SUVs that chase sports cars are a relatively new phenomenon and one that, when you think of it logically, makes zero sense. An SUV is not meant to carve corners. An SUV is supposed to flatten terrain, accommodate all your living relatives and go to war against said relatives who don’t offer the right respect. SUVs are for generals while the troops follow in pickups. And wherever there’s serious conflict, both the general and his troops stick with Toyotas, roadside assistance isn’t very prompt in sub-Saharan Africa. To buy this ‘Big’ SUV, the Lexus LX 450D one would either require to be a politician or a successful pablo with Rs 2.3 crore of clink in the bank.
The LX doesn’t carry Toyota badges but everybody knows this is a Toyota Land Cruiser, and I say that with the highest respect. A Land Cruiser is the ultimate go-anywhere vehicle. It is unstoppable. Many years ago we drove up to Dalhousie in the snow, in a bunch of SUVs all sporting iconic go-anywhere badges, and at the end of the day we parked up everything and piled into the LC 200, the only one that could crunch through the snow-bound roads and get us up to our bed for the night. A Land Cruiser with snow chains, in low-ratio that doubles its 650 diesel torques, with the idling revs turned up so you don’t have to touch the throttle (there’s a button for that, amongst a plethora of others), gnawing, digging and plundering a seemingly impossible path is an absolutely breathtaking sight. Even more eye-popping than an Urus cornering flat and supersonic through a set of twisties.
With the Lexus LX the eye-popping starts at my driveway. Look at that grille. The LX is a giant grille to which is attached an SUV. And as gargantuan as the grille is, so too is the sheer size of the LX. It’s massive. It’s so wide my wife, sitting shotgun, felt like she was in the opposite lane. It takes a while getting used to the sheer girth and if you’re going to a mall, be prepared for many 5-point hairpins. At least it has cameras everywhere so you can clearly see what you’re going to hit. Because you’re not going to feel anything.
The isolation in the Lexus’ cabin is something else. From the outside that big ol’ diesel engine, four and a half litres arranged in a Vee, grumbles away quite conspicuously. Rather powerfully too. On the inside though you don’t know what fuel she’s sipping. No, not sipping. Gulping. Chugging. Bottoms-up-ing. Petrols, yes, but I’ve not driven a diesel that struggles to return more than 6kmpl (with my hot-footing, of course). The Lexus makes you feel like a king. An oil sheikh. The vast seats are like armchairs. The seat is so high, you eyeball bus drivers. You look down on regular SUV drivers; bully Safaris and Scorpios out of your way. And the Lexus commands such mad presence that even white Safaris and Scorpios get out of your way. I doubt very many know about Lexus but just the sheer size, and that menacing nose is enough for the great unwashed to get the eff out of the way.
The driving experience too is pretty special. It’s the polar opposite of Super SUVs. Body control is loose at best. It shimmies and shakes. The steering is so disconnected you could be operating an oil tanker. There’s nothing in the way of feel or feedback. And yet this is old school 4×4-ing at its very best. Nothing slows down a charging LX. You do feel bumps and potholes, the ride absorption is nowhere as good as you’d imagine for a softy-soft SUV, but the way it flattens bumps and potholes is just, so, merciless, so disdainful to the quality of work of municipal bodies, that you don’t slow down for anything. And it’s awesome from the passenger seat as well. Towards the end of the week that I spent draining that 100-litre fuel tank (repeatedly, no doubt contributing to our nation’s balance of payments problem), I got myself chauffeured around to understand why the Big B stumped some of that KBC cash for a Lexus LX (full price, or so I’m given to understand). Oh, wow. You need a full-size Range Rover to get somewhere close to the LX’s king-of-the-world feeling. And as a mark of ostentatious consumption, the LX is also in the same ballpark as the long wheel base Range Rover. Two and a bit crore rupees! That’s mad. Especially when the Big B’s long legs will not even fit in the back of the LX.
For all its size, the Lexus isn’t very spacious. And it does not even get a third row. The petrol LX with its 5.7-litre V8 does get three rows of seats but the diesel is so heavy that they’ve had to delete the 45-litre reserve tank and the third row lest it be classified as a light truck. That near-three-tonne weight is evident on the road, in the way it tramples over everything, not to forget the heave-ho when you attempt a corner.
It’s been a while since I used that old cliché but the Lexus leans, rather enthusiastically, on its door handles. There is a Sport + mode that (evidently and significantly) quickens the gearbox and throttle response but the body roll remains astonishing. The squeals of horror from the tyres when you drive it with half a spoon of enthusiasm even manages to penetrate the vault-like isolation of the cabin. The steering is as vague as a politician’s promise. And, weirdly enough, I loved driving it. Be practical. Your days aren’t spent cornering at 200kmph. They’re spent marvelling at how your taxes are being used for everything except what they’re meant for. And in that, daily, scenario the LX is brilliant.
Also remember, the Lexus will outlast anything on the preceding pages. That’s the Land Cruiser legacy. A Land Cruiser will never break down. It’s the reason why it is just so expensive, it has been (over) engineered to last a minimum of 25 (hard) years. It’s why you won’t find any deals on a used Land Cruiser, nor will you on a Lexus LX.
On the inside the Lexus will leave you in no doubt of its roots – all the dials, control, everything is the same and in the same place as you’d find in a Land Cruiser. That said the quality, save for a few plastic bits, leaves nothing to be desired; the Mark Levinson stereo is better than any Burmester in any German car; and you have to manually slide back the sunroof cover with your hand. Like a peasant. It’s such a mixed bag! The fonts used for the infotainment, if not reminding you of a seventies Casio reminds you of a Casio nevertheless. And operating Lexus’s infotainment is infuriating, the LX not even getting the touchpad as the newer cars but a toggling joystick that’s ridiculously inaccurate. If you haven’t spent a few days reading the owner’s manual you can forget about using half the buttons. There’s even a button that locks the inside rear wheel so you can make a tighter U-turn between the lions lazing in the Serengeti but that only works when you’re already in off-road mode and in low ratio. Who is going to tell me that?
Anybody with a modicum of mechanical sympathy – even the lions! – will wince at the Lexus rotating itself around that locked rear wheel but that’s the thing about the LX. This SUV needs no love. The engine is so unstressed it just needs diesel and an oil change, that’s all. Short of driving it into a stone wall the LX will not stop, and even then it might prove you wrong. The Big B probably knows his cars better than you and I. And that’s why you will find the LX in the nastiest places of the earth, going over the nastiest terrain, which is what the second left after Mumbai’s airport feels like.