Lexus is going after the Land Rover heartland with a new hardcore off-roader.
The GX mid-size four-wheel-drive will arrive here in the middle of the year with Land Rover’s Defender 110 firmly in its sights.
The GX, which is based on Toyota’s popular and highly capable Prado, has been sold in the United States since 2002, but this is the first time it’s been offered to Australian buyers.
There will be three models to choose from: GX550 Luxury, GX550 Sports Luxury and the off-road-focused GX550 Overtrail.
While the first two names will be familiar to Lexus buyers, the Overtrail is a different prospect entirely.
In many ways it strays from the Lexus DNA, prioritising off-road ability over comfort and noise suppression with chunky off-road rubber and specific tech aimed at the 4WD enthusiast.
While the Luxury and Sports Luxury have seven seats, the Overtrail deletes the third row, freeing up more space for portable fridges and camping equipment.
Standard fare on the Luxury model includes synthetic leather, 20-inch alloys, a 14-inch centre screen and 12.3-inch digital instrument panel, wireless smartphone mirroring and charging, a head-up display, tri-zone airconditioning, a powered tailgate and an 11-speaker Panasonic audio unit.
Stepping up to the Sports Luxury brings 22-inch alloys, adaptive variable suspension, a sunroof, massaging seats, ambient lighting, higher grade leather, a digital rear view mirror, a refrigerated cool box and a 21-speaker Mark Levinson audio system.
The Overtrail sits between the two models and has a unique exterior design that includes a different front bumper and grille, black mirror caps and door handles, 18-inch wheels with all-terrain tyres, an optional black roof and heavy duty roof racks that can support a tent.
Specific off-road gear includes locking rear and centre differentials and an electronically controlled suspension set-up that can disengage the front and rear anti-roll bars for maximum wheel articulation when tackling the rough stuff. The set-up also firms up the bars for better roadholding on the bitumen.
Lexus Australia chief executive John Pappas says the suspension set-up delivers “the best of both worlds – no compromise”.
The Overtrail also allows you to alter its throttle sensitivity and traction control to suit different terrain such as snow, mud, sand and rocks.
Other off-road specific hardware includes low-speed cruise control, a crawl function for particularly tough terrain and downhill assist control.
There are four cameras placed around the vehicle to help the driver navigate tricky trails and sensors that monitor the car’s pitch and sideways lean angles.
It also has a larger alternator to run ancillaries.
Pappas expects the Overtrail to make up roughly 20 per cent of the model mix, with Luxury buyers accounting for 45 per cent and Sports Luxury 35 per cent.
He says not all Overtrail buyers will be off-road enthusiasts.
“There’ll actually be people that are attracted to the Overtrail grade who don’t go off-road because it actually offers you a different look. It’s just such a great looking car,” he said.
Although the GX is based on the Prado, there is one significant difference. When it arrives later this year, the Prado will be powered by a 2.8-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder, but the made-for-America GX will have a twin-turbo V6 petrol unit that puts out 260kW of power and 650Nm of torque.
While that choice is unlikely to endear it to the towing fraternity Pappas is confident it won’t be a stumbling block for the new model, given its 3.5-tonne towing capacity.
In the US, the GX is rated to tow more than 4 tonnes but it is unclear whether that rating could eventually apply to local GX models.
Pappas said the company would also be putting up its hand for a hybrid version of the GX that has been confirmed for the Chinese market “if it meets our market requirements”.
Pappas says the GX will diversify its portfolio and allow the company to talk to a different audience.
While the Defender 110 will be a competitor, he sees buyers stepping up from mainstream brands, including Jeep.
“You’re always going to get the step-up buyers coming in,” he says.
“For us this is a great brand builder and a great opportunity to grow our brand,” he says.
Lexus won’t confirm pricing yet, but an educated guess would suggest $110,000 as a starting point.