Because Lexus thinks 4x4s will be better, not worse, than electric vehicles

By | September 20, 2023

Why Lexus thinks 4x4s will be better and not worse, as photos of electric vehicles

Why Lexus thinks 4x4s will be better and not worse, as photos of electric vehicles

The only people less enthusiastic about electrification than sports car enthusiasts are off-roaders. Safe, the examples we currently have of battery-powered four-wheelers are super capable, but that not necessarily the same to super fun or enjoyable. Still, Lexus is confident that zero-emission powertrain technology will allow it to build better 4x4s. According to company president Takashi Watanabe, Lexus could even replicate the driving experience of classics like the Land Cruiser 70 Series with tricks it already has in its repertoire.

The guide spoke to Watanabe during an interview at Fuji Speedway. There, I questioned him about the prospect of future off-road models as Lexus plans to go all-electric by 2035. He explained that the automaker’s approach to EV enthusiasts will be very different from that of others who bank on wicked acceleration to deliver driving thrills.

As you well know, the couple that comes out of it [EVs] it’s instant,” Watanabe said. “As soon as you hit the accelerator, you get maximum torque. This is something that is not possible with internal combustion and therefore has that inherent characteristic. However, just because you step on the accelerator and have amazing, intense acceleration, does that mean it’s a good car? We don’t believe it.

“We want to make sure there are no delays, but everything is intentional. The vehicle responds to your request. If the driver wants more acceleration, the vehicle will give it to you. If you then decelerate, it won’t go any further than you want it to. What can happen is that the driver becomes reactionary to what the car is doing; he reverses the roles. It actually becomes stressful and therefore driving is not as comfortable as it could be. It might be fun, but it’s something you always have to be aware of and it causes fatigue. We would rather go in the direction of safety where the driver and car communicate back and forth. And of course, travel time is not stressful.”

Watanabe points out that Lexus is going for a different experience than Jeep, Ford, and even Toyota. While drivers of these brands may want maximum feedback from the vehicle, someone investing extra money on a premium rig is likely looking for something more composed. This philosophy was also applied to the 2024 Lexus GX Overtrail, which I was able to test during my stay at Fuji. I can confidently say that the approach pays off and Lexus already has a way to modify the truck to insert the batteries into the ladder frame.

Additionally, Watanabe says Toyota and Lexus can apply lessons learned the AE86 electrical project. You may remember it as the classic JDM that looks and It also changes like the original, only with batteries and electric motor. What you might not know is that Toyota has gone to great lengths to replicate the sound and feel of an internal combustion engine.\u0026v=iT3ZOk9Dvbw\

“The only thing that still needed to be replaced was the engine vibrations. That’s what was eliminated from that conversion,” Watanabe said. “But actually, we took those vibrations and the sound of the engine and used speakers to replicate that kind of feeling inside the cabin. We calibrated the speaker frequencies and put them on [speakers] on the floor. So we looked at placing the speakers on the floor, and depending on where we placed them, we got to the point where it sounded like the engine [was there].

“Battery electric vehicles don’t idle, but that car, when you turn the key, hear the start and ‘idle,’ it vibrates. And you really feel like you’re in an internal combustion car. You almost couldn’t tell at that moment.”

An old-fashioned Land Cruiser was parked next to it GX off-road, so when the topic was raised, Watanabe made the connection to the iconic models and Lexus’ goal of composed stability for the future:

“We see BEVs as ideal for controlling vehicle movement. Control of that driving force will define the character of the vehicles moving forward. So by refining that drive force control, just like you said with the old 70 Series Land Cruiser, that kind of feel, we’ll be able to replicate that exactly using BEVs.”

I can’t help but hope that Lexus adds some sort of driving mode that recreates the feel of 4x4s of the past. Maybe engineers could simulate a transfer case that goes “clunk” or an old diesel engine that gurgles and chugs. It’s a neat idea, even if it’s a compromise.

We all need to get over the idea that gas engines will continue to run forever, and if companies like Lexus can help us relive the glory days by meeting rigorous regulations and making an even better trail machine, then that must be enough.

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