Next time you’re in the Kalahari Desert or the Hindu Kush, check out the cars. Chances are you’ll see two kinds: Land Rovers and Toyota Land Cruisers, with maybe the odd Jeep Wrangler or Nissan Patrol lurking in the background. But if the UN peacekeeping forces are anywhere nearby, they’ll be exclusively in Land Cruisers, of which the UN has bought approx. 12,000 copies over the years. Why? That’s easy: Land Cruisers are big and practical and they don’t break down. Go-anywhere durability has been their stock in trade since 1953, when an early-model Land Cruiser scooted up Mount Fuji, setting a record for the first and highest automotive jaunt up Japan’s sacred mountain. “The Land Cruiser,” opined the New York Times, “may be the world’s most admired off-roader.”
So admired that Toyota decided there was room for an upscale twin that would emphasize the comfort angle. In 1996 the Japanese giant’s luxury arm, Lexus, introduced the LX 450 as its first contender in the luxury full-size SUV marketplace. This car’s heir, the LX 470, came out in 1998 and the current iteration, the Lexus LX 570, was unveiled at the New York Auto Show in April 2007 as a complete redesign. The ’13 LX 570 is basically the same vehicle, with a couple of tweaks. Externally, it differs in its new “spindle” grille, a more assertive feature than the inoffensive Lexus fascias of the previous generation, and, at the rear, a cleaner and broader look, with slightly bigger tail lights. Smooth side panels and elegant sheet-metal counterbalance the slightly ungainly running boards. Bumpers flow nicely like melted wax up to and around the wheel-wells, and in the front glimmer Audi-inspired LED daytime running lamps. All in all, the LX 570 is a handsome beast. Nothing’s overdone; there’s no bling, because chrome is conservatively employed. Indeed, so restrained is the luxotruck’s overall cachet that your average Joe seeing it drive by would never guess it cost…$90K.
Yes, you read that right. Base price without a few extra fripperies is around ten grand less, but however you slice it this thing goes for the price of a small house. Indeed, in some ways it is a small house. At the very least it’s better equipped than many small houses of my experience, with acres of plush cowhide, heated and cooled front seats with 10-way power controls, genuine (or “genuine”) burled-mahogany inlays, shiny roof-rails, a state-of-the-art collision-avoidance system, park assist, radar cruise control, Mark Levinson audio system with 19 speakers (yes, 19), front/rear and side safety cameras, front side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, front knee airbags, an instrument panel with four secondary gauges (two for oil temperature and battery power) surrounding an elegant display that shows anything from gear position to suspension height, a digital speedometer to supplement the analog one, trip computer functions, nav system, Bluetooth, etc., etc. Everything except the kitchen sink, but typical high-grade Toyota ergonomics and first-rate build quality make it all easy to use. Oh, and speaking of the kitchen sink: If your LX comes with the “luxury” package, under those two independently sliding leather armrests up front is a small refrigerator suitable for chilling a couple of splits of bubbly as you set off for your déjeuner sur l’herbe.
All of which serves as a reminder that, despite its outdoorsy lineage, the mission of this Lexus is primarily to move people in comfort, and that it does, even in the second-row (reclining, leather) seats. But if you need space for your caviar and oysters, the 15-cu.-ft. area behind the third row is big enough; for your golf clubs and Gucci suitcases, the rear seats fold out of the way to provide 83.1 cu. ft. of storage area. The third-row seats—not the best seats in the house, but then when are they ever?—split 50/50 and stow up against the sides of the cabin, freeing up 41 cu. ft. and absolving you from having to heave the darn things out of the car and into some cobwebby corner of the garage.
Then, under all that, there’s the basic Land Cruiser DNA: 4-wheel drive. The LX’s 4-mode 4WD system is activated by toggle switches on the center console that allow you to lock the center differential in high or low range, or just leave it in either range. Usually, you’d be advised to operate in the unlocked, high-range mode for the best mileage (now, now, no sniggering). New for ’13 is a crawl-control and terrain-select mode, which I briefly had the opportunity to try out. If you’ve never used crawl-control before, it’s basically an off-road cruise-control system: a strange sensation at first, as if a giant invisible parachute had suddenly deployed behind you, but the system works admirably, teasing the big vehicle slowly along until you reach a level surface and can resume normal ops.
Not quite enough for you? Then you’ll be happy to learn that the $1,510 luxury package adds some higher grade trim and features like that under-arm fridge, and an even fancier rear entertainment system with DVD screens and headphones can be had for $2,005. Other interior innovations include a new multimedia system with the next-generation Lexus Enform system to allow those drivers who are less interested in crawling down rock-falls than posting on Facebook to do so—not, let us (rashly?) assume, in motion. Ching-ching: ninety large.
Yes, expensive it may be, to the point of absurdity, but you know what? This is a really grand motor, an honor to the Lexus name, which it upholds with sumptuous comfort, smoothness, and confidence-inspiring go-anywhere abilities. I thoroughly enjoyed driving it hither and yon, under the cloudless summer skies of the Texas Hill Country, fast and far. I took it where I take all my 4WD test vehicles, a non-road inaptly named Serenity Trail, in reality a rock-strewn path off the high switchback called The Devil’s Backbone, and there I clicked the toggle switch to 4-Lo. No surprises: The LX threw off its Clark Kent glasses and suit and revealed the S-Man sweats underneath, eating up the rock-fall, sprinting across the rugged limestone stretches, and crawling downward with stealthy aplomb. Not a single squeak, groan or rattle betrayed the hard work the 4WD system was doing.
Back on the blacktop, the LX cruised swiftly, in Lexusian silence. But when I needed power, I got it: 383 horses and 403 ft.-lb. of torque from a splendid, seamlessly powerful 5.7-liter V8 engine that not only hauls this nearly 6,000-lb. behemoth from 0 to 60 in just a hair under 7 seconds, but also provides a towing capacity of up to 8,500 lb., should you need to tow, say, a small house. Fuel economy is, let me be frank, virtually nonexistent. Well, officially, it’s 13 city, 18 highway, but who’s counting? I averaged a dismal 16.2 mpg overall, and on premium. But if you’ve dropped ninety grand on this beauty, you’re not going to quibble about a few gallons more or less of dino juice. Life’s too short. And it isn’t worth living if you can’t splurge every now and then.
Plus, you can’t drive a house, big or small, up the side of a mountain.