An Old Soul: Discovering the Joy of Anonymous Luxury
When I was 15 years old, my parents enrolled me in a screenwriters workshop at UCLA. One day the whole class was on a bus going to movie studio when one kid yelled, “THERE’S ROBIN WILLIAMS!!” I turned to look, and sure enough, there was Mr. Williams (R.I.P.). The entire bus suddenly slumped over to the left, as for many of the kids, this was the first celebrity they’d ever seen in the wild/on Hollywood Boulevard. Naturally, almost everyone was pointing and screaming at poor Robin, who was staring straight ahead, just trying to get where he was going. Unlike the majority of my classmates, I was from Los Angeles and used to close celebrity proximity — when I was about 5 my mother told me to follow Leonard Nimoy into the men’s room at Nate ‘n Al’s to “see if only his ears are pointy.” Yet again, R.I.P. Anyhow, I wasn’t all that nonplussed to see Robin Williams. But I was stunned to observe that he was driving a red Toyota Land Cruiser (a just-introduced J80 for you nerds). My 15-year-old mind was deeply shaken. Why on Earth would a star of Robin’s caliber — and with the money that goes along with such fame — be in anything less than a Countach? Perhaps an Aston Martin Lagonda? Or at the very least, a Porsche 935 slant nose? Hey, I was 15. It’s taken me 25 years to work out why a major celeb would drive such a beast of burden. But after two weeks in the Lexus LX 570, it makes total sense.
Not that you’re going to, but if you needed to drive eight people across Helmand Province, you could in the LX 570. Stouter vehicles might exist — and that’s arguable — but none of them can carry as many passengers. In pretty decent comfort, too. I’d argue that the hand-built Mercedes G-Wagen is cut from the same hunk of granite. Same goes for Jeep‘s Wrangler and Ram‘s Powerwagon. In other words, the solidity that comes from solid axles. Only thing is, those vehicles only carry five people max, not eight. True, for the rest of the world there’s the Land Rover Defender 110 that seats seven souls, and the quite rare, impossibly cool, nine-passenger Defender 130. But the Defender’s basically out of production. I should point out that the LX 570 and its near twin, the aforementioned Land Cruiser, sell in such low volume that Lexus claims, “They’re practically hand-built.” That’s pretty cool, and might even be true. Case in point, most three-row SUVs suffer from some form of mild squeaks and groans. Not the LX 570. Again, granite. Moreover, in the Middle East, the LX 570’s largest market — Lexus even sells a 450-horsepower, mildly supercharged version over there — reliability counts. So too does exclusivity.
To get a better picture of what the LX 570 means on practically the other side of the world, I contacted my friend and the managing editor of “Motoring Middle East,” Imthishan Giado. Here’s what he has to say about Lexus’ priciest truck: “Long before the third-generation Range Rover showed up and took over the streets of the Dubai, the Lexus LX 570 was our original sin. For a time the most expensive SUV money could buy, it’s still the choice of real royalty and the connected, a truck that you’ll let by on the highway — if you know what’s good for you! And unlike the nouveau riche Range Rover, the Lexus does double duty on farms and dunes on the weekend. Needless to say, they don’t need to be advertised.” When pressed, Imthishan admits that “the LX is in a weird space, though, over here. It’s way cheaper than a Range Rover. Too cheap, in fact, for the rich.” When talking in general about the importance of severe off-road capability in the region, he states, “The Land Cruiser is a bread-and-butter car over here, like a Camry for Arab families.”
As you might imagine, I often get asked what I’m driving. And as you may have inferred, I enjoy telling people about what I currently am and have been driving. For the past half month I’ve been telling my friends and family I’ve been driving the 2015 Lexus LX 570 and loving it, and then spending then next 10 minutes explaining to a bunch of confused faces why I like it so much. Let me try my spiel on you. I’ve rarely encountered such an overbuilt production car. For example, the LX 570’s tire pressure monitoring system tells you the pressures of all four tires plus the spare (though curiously it doesn’t tell you which is which). Lexus claims the self-leveling hydraulic suspension is the most sophisticated on Earth. I don’t know about the “on Earth” part, but the LX 570’s ride is quite plush, and the 6,109-pound monster is more than happy to attack a corner. Climb underneath and you can see two green hydraulic spheres (just like a Citroën!) protected by what looks like two anti-roll bars with the end links cut off. The hydraulic dampers — assisted by steel springs — are the major point of departure between the Toyota Land Cruiser and the Lexus. The Land Cruiser has steel springs and fixed dampers up front, mixed with air suspension in the rear. Similar, if not basically identical, to how Mercedes-Benz sets up the E63 AMG. Should you choose Lexus over Toyota, you also get better leather, nicer wood, and a (slightly) better Nav unit.
