In 1930, a collection of Japanese corporations, headed by Kamataro Aoki, then President of the Aichi Tokei Denki company, set out to develop a luxury Japanese car, capable of rivalling the Fords and Chevrolets of the time.
The great Kanto earthquake of 1923 had nearly wiped out all of Japan’s rail infrastructure, and hence lorries and trucks were put to work cleaning up and rebuilding what was lost. This presented the perfect opportunity for Ford and GM, who were early pioneers of mass production to enter a relatively untapped and unchallenged marketplace.
Nagoya City mayor, Isao Oiwa, put forth a proposal to build a ‘Detroit City of the east’ in the Chukyo district of Nagoya. The early forefathers of Japanese industry combined their respective resources - Okuma Iron Works developed the engine and transmission, Nippon Sharyo, the frame and body, Okamoto Bicycle Works handled the wheels and braking systems, and the Toyoda Loom Company was in charge of parts casting.
And if that name sounds somewhat familiar, it is because the Chukyo Detroit Project was among the guiding factors that spurred entrepreneur Kiichiro Toyoda to establish what we know today as the largest and most successful car company in the world.
The ‘Atsuta’ prototype was finished in 1932 – it was fitted with a 3.94-litre water-cooled inline-eight engine producing 85hp. The premise was “to build a quality luxury car to distance domestic vehicles from the threat of mass-produced U.S models”. Priced at 6500Yen, the Atsuta was more than double that of the contemporary Ford sedan models, and even at that price, it was 2700Yen below the cost price.
Unable to turn a profit – the Atsuta and subsequently the Chukyo Detroit Project were ultimately discontinued, but it does draw an interesting talking point; the Japanese never started out by building on a budget. They had a penchant for luxury and astute engineering from the very start.
Many decades later, this guiding principle of building big and brave – draws significant parallels to this near three-tonne colossus, the Lexus LX 570.
Lexus LX 570
Price: RM872,014 (Excl GST & Ins.)
Engine: 5.7 -litre, V8, 32-Valve, Dual VVT-i
Power: 362hp @ 5,600rpm
Torque: 530Nm @ 3,200rpm
Transmission: 8-Speed Auto, AWD
Safety: 10 airbags, ABS, EBD, ESC, Traction Control, Hill Start Assist, BLIS, Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), ISOFIX (rear), Tyre Pressure Warning System (TPWS) Front and Rear Parking Sensors, Reverse Camera
Origin: Fully imported from Japan
The Lexus LX marked the firm’s first foray into the luxury SUV market, first introduced in 1996, the LX was based heavily upon the parent company’s Toyota Land Cruiser (J80) model. Now in its third generation – the 2016 LX 570 is the product of several revisions since first going on sale in 2008.
In 2015, the Lexus LX 570 underwent a comprehensive restyling exercise which brought it up to date with the rest of the Lexus range. Besides the doors and roof panel – everything else was redesigned, including the slick new interior architecture.
This brought about the tastefully opulent centre console – crowned at the top with a massive 12.3-inch Electro Multi Vision (EMV) screen. The meter cluster houses a 4.2-inch MID screen while a heads-up display now projects navigation and speed data.
Under the hood lies the enduring 3UR-FE naturally aspirated 5.7 litre 32-Valve V8 power plant. Dual variable cam timing (VVT-i) on both cylinder banks help it to a power output of 362bhp at 5600rpm and a whopping 530Nm of torque at 3200rpm.
Active and passive safety features are top notch, given it’s a Lexus, one would be foolish to expect any less. Ten-airbags cocoon the cabin in the event of a crash while on the outside – pedestrian impact absorbent structures for have integrated into the front fasciae too.
Everything bodes very well for the Lexus LX 570 until you factor in the price tag, which is comparable only to the gargantuan proportions of the car itself. Starting from RM872,014, this apartment-on-wheels is literally priced as much as some luxury apartments – which puts it out of range for perhaps all but the one percenters of the world.
In terms of size, engine displacement and seating capacity – the Lexus LX 570 only has one natural competitor, the Infinti QX 80, which is around RM80k cheaper but in my opinion - no match for the Lexus’ thunderous drivetrain and surgical levels of build quality.
The argument, however, becomes more discretional when you factor a salvo of seven-seater uber-luxury SUVs that have been introduced in the last year, case in point, the Audi Q7, Volvo XC 90 and most recently the Mercedes-Benz GLS. And, in the case of the Volvo XC 90 – costs less than half of the LX 570.
Which begs the question, why would one need, let alone want something as superfluous as a Lexus LX 570?
Take two steps back, if only to take in the wide expanse of the car’s proportions. Lexus’ trademark spindle grille is supersized in the LX570’s application and cuts a very imposing stare - flanked by sharp-edged yet charismatic headlamps leading up to edges of the front fascia.
At the outset, one might never call the LX 570 pretty but fierce it is nonetheless, round the sides, a medley of bulging contours around the wheel arches add girth to an otherwise traditional looking SUV architecture.
