In the 1980s, something rather strange happened inside Toyota. The Japanese automaker’s most capable vehicle grew two extra doors and thus, began to venture off down a path not yet traveled. Along the way towards its present location in time, the Land Cruiser got bigger, more expensive and more luxurious. These traits were adopted so much so that an entirely new kind of tough-as-nails Toyota was created and today, the Lexus LX still knows what its doing. But unlike its less expensive brother, it does so with 20 inch wheels, 4-zone climate control and heated leather seats. The Lexus may have its roots tied up in the Rising Sun Jeep that was born in the 1950s, but the original FJ Land Cruiser would probably raise an eyebrow in confusion if they were to meet their grand kid on a trail. Even still, Lexus might just not care as the 2012 LX570 is everything that embodies their brand image all wrapped around one of the most capable chassis they’ve ever built.
Just like its twin brother, the Land Cruiser, the LX is the flagship SUV of the Lexus/Toyota camp. Marketed as a full size luxury hauler, the current third generation LX runs head to head with the likes of the Range Rover, Cadillac Escalade, Mercedes-Benz GL-Class and the Infiniti QX56. And just like its competition and its Toyota branded sibling, the LX honestly makes little rational sense but then again, so does a Corvette. Setting aside the economy minded movement, the full size luxury SUV does have a market and its rather large. In order to be a stand out, cookie cutting really won’t do the trick. How the Lexus manages to separate itself from the rest can be found within the truck’s roots as deep down, it came from mud-slinging, river crossing, mountain climbing off road royalty. Underneath its sculpted and bold body is a high-strength steel body-on-frame design that is often found on full size trucks. The front suspension may be independent, but the rear end of this near triple digit luxury machine is a solid axle: the same found on full size pickups and cars from the 1970s. While other offerings are evolving with the fully independent times, the Lexus is staying put with what its namesake knows to work.
When shelling out the kind of cash that would buy a large house 20 years ago for an SUV, the vehicle shouldn’t disappoint. To determine if the mix of offroad legend and new-age luxury actually works, we got behind the wheel of a 2012 LX570. With one engine, transmission and drive configuration offered, our tester started out with a base MSRP of $77,750; otherwise known as $16 grand more than the base price of a Infiniti QX56. Not too many Lexus buyers would settle for just base and our Mercury Metallic test truck came equipped as such with $8,644 worth of options. Adding more luxury to a luxury vehicle is the $3,740 Luxury Package which includes the Pre-Collision System, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Semi-aniline leather, heat and ventilation for the driver and passenger seats, heating for the second row and the steering wheel, African Bubinga wood trim and 20 inch wheels. For $2,850, Mark Levinson supplies one of his stereo systems that includes 19 speakers, surround sound and a six-disk changer. To make things even more entertaining, the $1,990 Rear Seat Entertainment system comes with a flip-down, 9 inch wide LCD screen with dual wireless headphones. The cherry on top comes by way of a $64 set of cargo mats. Total MSRP with destination charge for our test truck: $87,274, which is still a Hyundai Accent more expensive than a similarly equipped Infiniti QX56.
Because of its class status, the LX570 must carry a ton of street cred as it fights tooth-and-nail with the ultimate image machine: the Cadillac Escalade. Big, bold, strong, powerful and elegant are all accurate descriptors for the Lexus but where some rivals can come across as being a bit too gaudy, the LX manages to fly under the radar. If anything, the truck is absolutely classic: it looks antiquarian but still tough. The Infiniti jumps around too much; far too excited to be alive. The Mercedes-Benz looks out-of-shape and the Cadillac, though truly handsome, looks like it might just be all talk. What the LX does however is stands quietly in the corner and waits to be put to the test. This is because underneath its timeless sport coat is a proven, muscle clad chassis that knows just how to land a knock-out punch.
If push came to shove, the only thing on the market that could follow the LX570 into a trail would be the Range Rover. With 8.9 inches of ground clearance, an approach angle of 29 degrees and 285 mm wide Michelin Mud and Snow Tires, the Lexus has the dimensions that matter most when on the beaten path. Puting those credentials best to use is a list of off road items that are usually reserved for modified Jeeps. At any given time, all four wheels receive power but unlike other premium SUVs, the Lexus features a honest-t0-goodness two-speed transfer case. A Torsen limited slip center differential and heavy-duty six speed automatic transmission make sure that every piece of the V8’s output goes to good use. Displacing 5.7 liters, the DOHC iForce engine pumps out a solid 383 horsepower and 403 lb-ft of torque which will get the truck to 60 mph from a standstill in around 7.4 seconds. Decent enough, the LX’s near 6,000 lb curb weight doesn’t benefit it at stop lights or at the pump. Not only would the Lexus lose in a drag race to the Infiniti and Cadillac, it be forced to stop for a fill up before the other two. EPA estimates place the SUV at an average of 12 mpg in the city and 18 mpg on the highway. At its lowest, the same vehicle that was created by a company that sells the most hybrids around can average 9 mpg.
Driving the LX570 is by no means a chore but it isn’t top-notch. The steering is easy and with its Adaptive Variable Suspension and Active Height Control, the Lexus does a good job of masking its horrendous weight. It may not accelerate as quickly as other rivals, but it never feels underwhelmed and shifts from the six speed are smooth and responsive. Like most big Toyota trucks, the brakes are adequate but the feel can get numb. And while its tall status and beefy suspension are no match for the Infiniti’s dynamic hydraulic set up on pavement, the Lexus does beat just about every other offering when things get bumpy. Taking the best luxury money can buy to the ends of the earth is as easy as slipping the transfer case into four-wheel drive low. Even when up to the fenders in mud, the LX’s leather is still supple, the navigation is still easy to use, the stereo is still crystal clear and comfort is still sky-high. What the Lexus does it take the Range Rover and make it proven reliable and less expensive.
For some reason, Toyota thought it would be a good idea in the 1980s to make the Land Cruiser larger. As a result, they created a success story that spawned a vehicle that makes no rational sense but still manages to be utterly impressive. It may be a blatant showcase of engineering and design, but the Lexus LX570 has existed since the mid 90s and isn’t going away anytime soon. Like its competition, it drives smooth and easy, looks stout and is filled with comfort, style and insane amounts of luxury. It may not be the most reasonable, it may not be fastest and it may not be the most efficient, but the LX570 has one very special party piece that makes it honestly unique. Oddly enough, Toyota hasn’t messed with the original formula to “soften” their LX up but instead, it is just as capable if not more than the original Land Cruiser copy of 1996. Each example of a luxury, full size SUV has its special traits and the Lexus is no different. If utter confidence in knowing that wood trimmed leather and heated seats can cross any terrain mother nature has to offer appeals to you, than look no further than the 2012 Lexus LX570.
Photos: © Copyright 2012 Ossamah Shabbir