The Lexus GX 460 will do very well in the UAE. When we were photographing the luxury SUV on an Abu Dhabi beach, two gentlemen pulled over in a shiny new Toyota Prado to ask us what we were doing with the new Lexus. It was pretty obvious we were photographing it but perhaps they were wondering how two young(ish) women came to be in possession of a Dh200,000 car. We explained that we were from a newspaper, they told us it was a very nice car and then they continued on their merry way. But they were dead right - the GX 460 is indeed a very nice car. The cream leather seats are soft without being saggy, rather like business class seats on a plane. The wood panelling on the console and steering wheel are smooth and elegant. The carpet on the floor mats is thick, fluffy and inviting, the kind of carpet you'd be delighted to have in your house. And of course there are the required gizmos as demanded by the luxury-and-entertainment obsessed UAE market such as DVD screens for the peanut gallery in the back, a cool box so the cans of Coke don't go warm on the drive to Fujairah and a third row of seats to cater for big families. Unlike plenty of cars in every segment of the market today, the stereo is easy to operate while you drive with the option of big chunky dials, rather than fiddly, itsy-bitsy switches that test one's eyesight and manual dexterity.
But by far the best feature of the GX 460 is its ability off road. In fact, it is more fun and works better on sand dunes than it does on the motorways. It is a very top heavy vehicle with a high centre of gravity and, at 2.5 tonnes, travelling any faster than about 140kph on the motorway doesn't feel like the safest activity. Sadly, this is how the majority of GX 460s in the UAE will probably spend the majority of their time - travelling at high speeds on flat, smooth roads and only getting close to sand during shamals. Indeed, I expect to see GX 460s join the ranks of those cars that attract that breed of driver that likes to tailgate me and flash the lights as I attempt to use the overtaking lane for legitimate overtaking.
This is unfortunate, for while it is an able enough car on motorways and easier to park than it looks thanks to silky power steering and an excellent reversing camera, it truly comes into its own when the tyres are deflated to 15psi and it is put through its paces off road. I drove the car from Abu Dhabi to Al Maha Desert Resort and a misreading of the resort's driving directions from the website, which made the route seem way more complicated than it actually was, had us lost and confused in Baniyas. But the navigation system helped us out, despite Al Maha Desert Resort not being on the sat nav's list of hotels. Some GPS co-ordinates on the Al Maha website might not be a bad idea, but I digress.
Baniyas has remarkably few signs to point you in the direction of Dubai, but the clear maps on the navigation system soon had us back on the E11 and once we found Al Maha, we were allowed to take the GX 460 on a short desert drive. It handed the rough tracks hewn into the fluffy sand with ease. Surprisingly nimble steering geometry for a car of this size, the tremendously bouncy suspension and comfortable seats created an experience that was akin to hurling a bouncy lounge chair over the dunes.
It is not as rugged as dune-bashing in an ancient Land Rover Discovery, but it was a lot of fun, and a perfect way to experience the desert with your vertebrae and front teeth intact. The GX 460 hasn't quite got the clearance up front of the Toyota Landcruiser, and you do have to take extra care on sharp dunes lest you don't faceplant the front bumper, but as long as you take your time on bigger dunes, there is plenty of sandy fun to be had in the GX 460.
Like most of the newer four-wheel-drive vehicles, especially in the luxury SUV segment, it is a very easy car to drive off-road. In fact it is pretty well foolproof. The automatic transmission is combined with a simple switch for low range gears, the traction control can be switched off so you don't seize up the wheels on the sand and another nifty little switch gives you the option of raising the suspension for a bit more clearance. Overzealous negotiation of dunes notwithstanding, there isn't a whole lot that can go wrong if you take the GX 460 off the tarmac.
I urge everyone who buys a GX 460 - and I am sure they will be many - to get it off the motorways. Don't use it to hog the overtaking lane at 180kph. This is not just obnoxious but, in a top-heavy 2.5 tonne car, it is not particularly safe either. Instead, drive it at a steady, sensible pace to your favourite off-road destination. Deflate the tyres, adjust the suspension height and hit the sand. Even status symbols deserve to have fun.