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On And Off-Road: The Tricks To Trying To Have Both

Brian Champagne

You might drive an SUV because you want to be able to drive off-road. But UPR contributor Brian Champagne tried one out and said for every point S-U-Vs score off-road, they lose one driving on-road.

That’s the steep dirt road climbing of what Lexus calls the “quintessential luxury utility vehicle.” The LX570 they loaned us takes the 5,815 lbs Toyota Land Cruiser and adds 185 lbs of luxury stuff like power foldaway third-row seats, video screens, and a cooled box in the center console. It also adds side skirts and a front air dam, which are all working against it climbing this 45-degree hill. Off-road and on-road are opposing capabilities.


The hill has basketball-sized boulders that will tear up the sides and underbody of a vehicle without high ground clearance, but high vehicles are more prone to rollovers swerving on-road.


The Lexus gets over that by pumping up with air, lifting itself up about 3 ½ inches. It had no boulder issues, but can later lower itself to let grandma get in.


Wheel travel’s another one. When the rough road dips, you need the tire to droop down into it so it gets traction. But soft springs make for more swaying on road.


Lower gear ratios help you climb off-road, higher ones let you cruise on the freeway. Most vehicles these days have at least six gears, and the LX570 has eight to help.


And street tires are far quieter, but can’t grip like those off-road ones you can hear a mile away. The Lexus makes up for most of it with an automatic throttle system. 


It conquered the hill, then came down controlling the speed for us.


You can get off-road capability and on-road luxury in the same vehicle, but in this case, quintessential weighs three tons and costs $106,000.


Brian Champagne grew up in the less-famous Central California but left after starting his television news career there. He worked 22 years in news for NBC, ABC, Fox, and CBS affiliates in four markets. He served as chief photographer for KTXL-TV in Sacramento, but worked in front of the camera, too.