Photos by Barry J Holmes
The LX 570 is Lexus’ flagship SUV for a good reason. It’s powerful, spacious, ultra-luxurious, and boasts unquestionable off-road capabilities thanks to the latest Toyota-Lexus advances. That said, it wouldn’t be the obvious first choice for an Overland build, right?
That’s what we thought, at least until we got a call from Lexus to meet in Palm Springs, California, with Nate Martinez, their Global Communications Manager. The reason? To put their first Overland-oriented prototype, the J201 Overland Concept, to the test. The J201 was developed and built in partnership with the team at Expedition Overland (who kinda know a thing or two about this stuff).
Better yet, the J201 already had some serious off-road mileage put on it during the 2020 Rebelle Rally. Rachelle Croft & Taylor Pawley of Team The X Elles drove this beast to 2nd place in the 4X4 class during the grueling 8-day, 2000 kilometer navigational course. It had definitely been put through its paces.
Naturally, we weren’t going to miss out on taking the J201 out on the trail and seeing what this promising LX-based SUV was capable of in person.
Our first impression of the J201 overland concept was striking. We had seen pictures on the socials, but still, we weren’t ready for what awaited us. At first glance, we could recognize the lines of the Lexus LX 570; however, as we got closer, the many upgrades added to the J201 Concept were evident.
Starting with the front, the Lexus J201 features a custom steel bumper that integrates a WARN winch along with a Rigid Industries LED bar. All this while maintaining the original LX 570 design. In fact, the bumper is so well built that both the winch and LED light bar could go unnoticed from a distance.
As a matter of fact, Lexus went to great lengths to make the exterior of the J201 functional but without losing the sporty and sculptural styling that characterizes the brand’s SUVs. A goal that we must say they achieved flawlessly.
This balance between style and function was again evidenced in the rear of the J201. The original bumper was replaced by the CBI LX570 steel rear bumper, which includes a swing out tank mount with two high-capacity water canisters on the driver’s side along with a swing out spare tire carrier on the passenger’s side. This swing out design was comfortable, nearly identical to our FZJ80, and my preferred design – extreme utility, with a drop down tailgate for much needed flat space on the trail.
The build quality and functionality of the rear bumper are echoed in the custom ladder and roof rack. Speaking of the J201’s roof rack, we were pleased to see that it is made of aluminum, saving a lot of weight. Also, it has waterproof compartments with enough space to store all kinds of gear. An advantage of this design is that it does not require ratchet tie-down straps, another plus of the J201.
As expected, Lexus and the XO crew did not miss the opportunity to include another LED bar discreetly integrated into the roof rack. Other must-have accessories included in the J201 Concept are a snorkel, signature steel side steps, special off-road wheels, and premium all-terrain tires. It is yet to be seen how well the sliders support the full weight of the vehicle on the trail, a test we did not have the stomach to execute.
All in all, we were happy to see that Lexus included the accessories that every Overlanding enthusiast would want in the J201.
The suspension of the Lexus J201 Concept was the first indication that this SUV is meant for serious off-roaders. In Nate’s words, the team tried to keep the J201 “as much OEM as possible” by avoiding making significant changes using custom parts. Instead, what they did was enhancing the amazing suspension system of the Lexus LX 570.
It’s worth remembering that the LX comes standard with Adaptive Variable Suspension and Active Height Control, which combined, can raise the SUV a little more than 3 inches when necessary. So to leave the Adaptive Variable Suspension system intact, they added ICON Vehicle Dynamics upper arms along with a spacer originally used by the Australian Toyota Land Cruiser.
The result? In standard mode, the J201 is 2 inches taller than the LX 570. In other words, when using the 4LO mode, the J201 is approximately 4.8 inches taller than the LX model. This extra height, coupled with its excellent approach angle, puts the J201 in the same league as many heavily modified 4Runners. Quite an achievement for a luxury SUV. A factory 4.8″ lift is crazy considering the design engineering that has to go into the suspension geometry – We were shocked.
One of the most distinctive aspects of Lexus is its passion for performance. And the J201 is no exception. The base Lexus LX 570 comes with an impressive 5.7L V8 engine that produces 383 hp and 403 lb-ft of torque. It would be reasonable to think that such a level of power would be enough for the J201. However, to our good fortune, the team behind the J201 thinks otherwise.
Upon opening the hood of the Lexus J201, we found an upgrade we didn’t expect.
None other than a Magnuson TVS 1900 Supercharger. This particular supercharger is specially calibrated to take the J201’s 3UR-FE engine to mind-blowing 550 hp and 550 lb-ft of torque using a 7-8 psi boost. So, if you were concerned about the extra weight of the steel bumpers and roof rack, don’t worry. This upgrade offsets all the weight of such accessories and then some.
Moreover, one of the advantages of superchargers is that they enable the engine to keep a “flat” torque curve across the rpm band. So this supercharger will not only allow you to enjoy great thrust on the highway, but it will also give you plenty of torque during the most demanding off-road adventures.
While the improvements in power and off-road capabilities are important, a crucial aspect for outdoor adventure enthusiasts is the available cabin space. If you are just starting in the fascinating world of Overlanding, you should know that space is a precious commodity. You have to find a suitable place for food, water, clothing, vehicle recovery tools, first aid, and other gear, so every inch counts. Literally.
In this sense, the J201 once again surprised us.
The inspiration for designing the interior of the J201 had a lot to do with the Omotenashi principles deeply rooted in Japanese culture. As described by Nate himself, it has to do with “anticipate the needs of our guests before they even know.”
To this end, Lexus did their homework by studying the needs that may arise when camping, specifically, the importance of making the most of the available space.
Proof of this is the handy compartments inside the new J201. As soon as you swing open the J201’s split bumper and electric tailgate, you can see a pair of Goose Gear drawers perfectly integrated into the cargo area. One of them contains the winch accessories in rattle-free moldings, while the other offers storage space for all kinds of things.
Efficient use of space is also provided by the swing-out shelves that are part of the spare tire carrier and the water cans holder.
Simply put, if necessary, the J201 can provide enough flat space to cook comfortably, tidy up your tools, or any other activity you may have in mind. Furthermore, if you need more space, you can fold down the rear seats, which are level with the rest of the cargo space. Awesome!
When we thought we wouldn’t find any more surprises, we came across some improvements incorporated into the cockpit. For one thing, the J201 has an ARB LINX system strategically located above and between the front passenger seats on the headliner. This digital touch control allows you to control the LED light bars, the onboard air compressor, the front/rear air lockers, and the winch. The ARB Air-Lockers are just on the edge of finicky for real offroad use. They work, but there is no positive visual indication they are engaged. (And sometimes they aren’t.) If your vehicle does not come standard with e-lockers they are a good solution, but we hope the team comes up with a OEM solution similar to Land Cruisers should the J201 be produced.
The J201 is not only luxurious and super space-efficient but also offers unparalleled convenience.
Our take on the Lexus J201
With the Lexus J201 Overland Concept, Lexus has raised the bar of the ultra-luxury SUV space like never before. This vehicle is the dream of any off-road enthusiast. It combines Toyota’s decades of experience building the world’s most capable SUVs with Lexus’ astonishing attention to detail. The result is the ideal balance of luxury, convenience, performance, and functionality.
Is the Lexus J201 Concept suitable for Overlanding? You bet it is. The J201 is one of the toughest and most reliable 4×4 vehicles we have had the opportunity to drive in a long time—two thumbs up to the Expedition Overland, X Elles and Lexus teams.