Not Just Another Status Symbol SUV
Extreme wheeling doesn’t necessarily mean tube buggies defying gravity on 4x4 paths better suited for mountain goats. When it comes to 4x4s and wheeling, sometimes “extreme” can also describe the level of build quality, or comfort, or maybe it explains the beauty found in the landscapes of a memorable off-road trip. Then again, maybe a combination of things can work so well together that they extremely satisfy. We recently had access to an ’11 Lexus LX 570, a couple days of time, and enough gas money for a 1,000-mile trip to find out if this luxury SUV could extremely satisfy or if it was just another extremely disappointing driveway dreamboat.
The first thing to remember about the Lexus LX 570 is that it is a sister vehicle to the Toyota Land Cruiser, which was our 2008 4x4 of the Year (Feb. ’08). That means it has the guts to go off-road unlike many luxury liners out on the road these days. By “guts” we mean a 5.7L V-8 that sends 383 horses and 403 lb-ft of torque to a six-speed automatic, a fulltime two-speed transfer case (2.62:1 low range) containing a Torsen limited-slip differential, and on out to axles carrying 3.9:1 gearing. Surprisingly, the rear axle is solid (not IRS), unusual in this upper-end 4x4 category, yet it’s a tough and straightforward piece of off-road functionality. Up front the axle is independent with 9 inches of travel. Traction control for both front and rear axles is handled by the vehicle’s brain and brakes, which Lexus calls Active Traction Control (A-TRAC). And while we’re hitting the Caps Lock key, the LX 570 also uses its brain to maintain directional control during cornering using Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) and keeps itself from rolling backwards on hills by using the Hill-start Assist Control (HAC).
Moving to the suspension on the LX 570, we find more uses for the Caps Lock key. Active Height Control (AHC) automatically lowers and raises the vehicle (depending on vehicle speed and off-road mode), and the Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS) adjusts the shock absorber damping and spring rates according to the driver’s wishes (go drivers!).
The Lexus is capable of (and rated for) towing 7,000 pounds. Helping to stop the rig, either with or without a trailer, are 13.4-inch-diameter disc brakes up front and 13.6-inchers in the rear (and, yes, ABS). But we didn’t want to tow on the trip we had planned—we wanted to go wheeling.
An extremely comfortable, luxurious, and capable vehicle like the Lexus LX 570 needs a suitably extreme 4x4 test trip. We wanted to go from the highest point in the Lower 48 (Mt. Whitney, at 14,494 feet) to the lowest point (Badwater, Death Valley, at 282 feet below sea level). Now, before you say, “Wait, there’s no road to the top of Mt. Whitney,” we know. We also know that during the winter it’s difficult to even get close to that mountain due to snow, but that’s what made this test trip perfect, see? Snow, mud, deserts, mountains, cactus, rocks, and other extreme terrain: It’s all good and it’s all on this trip!
Interrupting our northbound progress toward Mt. Whitney from Los Angeles, we turned off Highway 14 and headed through the tiny mining town of Randsburg on a quick side trip over to the Trona Pinnacles. This strange forest of rock columns was formed from calcium carbonate deposits under an ancient sea, but the day we drove through they were hidden under a sea of Tule fog. Recent rainstorms and flooding had left the road wet, and although the mud wasn’t deep, it was as slippery as a soapy linoleum floor. Although the LX 570’s traction control kept the tires spinning and us moving forward, we got an inkling that the P285/50R20 Michelin Latitude Tour HP tires were out of their element and might be better suited to wet pavement than wet Trona trails.