Take your luxury off-road in the 2016 Lexus LX 570

Don't be fooled. This fancy SUV has some decent dirt-driving chops.

Emme Hall Former editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
Emme Hall
5 min read

Look in your garage and tell me what you see. Is it a Lexus luxury SUV? Has it seen the dirt? If not, why the hell not? Your vehicle is capable of getting you and your family out for some good old adventure, all with posh climate control, cushy leather seats and satellite radio, a lesson I learned once again when Lexus invited me to Redmond, Oregon, to experience the 2016 LX 570 in the high desert of the American northwest.

2016 Lexus LX 570

I've always associated Lexus more with opulence than off-roading. The lineup of sedans, coupes and crossovers provides a smooth ride with a decent amount of luxury features, although more recently these vehicles come wrapped up in a polarizing design package. I wasn't surprised by the looks of the full-size SUV or the luxury features, but I was surprised by its capabilities.

I probably shouldn't have been surprised that the LX 570 could handle itself off-road. It's based on the Toyota Land Cruiser, that venerable off-roader that's been around in some form or another since the 1950s.

Still, visually you wouldn't mistake it for anything but a Lexus. The exterior has been restyled with Lexus' massive big-mouth frog grille grabbing all the attention up front. But really, I don't want to talk about its looks. What I want to talk about is its cajones.

2016 Lexus LX 570

The LX 570 has the two features that make for a real 4x4: a lockable center differential, which keeps the front and rear wheels turning at the same speed, and a two-speed transfer case, which allows a low gear to multiply the torque and pull the vehicle up steep hills without the need for speed. Old-school technology for sure, but together it's enough to get the 6,000-pound behemoth over terrain that would make your little all-wheel-drive Subaru shudder.

On top of those basics are crawl control, a multiterrain select system and active ride height control. At the touch of a button I was able to raise the LX 570 to 11.3 inches of ground clearance and set the computer to deal with the rock and sand we encountered on our route. It's a bummer we didn't have any mud, rocks, moguls or loose rocks to contend with, as the LX 570 has a mode for those as well.

On a route laid out by Lexus, we approached a fairly steep downhill. Again, another button push and I activated crawl control, which automatically applies the brakes or gas in one of five selectable levels. The eight-passenger SUV creeped down the hill, only requiring steering inputs, doing most of the work while making a terrible racket. Note to drivers: Crawl control is loud.

Immediately following the downhill was a steep hill climb. I left the LX 570 in crawl control, but punched up the level for a bit more speed, and let the computer pilot the beast up the ascent, again only worrying about steering inputs.

2016 Lexus LX 570
Emme Hall/Roadshow

If I'm to be perfectly honest, I prefer my four-wheeling experiences to be a little more pure. I've been to plenty of sketchy places with just a low gear and a locking diff. A terrain management system is great for folks who are new to four-wheeling, but it's far from necessary. I did, however, find appreciation for two higher-tech off-road features that I hadn't ever experienced before: turn assist and a customizable panoramic camera.

The LX 570 is big, over 16.5 feet to maneuver when that inevitable tight turn appears. When the vehicle is in crawl control and senses a radical steering input, it locks up the inside rear wheel, pivoting the car and essentially acting like a turning brake. It doesn't make the LX 570 turn on a dime, but it does help avoid any awkward 12-point turns that might happen out on the trail.

Panoramic cameras in larger vehicles aren't new, but the LX 570 let me decide what I wanted to see on the 12.3-inch center screen. I could set it to only display the front, side or rear, or any three-way combination including underside/side/side. It's like having a spotter that never has to get out of the car.

As I sat perched in the driver's seat, queen of the desert that surrounded me, I thought of the Range Rover I had recently driven and how this Lexus was similarly equipped, priced and capable. Similar, but not exact.

See the 2016 Lexus LX 570 get dirty

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For one, the Range Rover has better approach, departure and breakover angles. Any off-roader knows it doesn't matter how low your gears are if you can't get your tires on to the obstacle due to a front overhang. The Lexus's angles are 27, 23 and 27 which aren't bad but not up to the Range Rover's 34.7, 29.5 and 28.3 angles.

Plus, the Range Rover is available with a supercharged V-6 or V-8 as well as a V-6 turbo diesel. LX 570 buyers get a 5.7-liter V-8, good for 383 horsepower and 403 lb-ft of torque, and netting only 15 miles per gallon combined. There is no option for a smaller turbo or supercharged engine. With a 24.6-gallon tank, you should have a range of around 360 miles, so you should plan your fuel stops carefully when out exploring.

2016 Lexus LX 570
Emme Hall/Roadshow

Exploring really is what life is about, isn't it? Finding new adventures and in turn, finding oneself? It's a shame that most luxury SUV buyers, be they Lexus or Range Rover, rarely push their vehicles to their full potential.

And so, I challenge you. Take your vehicle on the dirt. Grab a pal, buy a map, find a trail and explore. The Lexus LX 570 makes it easy even for newbie off-roaders to test their mettle. There are plenty of off-roading clubs that would welcome you, and you can take your luxurious Lexus to places you never thought you'd go.

You'll shell out $88,880 for a LX 570, and nearly $10,000 more for the fully optioned-up model I drove with things like a luxury package, rear-seat entertainment and a head-up display. Why not use every bit of performance it has? You paid for it.