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Lexus's Land Cruiser tested

2010-09-29 07:55

Lance Branquinho

Lexus or Land Cruiser? The VX200’s 4x4 genes are clearly evident when venturing off-road. Does the Lexus badging its seven-figure price though?

Vehicle Specs
Manufacturer Lexus
Model LX570
Engine 5.7l V8
Power 270kW @ 5 600r/min
Torque 530Nm @ 3 600r/min
Transmission Six-speed auto
Zero To Hundred 7.3 sec
Top Speed 220km/h
Fuel Tank 93l
Fuel Consumption 19.5l/100km
Weight 2 645kg
Airbags Ten
Tyres 285/60 R18
Front Suspension Independent double-wishbones
Rear Suspension Live-axle, coil springs
Price R1 085 000
Rivals Raneg Rover, Mercedes-Benz GL
In South Africa, for reasons of heritage and image, Toyota’s Land Cruiser reigns supreme.

Out in the camel-thorn strewn savannah, no other vehicle has the prestige of the current ‘Cruiser 200.

Although Range Rover’s Sport has shored up the British brand’s market share at the summit of the premium 4x4 market from Gaborone’s suburbs to Gabon’s jungle tracks, you're more likely to see affluent Africans moving about in a Cruiser 200 than anything else.

Despite its ungainly looks (aesthetically depreciated further by gargantuan proportions), Toyota sells nearly 60 200's a month. Why?

Fundamentally, it is a hugely impressive thing - both in terms of off-road ability and accommodation. Riding atop an old-school ladder-frame chassis the Cruiser 200 is nearly unbreakable. Equipment levels are comprehensive (as you’d expect at its near seven-figure retail price) and generous cabin dimensions ensure it is a true seven-seater.

All things considered, the Cruiser 200VX is awesomely capable, yet almost intolerably ugly. Park one next to its principal low-range enabled luxury SUV rivals (any Range Rover or Mercedes-Benz GL) and it looks decidedly unappealing.

Is there a possible solution from Toyota for its premium SUV's lack of aesthetics and perceived style? Well, if you're in the market for redoubtable Toyota off-road ability and Kalahari-proven build quality, there is a new alternative.

As part of an aggressive strategy to broaden its local product portfolio, the luxury arm of Toyota (Lexus) has now made its Cruiser 200VX-based LX 570 available locally. It costs R1 085 000 but is Lexus’s offering something of real value or simply a lukewarm badge-engineering job?

The 110% ‘Cruiser 200

Why pay more money for a car with slightly finessed styling (if still not particularly pretty), an extra gear and more power? It has neater kit - for starters.

As one would expect from Lexus, the LX570’s cabin trimmings are luxurious and the feature list extensive. Four-zone aircon, hard disk-based satnav, outstanding sound courtesy of a 19-speaker Mark Levinson sound system (able to relay DVD's via the rear seat entertainment screens) and keyless entry are all part of the package.

The LX570’s seating configuration is designed with eight passengers in mind thanks to powered second-row (and power retractable third row) seats. Luggage capacity depends on the number of passengers but there's 259 litresl of luggage space, which grows to 701 with the last row folded.

Safety’s (very) well catered for too, with 10 airbags scattered around the RX570’s cabin architecture.

If you have a large family and are keen to navigate Botswana during the annual winter school vacation the LX570’s American market design bias is a boon. It's unmatched in terms of interior space (enabling comfort) and features (boosting convenience).

The cabin’s only ergonomic foible is its traditional girdle-operated handbrake. It takes up additional space on the centre console between the front seats and looks particularly ungainly, spoiling the harmony of the cabin’s design somewhat.

American market bias = over-sized V8 power

Mechanically, the LX570’s distinguishing feature (its upgraded drivetrain) is courtesy of the American design influence. Lexus was made in the North American market and as such its products all pander to the demands of Stateside customers who like their cars powerful yet under-stressed so it's not surprising to find the LX570 is powered by a small-block sized, 5.7-litre V8.

Driving through a six-speed auto transmission (as opposed to the Cruiser 200VX’s five-speed), the LX’s V8 produces 270kW at 5600rpm and 530Nm at 3600.

The unique selling point of this larger capacity V8 is how it adds to the LX570’s ability to tow 3.5 tons with greater ease than its Cruiser 200VX 4.7 V8 sibling.

If you own a (really) oversized caravan or boat, the LX570’s greater hauling ability in an advantage. In reality, though, the number of owners who will use the extra towing capacity is open to conjecture. Who regularly tows that much?

Statistically, if you strain the six-speed self-shifter, the LX570 will run a hot hatch-humbling 7.3 second 0-100km/h en route to its 220km/h top speed. More tangible, and usable during everyday driving, is the LX570’s instant response to throttle input at all engine speeds compared to the Cruiser 200VX’s 4.7 V8.