At the rear, sharp, tube style LED tail lamps wrap around sides leading towards the centre of the split folding rear tailgate. The prominent glasshouse proportions front and back offer another visual cue to the LX 570’s retrospective lines.
With most modern SUVs accentuating soft, rounded contours and more car-like proportions, which undoubtedly help them to more slippery aerodynamics and aid fuel consumption - I have a subtle appreciation for the hard-edged, in-your-face design language this car speaks.
It’s hard to fault Lexus’ efforts on the interior. All round visibility is superb – as is the (10-way powered) adjustability of the front driver and passenger seat. What’s interesting about the LX 570 however, is its ability to appeal to the driver and the driven.
The steering wheel is crafted to slide smoothly through your palms and fingers while the plethora of toggle switches in the centre console helps transcend one into Captain Kirk-like feeling – helming the controls of your very own USS Enterprise. This sensation is further accentuated by the intricate detail of dial cluster and heads-up display system.
The swathes of leather that cover every conceivable touch point within the cabin exudes a plush and tactile feel – the Lexus 570 is possibly among the best cabin spaces one can find themselves in, usurped only by BMW’s effort with the (G11) 7 Series in my opinion.
In the rear, passengers are entertained by two 11.6-inch monitors set amidst a spacious cocoon – leg and shoulder room is generous, to say the least. Lexus’ Shimamoku ornamentation highlights – which requires no less than 38-days of painstaking craftsmanship lines the rear air-conditioning vents, it just goes to show the level of thought has gone into the interior.
Tucked under the massive shell of the LX 570 are the underpinnings of a very competent on and off-road vehicle. A double wishbone setup combines with four-way multilink braces at the front and rears to ensure loads redistributed evenly across the chassis.
Once on the road – the LX 570 exhibits great conduct at speed, tracking straight even at speeds upwards of 180km/h. Catch a long sweeping bend, and it will continue to surprise with its measure of surefootedness and composure.
Pushing through tighter corners, however – the heft of this car lets itself be known, as the transfer of weight side-to-side becomes less fluidic, but in real world terms this is very much an improbable scenario.
Yet, the weightage and accuracy of the electrically assisted steering do not falter – you’d be amazed how easy it is to guide this mammoth of a vehicle down the apex of a corner. The turning circle at 11.8 meters is commendable too, again, one would be surprised how many U-Turns this SUV can actually clear.
The positive traits of the drivetrain eventually serve to build confidence rather quickly, for competent drivers – one would very quickly realise how the LX 570 seems to wrap itself around you, making it seem smaller than it really is.
The brakes are superb, brake callipers clamp on huge 18 inch ventilated discs all round. Pedal travel is predictable and well-modulated against the resulting stopping force hence rarely does one feel overwhelmed when having to slow the car down to a canter in traffic.
But if there’s just one reason one would be absolutely smitten by the LX 570, it’s that roaring V8 under the hood. Plant your foot, literally anywhere in the rev range and the engine will respond with a salvo of torque, which will be most accurately summed up by the subsequent grin on your face.
In sixth gear, while cruising at the speed limit, prod the accelerator and watch the speedometer climb with angst and impatience, by the time the rev needle hits 5500rpm – you’d be doing around 180km/h, it's simply effortless.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for downsized turbocharging in the name of parsimonious emissions but the fury of a well-calibrated and free-revving V8 is an experience to be savoured.
And it isn’t all that bad too – at 110km/h, with the engine ticking away at a sober 1800rpm, the best economy numbers I got was 13.5l/100km, this figure climbed to 15.2l/100km in mid-day traffic. Considering our recent test with the (G11) BMW 7-Series, mind, with all its Efficient Dynamics engine tuning and Carbon Core lightweight architecture returned a combined fuel consumption 12.9l/100km – it’s worthy to note the LX’s engine is nearly three times the size and hauls around 900kg more.
Power is sent through an eight-speed auto which seems to be seamlessly connected through the cogs on the upshift, but clumsy in the lower three ratios on the downshift – this is especially experienced when slowing down in traffic, where tangible drivetrain jolts are transmitted through the chassis. Otherwise getting behind the wheel of the LX 570 is an experience unlike any other.
Much like the Atsuta from decades gone by – the idea of the LX 570, be it excessive or redundant in a digital age of optimised efficiency, exhibits a steady defiance to the norm. It’s a big, brash thing and unashamedly so – priced as it is, perhaps it’s for the select few who already own the Mc Laren and BMW 7 Series but require an all-in-one vehicle that goes anywhere.
Granted, there are cheaper options such as the Audi Q7 and Volvo XC 90 which are just as capable – but the LX 570 seems to muster a sense of character, owing to the engineering which is a great combination of new age intelligence and ‘ol-school’, tried and tested mechanics.
The symbiosis of which makes it somewhat of an analogue beast, in a digital void.