When you think of off-roading, Jeeps and Land Rovers are the vehicles you picture, but Lexus actually makes some seriously capable SUVs that feel easily at home crawling over rocks as they do driving you to a Michelin star restaurant.
Although Land Rovers are the go-to option for drivers wanting a luxurious off-roader, the British SUVs are notorious for their reliability issues. Luckily for Lexus, that’s not a problem because if the Japanese company is known for anything, it’s for having a stellar reliability record. So think of Lexus SUVs as a more reliable alternative to a Land Rover, because they’re just as capable and won’t need to spend too much time in the shop.
I was recently treated to a day of off-roading the 2016 Lexus LX 570 in the Oregon high desert. Here’s what I learned:
1. Lexus Knows Off-Roading
More accurately, parent company Toyota knows off-roading and Lexus benefits from all that expertise and improves on it by making the whole experience much more luxurious. Lexus insists it coined the term “Luxury Utility Vehicle.” Toyota made such off-roading stars as the FJ, Land Cruiser, 4Runner and Tacoma and have had good success in rallies and such hardcore off-road races like Baja. Lexus doesn’t really advertise that its cars can climb mountains and it doesn’t sponsor any epic rallies, and it fully understands that Lexus SUVs will probably never see terrain worse than a snow storm or gravel road. But that’s not the point.
The point is confidence. Lexus wants its drivers to feel confident that they can drive through anything. Interestingly, the most popular market for the 2016 Lexus LX 570 is the Middle East, where huge sand dunes and rough terrain are easy work for the full-sized SUV.
2. Crawl Control vs Engine Braking
The 2016 Lexus LX 570 comes with crawl control, which is like cruise control for off-roading. It takes care of easing the SUV up or down a steep grade or one covered in rocks so you don’t have to worry about modulating the brakes. The system uses sensors and the car’s ABS to maintain the SUV’s slow and steady pace over uneven terrain. If you’ve never used it before, crawl control can be a bit nerve wracking because you have to learn to trust the car — no pedal inputs are needed, just steering. It also makes a scary sound, which sounds like something is being broken or rocks are scraping your car, but that’s really just the sound of the ABS working to modulate the brakes. The Lexus system is also adjustable, so you can control how aggressively the system is working based on how steep the grade is.
Another way to ease down a hill is to get into 4-low mode and pop the LX into manual mode and into first gear. This takes advantage of aggressive engine braking to help you get down the hill slowly. The benefit to this method is that the driver has more control and it doesn’t make the scary sounds that crawl control does.
Combined with a two-speed transfer case, a lockable center differential, an adjustable suspension that can give the SUV up to three more inches of ground clearance, selectable drive modes for different terrain (rock, mud, rock and dirt, mogul, loose rock and sand), turn assist, impressive approach, departure and breakover angles, and active four-wheel traction control, the LX is a beast off-road.
3. A 360 Degree Camera is Insanely Useful
A 360 degree camera is invaluable during off-roading. Yes, you could just stick your head out the window, but having a camera mounted in front of the car makes it so much easier to see what’s directly in front of your bumper – not an easy thing to do from the driver’s seat with a big, long hood in the way. When you only have inches to spare sometimes, you can use all the help you can get, and the system takes the guesswork out of it.
Also, even though the LX has side-view cameras, you need to adjust your side mirrors so you can see the sides of your car — totally incorrect for on-road driving, but necessary for off-roading. You don’t care about blind spots here, all you need your side mirrors for are checking out all the stuff that will scratch your paint.
4. Sometimes, Going Over an Obstacle is Better Than Going Around It
If you see a big rock or obstacle, evaluate it and look at your options. If you try go around it, you might cut it too close and, if it’s a sharp object, you might risk puncturing the tire’s sidewall. That’s bad news. Sometimes, the better option is to drive over an obstacle instead of around it. If you have enough ground clearance, straddle it and drive over, or even drive over it with a wheel if it’s not too huge or sharp.
5. Thumbs In!
When off-roading, don’t hold the steering wheel with your thumbs inside the rim. Keep your thumbs up and on the outside of the steering wheel. When off-roading, the wheel might spin out of control if you hit a rut or big object, and you don’t want your thumbs to be in the way in case it happens.
6. Tight Turn? No Problem?
The 2016 Lexus LX 570 comes with a turn assist feature that, when activated, brakes the inner back wheel to help you complete a tighter turn. It’s amazing to see how such a huge vehicle’s turning radius can be slashed that much. We were going around a tight bend flanked by trees, and the back of the LX basically felt like it was rotating around the corner. If we didn’t have that system, it would have turned into a three-point turn.
7. Smooth, Steady and Slow
It’s not a race, and a successful off-road trip means not getting stuck or crashing into anything. Driving in a smooth, steady and slow manner will help. Sudden movements and inputs might increase your chances of getting stuck by digging your wheels into something slippery. If you gain or lose momentum too quickly, you might lose traction, and traction is your friend.
Also, when going over a ditch, attack it slowly and from an angle, that way there will always be at least three tires on the dirt so you have the most traction to get out.
8. Lots of Torque Comes in Handy
The Lexus LX 570 is powered by a big 5.7-liter V8 that outputs 383 horsepower and, more importantly, 403 pound-feet of torque. The power gets to the full-time four-wheel drive system via an eight-speed automatic. All that torque and full-time 4WD is what’s going to help you when the terrain gets rough. The LX is also rated to tow a maximum of 7,000 pounds, and that torque comes in handy when you have a heavy trailer hooked up or even if all eight seats are full with passengers.
9. Lexus Does a Lot to Help Kids and the Environment
Lexus does more for the environment than make hybrids. The company teamed up with Scholastic 10 years ago to start the Lexus Eco Challenge, which calls on students in grades 6 to 12 to tackle local environmental issues and come up with an action-oriented plan to make things better. Winning teams get grants for their school and scholarships, and some of their findings have been known to make it all the way to the White House. Over the past 10 years, Lexus has donated almost $5-million in scholarships to winning students.
10. Women Have a Ton of Buying Power
Typically, when I attend driving events, I’m one of the only women. It’s part of the nature of being in a male-dominated industry. This off-roading event, however, was done in partnership with Heels & Wheels, an organization that brings together influential women in the automotive sphere. Why would Lexus bring a bunch of women off-roading? Because research has concluded that women have an enormous amount of buying power and many of the women attending this event were mothers, lifestyle bloggers and, of course, automotive journalists with a loyal female audience — a direct link to the people driving the household buying decisions.