As long as you’re down on the ground looking up, check out that rear axle. It’s massive. It looks as thick and sturdy as a Dana 66, if not a tick beefier. And get a load of those trailing arms. They have to be an inch in diameter, if not thicker. In fact, these look similar to the parts Jonathan Ward outfits his $150,000 US Icon FJs with. If you have any doubts about the true purpose of the LX 570, climb underneath and gawk. Hardcore doesn’t begin to describe it. Then there’s all the associated off-road doohickeys. You get five modes of Multi-Terrain Select: Rock, Rock & Dirt, Mogul, Loose Rock, plus Mud & Sand. When you’re in four-low (of course it has a two-speed transfer case!) you get a crawl mode with five forward speeds. Think of it as super slow, rock-crawling cruise control. There’s a locking center differential, as well as a button that changes the steering ratio to give you extra maneuverability when you’re using low gears. The LX 570 is so capable that you’ll need to get familiar with the RSCA Off button. That’s the one that tells the side curtain airbags not to go off because you haven’t actually rolled over. You’re just at one hell of an angle. No, really. Also: The LX 570 still has a real handbrake. The LX570 is also one of three select Toyota products that goes through a third round of backbreaking reliability development tests, the other two being the Land Cruiser and the LX 470. Believe me: It’s a tank.
Anything so purpose-built can’t be ideal for all situations, obviously. I’ll point out three shortcomings. One is looks. Lexus, seriously, get it together. The spindle grille is polarizing at best. Let it go. Not that the J200 Land Cruiser is the world’s greatest aesthetic starting point, but come on. Hire an Italian or something. The next weak point is fuel economy. It’s, well, terrible. EPA numbers are 12/17/14 mpg city/highway/combined. Our Real MPG tests tell a different story: 13.3/17.5/14.9 mpg, somewhat better than what the EPA claims. Regardless, the LX 570 not only gets poor mileage compared to most cars and trucks on the road, but its tank only holds 20 gallons of premium gas. Meaning that by the time the needle is pointing at E, you’ve covered about 250 miles. You’ll find yourself at the gas pump often. A minor annoyance in the city, a real problem out on the trail. Though I suppose that’s what jerrycans are for. The third big problem is space for hauling stuff. The LX 570’s seats flip and fold up (the rear ones do so electronically), but they’re still in the cargo area. As a result, the functional capacity is greatly compromised. Case in point: A piece of furniture that I couldn’t fit into the back of this Lexus fit inside a Saturn Vue Hybrid. Awkward.
But good looks, fuel economy, luggage capacity — none of those are the point of the biggest, baddest Lexus. Brutal, off-to-the-ends-of-the-earth capability, with bulletproof reliability and durability and a touch of luxury combined with weapons-grade anonymity is the point of these bruisers. About 4,000 customers a year here in the States see the value in such a rig. Who buys these things? Wealthy eccentrics mostly, according to a source at Lexus. Plastic surgeons with multiple practices, for instance. Largely dudes that earn north of $350K US per annum and think Range Rovers are weak sauce. Here’s another check in the LX 570’s “for” column: They hold their value really well. How do I know this? Because as a wannabe wealthy eccentric, I’ve been checking out used ones. Even with 10,000 miles on the clock, late model LX 570s are going for north of $75,000 US. That’s impressive. Moreover, and pardon my Rumsfeldian lingo, only those in the know will know what you’re driving. Most people will view the LX as some sort of blinged-up Toyota Sequoia. So be it. Only a select few, including the Emirati royal family, are in on the secret.
|2015 Lexus LX 570|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$90,970|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 8-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||5.7L/383-hp/403-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||6,109 lb (51/49%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||197.0 x 77.6 x 73.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.0 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.4 sec @ 90.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||125 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.78 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.9 sec @ 0.66 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||12/17/14 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||281/198 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.40 lb/mile|