a pronounced rear spoiler. Running boards fi t closely to the body for an integrated appearance.
At the back, the changes are cosmetic: the tail lights employ high-intensity LED technology for more “bling” when illuminated and there’s chrome detailing around the light clusters and number plate recess.
Still, under it all it is a Cruiser: same wheelbase, width and track. Overall length differs due to the styling changes and the height differs thanks to the use of electronically-controlled, height-adjustable suspension (though still with coil springs all round).
Features and equipment
Down below there’s a ladder-frame chassis, so there’s no reason to question what the objective was in designing the LX: the ability to go far off road in serious comfort and with the composure and refinement of a Lexus.
It manages the former thanks to a full-ti me 4×4 system and all manner of electronic aids – there’s not much that it lacks in the acronym department. What it also has is a 5,7-litre V8, and it’s a motor which matches the slightly smaller lump in Merc’s ML500 when it comes to torque: both have 530Nm, though Lexus says 90% of their twist effort is available at 2 200 r/min.
Attached to the back of the engine is a six-speed automatic, with a 2,618:1 low range, and a centre differential with a torque-sensing locking function. Normal distribution is 40:60 (front/rear).
Safety engineers will tell you a monocoque construction is superior to a body-on-chassis layout when it comes to “crash deformation”, so the Lexus starts out at a disadvantage here. However, Lexus say the front end incorporates a three-stage crush structure to absorb impact. In addition, there are 10 airbags (including driver- and front-passenger knee airbags and side curtain airbags for all three rows).
When it comes to the actual driving/being driven experience, it has seating for eight, in-car entertainment with 19 speakers and a hard disc drive, a fridge, leather everywhere and a twin-screen DVD rear entertainment system with inputs for dual headphones.
What you don’t get for your R1 085 000 is – surprisingly – heated seats, or a satellite navigation system with a particularly high level of intelligence.
The consensus was that travelling in the Lexus LX570 wasn’t unlike air travel, so smooth and unruffled is the experience. And, of course, the analogy up front is with first class rather than the cheap seats. The driver’s pew is 10-way adjustable, the passenger’s eight-way. Seating is superbly comfortable.
Rear passengers can adjust their seating electrically fore/aft . Set them to the rearmost position and they also qualify as first class. Move them forward 10cm so that passengers six, seven and eight can get maximum space, and you’re downgraded to “business”. That’s no hardship.
The third row seats store up against the sides and are deployed manually, but stow electrically. They will, at a squeeze, accommodate three preteens, though the one in the middle will be less comfortable straddling the two cushions.
Even with a full house of passengers there’s quite generous luggage room and there’s the possibility of carrying stuff outside on the roof rails.
The tailgate is horizontally split: press a butt on (either on the key fob or on the dashboard) and the upper portion glides upwards to reveal a generous storage area. The bottom third of the rear aperture opens downwards for easier loading.
From the driver’s seat it is all happiness: a commanding view of the surroundings, excellent comfort and a driving position that can be swiftly tailored. But when you need to use the secondary controls you become aware of the less-than-perfect ergonomics. There are plenty of auxiliary switches and buttons and they’re somewhat scattered, some hidden behind the steering wheel rim or low down on the fascia.
Then there are some oddment storage issues. The massive fridge between the seats – topped by separate sliding armrests for the front occupants — is all very well for keeping drinks cold, but the end result is that when it’s in use there’s precious little space for other stuff . A wood-trimmed lid flips up to reveal a pair of cup holders aft of the gear lever and there’s a small non-slip pad ahead of it, but that’s about all.
The centre panel is dominated by the eight-inch touch screen and below it a series of buttons which take the user to the sub-menus (climate, navigation, audio and so on). It works well enough though the actual soft ware loaded in the navigation system wasn’t up to speed with the latest road conditions and seemed reluctant to suggest a fresh route when the driver deviated from the chosen one.
The engine in the Lexus LX570 is a masterpiece. It has virtually everything engineers can think of to optimise power and performance without sacrificing economy, and in our mixed driving it averaged about 15 litres per 100km – very good for a machine that tips the scales at 2 600kg.
However, around town that figure climbs swiftly. Remarkably, despite having about a litre more displacement and 68 kW more than the V8 in the Cruiser, it emits nearly 100g less CO2 per kilometre.
Thanks to a power to weight ratio on the right side of 100 Watt s/kg, it moves the LX down the road with some alacrity and a rather stimulating noise, covering the 0-120km/h dash in 11,55 seconds. Overtaking ability is equally impressive and 60 to 100 takes 4,45 seconds. With that kind of go, the Lexus takes some stopping but there’s decent power from the ventilated disc stoppers, four-pot callipers. Discs are sizeable, but not the biggest in the business so it takes a middling three seconds to stop this baby from 100km/h.
The ABS system, says Lexus, is a multi -terrain type which can determine road-surface conditions and automatically optimises lock-up control, selecting the suitable ABS profile for on- and off -road driving surfaces.
The six-speed automatic is smart enough to be in the right gear nearly all the time and predicts the appropriate gear ratio for the vehicle’s speed and the driving conditions. However, our Lexus’s conducted using gearbox wasn’t as smooth as we would have liked, and on occasion there were some slightly clunky and harsh shifts in the low gears and a slight hesitation on pull-aways.
When it comes to off-roading, a battery of chunky switches between the seats takes care of virtually everything. With low range selected, Crawl Control regulates engine speed and torque, making it easier to modulate the throttle in the rough while activating electronic differential locks at the same time. A toggle switch allows the selection of one of three low-speed settings, which can be changed on the move. It works on both up and down gradients.
Crank the ride height up to the max and there’s 305mm of ground clearance. Add the centre differential lock and the Lexus is a thing of towering ability off the road. Maybe not the very best (the wheelbase is very long, which means it isn’t particularly manoeuvrable), but it’s a vehicle that will go far beyond what the vast majority of users expect of it.
When you’re done with the dirt, the ability to alter both ride height and suspension stiffness makes it an impressive open road companion, and it does an impressive job of disguising the fact that it has a solid back axle. It feels stable and pleasingly direct in its responses, with little in its behavior to unsettle passengers or make the driver nervous. In traffic it feels big, but not that big, and steering is very accurate for so large a machine and surprisingly little twirling of the wheel is required.
Adding to this is minimal road noise, well subdued despite the giant (285/65 R17) tyres. Total ride height variance is 110mm in front and 100mm at the back, including a “drop-iton- the-deck” position for easy ingress, while the suspension will also lower automatically at highway speeds.
Three-stage damper stiffness works well, with noticeable differences between the modes: “Comfort” smooths it out nicely on bumpy roads, while “Normal” and “Sport” modes help provide increasingly greater levels of control at higher speeds on paved roads, or driving on unpaved roads.
Does the LX do the job? Unquestionably, and with some aplomb. But does it fit seamlessly into the Lexus line-up in the same way the X5 and ML fit into Beemer and Benz? Maybe not, for despite all its Lexus-like refinement and poise, it is still a car with a different character to its stablemates and under the skin it is a Toyota. Lexus buyers may not like that fact.
Add in an eye-watering price and you have to wonder how many people will part with nearly R1,1 million for the privilege of what some may consider a glorified Land Cruiser. So if you don’t really need all the fancy off-road stuff, rather go for the Lexus RX range.
Or if you’re more macho, the Cruiser is the way, and you’ll have enough change left over for a decent city runabout, too.