Lexus J201 concept quick drive review: Big time dirty

The LX 570-based J201 has the right stuff for getting out into the wild, but be sure to bring some extra gas to get you back to civilization.

Lexus

The Lexus J201 is a one-off concept that takes the standard LX 570 and turns it into an off-road beast. I've wanted to drive this thing ever since my pals Rachelle Croft and Taylor Pawley brought the J201 to the Rebelle Rally last year, earning second place in the seven-day off-road navigational rally. In fact, Croft's crack team of explorers at Expedition Overland built this rig and I have to say, they got it right.

Remember, the LX is essentially a fancy-pants version of the Toyota Land Cruiser, so even though most customers will never take their Lexus off road, this SUV is actually pretty capable. It suffers from a slightly too-low ground clearance and could definitely use better geometry, but the J201 solves those problems with an air suspension that can raise the LX nearly 5 inches, bringing ground clearance to over 13 inches. Aftermarket bumpers front and rear improve geometry even further, though Lexus does not have final numbers for the concept's approach, departure and breakover angles.

Lexus

Of course, you can't just lift a vehicle and call it good, so Lexus outfitted the J201 with upgraded front upper control arms and rear lower control arms from Icon Vehicle Dynamics. A set of 33-inch General Grabber X3 tires are fitted, as are skid plates, rock sliders and a whole bunch of lights.

The last time I reviewed a stock LX 570, I found its 5.7-liter V8 to be lacking. With only 383 horsepower and 403 pound-feet of torque motivating this 6,000-plus pound SUV, the LX 570 could hardly get out of its own way. The J201 fixes that problem with a Magnusson supercharger, boosting output to 550 hp and 550 lb-ft of torque. As soon as I step on the gas, I'm treated to a gutsy exhaust note and a strong leap off the line -- the feeling is more akin to a Mercedes-Benz G550. The upgraded brakes can handle the extra power just fine, although they don't feel very linear while braking around town. The eight-speed automatic transmission does its job in the background with no muss and no fuss.

But who cares about driving on the pavement, right? Not with 4.30 axles, front and rear ARB air locking differentials and an on-board ARB air compressor. The J201 has full-time four-wheel drive and driving modes for Rock, Rock and Dirt, Mogul, Loose Rock and Mud and Sand. Each will switch up the traction control parameters, transmission shift points and throttle response accordingly.

With 33-inch tires and a 550-horsepower V8, there isn't much this Lexus can't conquer.

Lexus

I don't have to put the J201 into low gear until I reach a steep, rocky hill. The rig conquers it easily but there is a little wheel spin, spitting rocks out from behind the tires, so I come back down and lock up the rear diff. This time there is no wheel spin and the J201 goes right on up. As I come up over the top it's really tough to see over the long hood. I have no idea what is in store for me on the other side -- could be a cliff, could be a gentle slope. The J201 has a forward-facing camera to help out, but the lens is oddly curved and the resolution isn't clear enough to let me make an informed decision.

When it's time to go down, Lexus has hill descent control built into its crawl control technology. Think of this as off-road cruise control, where all I have to do is designate a speed and the computer does the rest. But y'all, when going downhill this thing is really noisy. I'm talking noisy enough to make me think the whole SUV is just going to fall apart and send me careening out of control. It's bad. But at least the tech works, even if it sounds horrible while doing so.

The J201 has a 9-foot-long wheelbase and an overall length of about 16 feet, so sharp turns are not its jam. However, there is a nifty turn assist that brakes the inside wheel to help the SUV pivot into a tighter turning radius. This really helps the J201 stay on a tight trail. There's a Warn winch incorporated into the J201's front bumper and while I don't need to use it during my day of off-roading, as long as there's something to hook the winch to, the Warn should get this SUV unstuck from any situation.

What I really like about the J201 is the overall level of comfort. My own off-road rig doesn't have air conditioning, the seats are crap and it feels like my fillings are going to rattle out of my head. Not so in the Lexus. It's 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside but with my cooled leather seats and the air conditioning blasting away, I'm not breaking a sweat. The seats are comfortable and supportive -- and heated, for those cool desert nights -- and my head isn't getting tossed around like basketball in the NBA All-Star game. I could get used to this.

Lexus J201 Concept
Lexus

Lexus' standard infotainment system is found inside and just like in the standard LX 570, it's pretty terrible. The 12.3-inch screen is controlled by a temperamental joystick that's difficult and distracting to use, especially while out on the trail. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren't available, either. What is this, 2008?

Behind the second row of seats, the J201 has a Goose Gear drawer system with two pull-out drawers and -- wait for it -- incorporated dog bowls. A roof rack system from Prinsu has a nifty Maxtrax storage compartment and the CBI rear bumper sports a ladder, spare tire and a place to store two 5-gallon gas or water containers.

And yes, you'll definitely need to carry extra gas if you expect to get far off the grid. The J201 has a 24.6-gallon tank and while I didn't spend enough time in the rig to get accurate fuel economy, keep in mind a stock LX 570 only gets 14 mpg combined, for an estimated range of about 370 miles. With that supercharger and massive power increase, I'd expect much lower fuel economy in the J201. In fact, while Croft and Pawley were competing in the 2020 Rebelle Rally, they nearly ran out of gas on one particularly long day, making it back to base camp on fumes.

Lexus hasn't said if it'll offer a production version of the J201 (by the way, that name comes from the LX 570's internal chassis code, URJ201). Honestly, I'd love to see something similar based on the smaller GX SUV, which is a bit more practical for off-roading. One thing's for sure, though, with the overlanding craze showing no signs of slowing down and with Lexus' reputation for great build quality and reliability, if the company is going to offer a factory-prepped rig, it should really strike while the iron is hot.