Drive Test – Lexus LX570

ROUGHING IT…WITH VELVET GLOVES

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Lexus has been one of South Africa’s most notable success stories from the past decade, with the brand’s relaunch a few years back and a revitalised model range making a big impact on the local acceptance and perception of the brand. They’ve consistently done well in the annual JD Power and Associates Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI) studies, with the IS250 even ranked as the most satisfying car to own in 2009. In fact, Lexus has won a major JD Power award every year for the past 14 years.

There are still some people who believe Lexus vehicles to be nothing more than a luxurious Toyota with a different name, and I’ve made a point of it to vocally defend it as a brand in own right. After all, there are no Toyotas in South Africa that compare to the IS250, GS300, SC430, LS460 or even the RX350, not even mentioning their PERFORMANCEHYBRID models. And while it’s probably not a good thing to admit my soft spot for Lexus, their consistently impressive vehicles make it easily justifiable.

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This year Lexus has welcomed its most capable off-road vehicle to South Africa in the form of the gargantuan LX570, and for the first time since its relaunch, I was slightly disappointed. After all the hoopla of establishing Lexus as an independent luxury brand, they launch a car that looks just about identical to Toyota’s Land Cruiser 200. Is the LX570 really a Lexus in its own right, or is it merely repackaged Land Cruiser?

A large SUV from Lexus is a new phenomenon in South Africa to begin with, as only a few examples of the LX470 – also based on the previous Land Cruiser – ever made it to our shores. Basing the new LX570 on the Land Cruiser 200 is in itself is not a bad thing. After all, the Land Cruiser is a well-respected and much-loved SUV with a reputation for reliability and durability. In a way then, it does makes quite a lot of sense – why spend billions developing a platform, body and all the intricate mechanicals when your parent company already has one of the best on offer?

From the outside, the similarities are easy to spot in just about every line, with the L-finesse design theme bringing subtle stylistic changes to the otherwise rugged body. The wide grille with its arrowhead corner treatment, character lines integrated into the bumper and large projector headlights convey a distinctly up-market yet purposeful look, while the pronounced wheel arches add another element of ruggedness to the otherwise familiar profile. The standard running boards fit closely to the body and are in fact integrated into the design, adding a premium touch to the package.

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Step inside and it’s hard to spot any blatant similarities between the LX570 and the Land Cruiser 200. From the look, feel, touch and smell of the entire cabin, there is simply no doubt that this is a Lexus through and through. There’s ample space for eight passengers and their luggage, with everything about the seating arrangement being electronic.

The standard power-sliding second-row seat slides forward and back for increased passenger comfort and adds significant ease and versatility to the layout. The second-row seatbacks provide a convenient 40/20/40 split and have been specially engineered to make tumbling it forward easy for anyone. The two seats in the rear super easy to use and is power retractable. The split rear tailgate features an electrically operated door on which the window and tailgate sections can be opened and closed using the key card or switch on the instrument panel.

As is to be expected from a Lexus, there’s a full array of luxury features as standard, including four-zone independent climate control, Lexus  HDD Navigation System with touch screen, a magnificent Mark Levinson Sound System with 19 speakers and six disk DVD changer and rear seat entertainment, Smart Access keyless entry system with push-button start and much more.

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The massive LX570’s is powered by a 5.7-litre V8 that produces 270kW at 5 600 r/min and peak torque of 530Nm at 3 600 r/min. It is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission designed to handle high torque, with a sequential shift mode allowing the driver to select gears manually. Regardless of the speed and throttle input, the LX570 delivers its punch with the quietness and smoothness so typical to the brand. Even at very low speeds, such as trail driving, the transmission operates smoothly and imperceptibly.

The power is immediate yet refined, and even at highway cruising speeds it feels like you’re simply wafting along. Ride comfort and general handling share this refined, luxurious trait and makes the LX570 a really, REALLY nice place to be. I took the LX570 on a 1 500km road trip and arrived at both scheduled stop-overs feeling refreshed, the bulk of the road being gravel and sand.

Speaking of sand and gravel, it’s easy to forget that the LX570 has genuine off-road capabilities. Its transfer case provides full-time four-wheel drive with a 2.618:1 low-range ratio available for more challenging driving surfaces. The system uses a TORSEN limited-slip locking centre differential to distribute power 40:60 front-to-rear, directing more power to the wheels with the best grip should slippage occur.

A number of electronic aids make off-roading a cinch, including Four-wheel Active Traction Control (A-TRAC), that employs both brake and throttle intervention to help control wheel spin, and Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) that helps maintain directional control during cornering and can be disengaged via the “TRAC off” switch.

We took a number of long game drives through Kalahari sand, and found the Crawl Control feature, that provides improved throttle modulation when maneuvering over rough, uneven or difficult surfaces, a nifty companion. The immense power of the LX570 also equates to rarely getting stuck, and I was impressed that I never had to engage the low range.

The LX570’s chassis is equipped with an advanced electro-hydraulic suspension system with four-wheel Active Height Control (AHC) and Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS). The high-mount, independent double-wishbone front suspension allows for nine inches of total front wheel travel for outstanding articulation over rough roads and obstacles, while the four-link trailing-arm rear suspension retains the solid-axle configuration for strength and durability.

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The LX570 comes equipped with 10 standard airbags, including driver- and front-passenger knee airbags, front and second-row seat-mounted side airbags in the outboard seating positions, and side curtain airbags for all three rows. All eight seating positions feature three-point seatbelts. The second-row seatbelts integrate pre-tensioners for the outboard seats and an ELR (Emergency Locking Retractor) seatbelt for the centre seat.

Safety is further enhanced by features such as Active Front Headrests and the standard dual-swivel Adaptive Front lighting System (AFS), as well as the standard fitment of multi-terrain ABS brakes, electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BA) that provide auxiliary force to assist the driver during emergency braking.

At R1 085 000, inclusive of a four year/100 000km warranty and maintenance plan, the LX570 is an expensive barge and I can’t help but wonder whether there really is a significant enough market for a vehicle like this. Yes, it really can take you just about anywhere, but how many people will truly venture off the beaten track in it? And while there are similarly priced SUVs with similar capabilities on the market (the R990 000 Mercedes-Benz GL500 and R1 227 000 Range Rover V8 Supercharged comes to mind), the LX570 seems almost too luxurious to be taken off the beaten track.

Perhaps Lexus has unintentionally highlighted the value for money of the Land Cruiser 200 with the LX570, because the entire time I was driving it I couldn’t shake the feeling that perhaps it would make more sense to just get the R876 200 Land Cruiser 200 instead, even with its smaller engine. The Land Cruiser also has a top-spec diesel derivative at R917 100, something Lexus has been avoiding locally.

That said, Lexus has most certainly achieved its objective of building one of the most luxurious, exceptionally capable SUV. It remains true to the Lexus brand values even if some bits are borrowed, and when you add the ample power and immeasurable presence to the equation, I have no doubt that the LX570 will provide endless owner satisfaction to those who make the investment.

Christo Valentyn

For more details, visit Lexus SA.

Images courtesy of Lexus SA via Quickpic.

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