The idea of a “luxury off-roader” isn’t quite so strange now, as it was when Lexus first launched the LX series in 1995. These days, lavish SUVs are par for the course, and if you’re an automaker without one in the line-up then you’re missing out on the meat of the market. People can’t get enough of the upright driving position and all that burly, “I can go anywhere” styling.
The reality, of course, is that appearances can be deceiving. Most high-end SUVs are built with the full knowledge that 99.9-percent of owners will never stray off the beaten path. For the minuscule number who do, a few basics like a switchable “off-road” mode will suffice.
The 2021 LX 570 is not like those SUVs. While it may bear a Lexus badge, and have a nicely appointed cabin, under the sheet metal is the platform of a truck with real credibility in the rough stuff. Toyota’s Land Cruiser is – with a body-on-frame construction – notorious for its talents in mud, sand, and just about anywhere else beyond the asphalt, and it’s the unlikely cousin to the LX.
The result is one of the auto industry’s more unusual dichotomies: a V8 SUV that could handle a war zone, but with the sort of cabin refinement familiar from a high-end sedan. It also leaves American drivers with a strange choice, because Toyota no longer offers the Land Cruiser on US shores.
If you want the 5.7-liter naturally-aspirated V8 engine – with 383 horsepower and 403 lb-ft of torque – along with the 8-speed automatic transmission, full-time four wheel drive, and Torsen limited-slip differential with electronic center-lock, then, you’ll need to have it with a Lexus badge on the front. You’ll also need to budget accordingly. The LX 570 two-row starts at $86,830 (plus $1,295 destination), while the three-row version kicks off at $91,830. An LX Inspiration Series begins at $99,310.
It becomes a six-figure SUV with very little effort, then. By the time Lexus added a wireless charger, cool box center console, head-up display, the Luxury Package, Inspiration Package, Mark Levinson Audio System, and a heated steering wheel, this particular 2021 LX 570 had climbed to $100,605 all-in. That feels a lot for a vehicle which hasn’t changed all that much since the current, third-generation LX debuted in 2007.
As with the 4Runner-based Lexus GX 460, though, you’re choosing to spend on a particular set of talents. The LX may be dressed well, but its Land Cruiser underpinnings aren’t diluted in the name of comfort. Sandwiched in-between the buttons to heat and ventilate the seats, and make the steering wheel all toasty, is a bank of controls to lock the differentials, switch between High 4 and Low 4, and adjust the ride height to more than 11 inches of ground clearance, among other things. If you really need proper off-road ability then this is the real deal.
That’s a question worth asking yourself, and answering honestly, because on the road the LX 570 isn’t quite so compelling. The V8 has plenty of power but it feels slow to gather pace; peak torque arrives at an oddly high 3,600 rpm, by which point the automatic has usually slurred its way up a ratio already. The steering betrays the SUV’s heft at lower speeds, when you’d really want it light for maneuvering, but then gets softer and less direct at higher speeds, robbing you of precision.
There’s a lot of adjustment involved, then, when really you just want the LX to drive straight and true. Soft suspension leaves cornering a pliant affair, and unlike some big SUVs – which tend to feel like they’re shrinking around you as you gain familiarity – the Lexus never really loses its sense of bulk.
In the cabin, quality materials and attention to detail bump up against the relentless pace of technology. Lexus’ palette is grand, with the semi-aniline leather of the Luxury Package looking and feeling fantastic, the four-zone climate control effective, and the Inspiration Series’ smoky trim adding a little 80s-apartment-esque style. The 19-speaker audio system sounds great too, and there’s a CD player so you can bypass over-compressed streaming tracks, assuming you still actually own discs.
All the same, some of the table-stakes that other, newer SUVs include simply aren’t present here. There’s no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, though Lexus has added Alexa compatibility and there’s a smartwatch app if you want it. The 12.3-inch non-touch infotainment system is navigated via the company’s woeful joystick, an experience equal-parts time consuming and infuriating.
It’s not even a particularly capacious interior, either. The front row is spacious, but the second row feels a little tight; if you opt for the three-row LX, those at the very back will have to contend with a raised floor because of that outback-friendly live axle rear suspension. There’s 53.7 cu-ft of cargo space with the second row up, and 81.3 cu-ft with it down, and it’s rated to tow a healthy 7,000 pounds.
The other concern is fuel economy. The EPA rates the LX 570 at 12 mpg in the city, 16 mpg on the highway, and 14 mpg combined. They’re achievable numbers, but that’s nothing really to boast about.
2021 Lexus LX 570 Verdict
Seldom are buying decisions so straightforward. If you really need proper, legitimate off-road potential, the Lexus LX 570 finds itself on a fairly short list of contenders. The fact that it has a well-trimmed cabin is really beside the point: the prestige here comes from the hardware you can’t see, rather than the badge on that big spindle grille.
Very few people actually do need what the LX 570 is selling, however. Much like with pickups, aspirations tend to exceed reality. Where modern pickup trucks can deliver increasingly refined performance in day-to-day use, though, the big Lexus’ road manners aren’t quite there.
Toyota and Lexus’ decision to retire the Land Cruiser and keep the LX is a head-scratcher, then. I can only assume that at least part of the motivation was the chance of squeezing a bigger sticker price out of drivers really wanting the platform’s talents. If you’re in that group, then you at least have the gratifying knowledge that you’re getting the real deal when it comes to SUVs. Everyone else, though, should be realistic about their actual requirements, because the LX recipe comes with compromise alongside its capabilities.