Lexus is better known as a luxury car brand than as a producer of all-terrain models. And yet, the Japanese marque has several off-roaders in its fleet – some more rugged than others. In terms of sheer presence, the LX570 is one of the 4x4 world’s biggest and most luxurious machines. But how does that impact on its go-anywhere capability? By DEON SCHOEMAN.
In South African motoring speak, a sports utility vehicle can be anything from a compact soft-roader to a serious 4x4. But if we’re talking top-end luxury off-roaders, there really are only a handful of protagonists. And one of the biggest belongs to the Lexus stable.
The imposing LX570 has headed up the brand’s all-terrain offering for some time now, but the juggernaut 4x4 recently underwent a series of updates. It links several exterior changes to a spruced up interior, while the mechanical underpinnings retain a combination of lusty V8 power and a rugged 4x4 drivetrain.
I know that styling is a subjective issue, but by no stretch of the imagination could one call the LX570 a handsome machine. It’s certainly imposing in a larger-than-life kind of way, but it’s also ostentatious and chubby.
At a casual glace, this latest rendition looks very similar to the outgoing model. The most obvious difference is the incorporation of what Lexus calls its “spindle grille” – a design that made its debut on the latest GS range, and is now finding its way onto other Lexus models, too.
Even larger and bolder for its application here, it’s a big grille for a big vehicle, and it certainly confirms the LX570’s brand identity, while also introducing a measure of continuity as far as front-end design is concerned.
The grille change has necessitated a redesigned bumper, while the large, clear-lensed bi-xenon headlights with integrated daytime running lights add to the off-roader’s resolute, even haughty expression.
At the rear, Lexus fans will notice the use of new LED tail light clusters, while a roof-mounted spoiler is said to assist aerodynamics – which seems a bit bizarre, considering the bulky and boxy shape of the LX570.
The rest of the design remains more or less unchanged. The silhouette is tall and imposing, with lots of chrome garnishing. This is a brute of a 4x4, and it stands tall and proud, with vast glass areas ensuring excellent all-round visibility. Even the 20-inch wheels look too small to fill the wheel arches.
Given the 2.5 ton-plus kerb weight of the big Lexus, it stands to reason that it needs an equally muscular powerplant. A 5.7-litre petrol V8 promises to do the trick. With variable valve timing and twin overhead camshafts per bank, the all-aluminium engine is good for 270kW and, more importantly, a crunching 530Nm of torque.
The gearbox is a six-speed auto transmission offering a sequential manual shift option via shift paddles behind the steering wheel. Full-time four-wheel drive is standard, utilising a Torsen centre diff and a low-range transfer case. Switching between high and low range requires no more than pressing a button.
However, the majority of LX570 buyers are likely to be more interested in the off-roader’s interior amenities than its technical underpinnings. The cabin is plush and lavishly appointed, with loads of space and no less than three rows of seats.
One could spend hours exploring the interior, which is arguably the hedonistic highlight of this Lexus. It wraps up to eight occupants in soft perforated leather, keeps them entertained with a 19-speaker Mark Levinson sound system, and keeps them safe with no less than 10 airbags.
Premium-grade materials and a top-flight execution ensure that the cabin oozes luxury and class, even if the polished wood trim won’t be to everyone’s taste, and may even be considered pretentious by some.
The centre console gets a touch-screen TFT display that provides access to a host of functions, including the sat-nav, climate control and sound systems, as well as a comprehensive vehicle information display.
For rear occupants, there’s a separate, dedicated entertainment system that links a DVD player to twin seven-inch LCD screens. The system can be controlled wirelessly using a remote control handset, while AV inputs mean that game consoles can also be hooked up to it.
The three rows of seats all offer electric control and adjustment. For the driver, that adjustment can be executed in up to 10 different ways, while there are eight choices for the front passenger. The middle row offers reach and backrest angle adjustment, while the rear-most seats even fold up electrically at the push of a button.
One of the LX570’s most attractive virtues is its ability to tackle and conquer almost any conceivable road conditions, from smooth tar to the really rough stuff, while remaining completely unruffled.
Lexus has a reputation for refinement, and that’s exactly what the LX570 offers, albeit in an SUV context. Given the size and sheer mass of this juggernaut, it remains composed and almost aloof of its surroundings. The adjustable air suspension and ride height help to keep things under control, regardless of the conditions.
The chassis not only copes with the vehicle’s mass, but also ensures a smooth ride, almost regardless of the road surface. The double wishbone front suspension and quad-link rear layout is combined with electro-hydraulic air dampers that allow either automatic or manual adjustment of ride height to best suit the prevailing conditions.
The Lexus offers a so-called Multi-Terrain Select system, which allows the driver to choose between five driving modes, depending on the terrain being encountered. Each mode adjusts a host of parameters to match the conditions. Hill Start Assistance and Hill Descent Control are also incorporated.
The result is a vehicle that feels unstoppable, and utterly impervious to the challenges it may encounter. Transitions from tar to gravel are seamless, and the levels of refinement remain admirable at all times. It’s also a truly talented off-roader – although we doubt that too many owners would actually go rock crawling or sand digging in this machine!
The Lexus LX570 is the 4x4 equivalent of royalty – a large and grand 4x4 designed to tackle the toughest off-road terrain while keeping up to eight occupants ensconced in the lap of luxury.
That it epitomises the quality, luxury, technology and dynamic prowess that have become Lexus hallmarks suggests that those with R1.2 million to spend on a big, top-end off-roader won’t be disappointed.
However, one can’t help but think that the era of the mega-4x4 is drawing to a close, and that most 21st Century buyers will happily trade size for agility and economy. DM
VITAL STATS: Lexus LX570 SE