It's a simple truth that the majority of luxury SUVs registered across the UAE will rarely step off the bitumen. There are various reasons for this, including price and lack of off-road capability. Having spent upwards of Dh300,000 on a vehicle, many owners are understandably reluctant to take them off-road. And while many vehicles within the segment have the cabin size, wheelbase and all-wheel-drive feature to suggest they can mix it up in the rough stuff, often they simply aren't up to the task.
However, the Lexus LX570 manages to bridge the divide between luxury SUV and off-road vehicle, being equally suited to dune bashing and stylish highway cruising. Thumbing the starter button elicits a pleasing thrum from the LX570's 5.7L V8. With 362hp, this power is also extremely accessible, with 90 per cent of the peak torque available at just 2,200rpm. Whether needing an extra burst of speed to overtake on Garhoud Bridge or some raw grunt to climb an Omani desert dune, the LX570's engine provides smooth and constant power.
Engine performance is transferred to the LX570's driveshafts through a faultless six-speed automatic gearbox. Easy to use in both full-automatic or manual modes, the gear ratios are well-spaced, providing smooth shifting at cruising speeds and kicking down quickly enough when you really plant the accelerator. After driving northbound from the Sheikh Zayed Road collection point, my two passengers and I made our way out to the isolated desert area of Al Khawaneej, where the true off-road mettle of the LX570 would be put to the test.
Despite its expansive size and substantial weight - based on the Toyota Land Cruiser, it measures just less than two metres in width, with a wheelbase of 2.85 metres and a payload of more than 2,700kg - the LX570 surged forward with impressive urgency past a gathering herd of inquisitive camels. Having switched to the softest of the three settings of the Adaptive Variable Suspension (AVS), the suspension does a superb job of soaking up the rough terrain. Stability is also maximised by the AVS, which automatically reduces body roll by up to 30 per cent, according to Lexus. Another feature of the suspension is Active Height Control. This allows body height to be raised by either 3cm or 6cm at the flick of a centre-console button - and also automatically kicks in when driving at highway speeds or off-road.
Though intended for more urban situations like parking, the reversing camera came in handy in avoiding a collision with a camel that had sauntered in for a closer look. The LX570 is equipped with three external cameras - rear, passenger side and front. They display on the centre-dash mounted LCD screen when moving at very low speed, stopped or reversing, giving good visibility. The only criticism here is that you have to take your eyes off both your mirror and the rear window when reversing. Perhaps Lexus could have taken a cue from the less expensive Toyota FJ Cruiser, which overlays the parking camera display on the rearview mirror.
Also accessible from the touch-screen display are satellite-navigation with voice guidance, along with controls for climate control, audio, telephone/calendar and display. Passengers in the rear have the benefit of their own LCD, activated from the front by pressing the display button and playing DVDs or CDs inserted into the stereo head unit. The Bluetooth functionality also works well, easily pairing with the Blackberry and numerous modern mobile phones.
There's no shortage of passenger space in the LX570, which seats five comfortably in the main cabin, along with two electronically-activated jump seats in the rear. One small criticism here is the shallow footwells - even being of average height, I found the seat height in the rear was slightly low. Another high point for the LX570 is its overall reliability and build quality. In the 2009 JD Power Initial Quality study of road vehicles, the LX570 scored the maximum five-star rating across all sections of the Large Premium Multi-Activity Vehicle category. Compared with the Range Rover Sport, the Mercedes Benz GL-Class and the Cadillac Escalade, this ranks the Lexus as among the best, while the disappointing two stars of the Range Rover leaves that particular UAE favourite behind.
The real sticking points for the big Lexus are the price, weight and fuel economy. Its Dh355,000 pricetag is hefty, and the other cost of all the accessories is weight. Though Lexus officially lists the combined fuel economy at 16.8L/100km, I estimated we got about 20L/100km in the real world. These factors aside, the Lexus LX570 is an excellent all-round vehicle which also displays the refinement and features expected of a high-end SUV.
Leaving the camels of Al Khawaneej in peace as we made our way back to the more civilised environs of the tarmac, the Lexus shifted seamlessly from dune-bashing back to refined motorway cruising, ready once more to tackle the traffic. firstname.lastname@example.org