Although the inertia effect of its mass (2.8 tons, fuelled) requires quite a deep stroke of the right-pedal before the consequence of those additional kiloWatts come into play, once up to speed the LX570 is quite rapid. Its bigger V8 (and extra gear) enacts a calming safety margin when you are required to overtake heavy transport, an area where it is inarguably better than the Cruiser 200VX.

The consequence of all this effortless performance is that the LX570's consumption is comically high - we averaged 19.5 litres/100km during our test (driving with fair restraint), way in excess of the claimed 14.8.

Beyond the V8’s urge (and thirst), the rest of the LX570’s dynamic package (on-road at least) is not faultlessly harmonious. Although noise levels are eerily subdued – as one would expect from a Lexus – the LX570 lacks the high-speed tracking stability and all-round grip of a Range Rover or Merc GL. All three have air suspension yet the LX570’s bodywork is mounted on a ladder frame (instead of being a unitary monocoque) which means steering feedback is somewhat clumsy and artificially over-assisted.

Another issue about the LX570’s on-road dynamics is its solid rear axle, whereas the Rangey and GL each boast all-round independently suspended wheel attachments.

Despite the best intentions of its KDSS air-suspension (even with the most rebound resistant sport damper setting selected) the LX570 has a typical live-axle rear affliction - surface imperfections on one side of its tracking width reverberate and influence the opposing wheel. Compounding this state of affairs are those off-road biased Goodyear tyres which complain at quite modest speeds thruogh tighter corners - thuogh considering its size and high centre of gravity, this is to be expected.

In mitigation the LX570’s ride comfort is stellar, allowing occupants to busy themselves with conversation or indulge in the various infotainment systems in all three rows.

The solid axle strikes back

There is, of course, an advantage to the LX570’s live-axle rear suspension, something that becomes abundantly obvious when venturing off-road. As any old-school 4x4 explorer will tell you, solid axles guarantee a set value of ground clearance no matter how broken the terrain to prevent bottoming or surrendering traction by easily lifting the opposing wheel.

Our off-road testing included a mountain route littered with asymmetrically scattered wheel-swallowing depressions and a sand-track.

The LX570 has all the requisite 4x4 hardware: a Torsen locking centre-differential, 2.618:1 reduction ratio low-range transfer case and trick traction-aiding brake intervention. We expected it to be quite accomplished.

Venturing into the mountain trail – which carried an intimidating 5 grading in places – the LX570’s Cruiser 200 genes were obvious, as it negotiated even the most severe surface challenges without lifting a wheel or scraping its belly. Throttle modulation was effortlessly easy due to the big V8s low-crankspeed torque.

Descents, usually the bane of novice off-roaders, were boringly simple (despite the LX’s intimidating bulk). The adjustable gradient-descent control is brilliant in this regard, enabling one to increase rolling speed safely with a toggle switch from a sloth-like one to more urgent five km/h.

The LX570’s V8 provided a surfeit of power to churn its 2.7t bulk along our sand track. Using its six-speed transmission’s manual override (tabbing between second and third gear), the LX570 was never in any danger of getting stuck. Off the showroom floor it is superior to some other premium 4x4's in this regard, primarily due to its more off-road biased tyres.

Unfortunately, even with the VSC disengaged, the LX570’s stability systems still intervene, reducing power when acute steering angles and hooligan throttle applications combine.

Although LX570’s traction and stability control systems are generally superb, they don't completely disengage – even when the warning lights are highlighted. In sand, where a fractional retardation of power easily gets a heavy 4x4 stuck, those millisecond brake and throttle interventions at the limit can mean the difference between cresting a large dune and having to reverse down and try again.


A seven figure Lexus, which is in fact a Land Cruiser? Marketing peculiarity or rather appealing alternative?

Unashamedly luxurious, hugely capable off-road (despite the nannying stability systems) and simply huge cabin, the LX570 ticks all the premium SUV boxes.

Why should you buy one instead of Land Cruiser’s V8 petrol, though? Wel, the Lexus’s larger V8-added pace does come in handy when secure overtaking margins or sustained (swift) cruising speeds are required.

The extra nice-to-have cabin bits enhance the LX570’s appeal and then of course there is the Lexus servicing experience. Toyota dealers are wonderfully proficient in general but the brand sells a lot of cars and its franchises have very busy service departments.

So, you’re unlikely to get your Toyota Cruiser 200 back before lunchtime for even a minor service in some city-centre dealerships, despite booking in at 7am. Conversely, you're almost family at a Lexus dealer due to the smaller Lexus volumes; servicing is a painless and hugely efficient enterprise.

For emerging-market buyers who find the Land Cruiser 200VX’s capabilities appealing yet aren’t taken up by its millionaire mielieboer cachet, the LX570 may prove a more acceptable entry point to the Toyota Motor Company premium SUV offering.

Is Lexus’s Land Cruiser a disingenuous case of badge engineering? Not quite. An American solution for African tastes, more likely.

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