As EV research ramps up, appetite for off-road vehicles remains

Lexus J201 Concept

"Life is a journey, not a destination.”

Often adopting this quote as a motto are those who have chosen to embrace the overlanding lifestyle. “Overlanders,” as they are known, will tell you there is something incredibly freeing about hopping into a vehicle intent on creating their own adventures, traveling both on- and off-road.

Overlanding is a travel culture centered around exploration of remote places where the journey is the goal rather than the destination itself. The overlander’s objective is to travel over vastly changing terrain while testing both themselves and their vehicles, usually over an extended period of time.

Other than their own mindset and resourcefulness, the overlander relies exclusively on the endurance and reliability of their vehicle. Typically, this vehicle is a modified four-wheel drive, equipped with all equipment needed for camping and for recovering the vehicle during the trip as necessary.

In a world where electrification seems to be all the rage, getting off the grid remains a highly desirable goal for many, and that’s where electric vehicles are still falling short. While we’re getting closer than we’ve ever been, an EV just can’t hack it for the true adventurer’s purpose. When it comes to overlanding, travelers are looking for a mobile partner that can take them far off the grid but also bring them safely back home, typically roving through backcountry where gas stations (and EV charging stations), lodging, fast food and supporting amenities are hard to come by.

What type of vehicle can get you there?

Lexus J201 Concept

It is important not to confuse overlanding with camping. You can camp in a variety of ways – ­from pitching a tent to glamping, but they all share the ultimate goal of arriving at your campsite and staying there. Just about any clunker can get you there.  

Although the concept of overlanding includes camping out of necessity for rest, it is all about the journey as a whole and the vehicle that gets you there. For efficient overlanding, vehicle capability is key. Enthusiasts look for vehicles adequate for off-roading and hauling gear and are only limited by one thing – how much they can afford to spend.

Overlanding vehicles range from pickup trucks, such as an upfitted Toyota Tacoma or Ford F-150, all the way up to an Earth Roamer albeit this is the extreme of extremes.

To help explain what kind of vehicle you’ll need to explore destinations well off the beaten path, let’s use Lexus’s most recent example, the Lexus J201 Concept vehicle.

Lexus J201 Concept

Lexus J201 Concept vehicle underpinnings

The Lexus J201 Concept vehicle was an exercise in demonstrating just how capable the vehicle behind the concept vehicle is, the Lexus LX.

The majority of newer LXs spend most of their day-to-day duties as luxurious family vehicles that don’t see much off-pavement driving, if any. The LX isn’t inexpensive; it is right up there with luxury SUVs such as the Cadillac Escalade, Mercedes-Benz GLS and the Land Rover Range Rover. Owners of these ultra-lux SUVs know what they paid for them, and they aren’t often eager to off-road them, nor did they buy them to do so.

With the exception of the Range Rover, this group of SUVs are really only capable of light off-roading. However, the LX has the DNA of the soon to be discontinued Toyota Land Cruiser, making the LX quite the exception to this label as well. The LX pulls from the Land Cruiser’s 60-plus year pedigree of adventurous journeys resulting in today’s LX being more than capable of holding its own when venturing off the pavement.

The Lexus LX takes the Land Cruiser’s blend of off-road capability, comfort and on-road refinement without drastically sacrificing one over the other to an entirely new level in the comfort and refinement category. Though the two are very similar SUVs, a step into the cabin of the LX will place you in an ultra-premium interior loaded with tech and a center console filled with controls dedicated to adjusting and configuring your off-road modes and settings.

For some time now, the adventuring enthusiast has been converting the Land Cruiser into a competent overlanding rig. As the pre-owned Lexus LX became somewhat affordable, it became a perfect candidate to upfit for overlanding. Taking “affordable” with a grain of salt, Toyota Land Cruisers and Lexus LX SUVs hold their value incredibly well. They are very durable and long-lasting SUVs that command interest from enthusiasts.

Lexus J201 Concept vehicle details

Lexus J201 Concept

The Lexus J201 Concept is for luxurious adventures no doubt, but with the capability desired by hard core overlanders. The J201 is a concept vehicle, not simply an LX that has been upfitted. This results in something that literally looks and performs like a factory-offered vehicle and has the fit and finish of, well, a Lexus.

If you want to geek out over all the intricate details of the upgrades made to a Lexus LX that resulted in the creation of the J201 Concept, check out any automotive enthusiast or research site that reviewed it, such as Autoblog.

Here are the highlights:

  • Magnuson Supercharger producing 550 hp / 550 lb.ft. of torque
  • CBI Offroad Front Bumper w/ an integrated WARN Zeon 10-S Winch, RIGID 30-inch RDS SR-Series Pro Light Bar and Recovery Points
  • CBI Offroad Rear Bumper System with a rear ladder, dual swing-outs, dual water containers, full-size spare and integrated RIGID backup lights
  • CBI Offroad Skid Plates and Rock Sliders
  • Low Profile Prinsu Design Roof Rack System with MAXTRAX Storage, Scene Lighting and a RIGID Industries 40-inch Midnight Edition SR-Series Pro Lightbar
  • Goose Gear Drawer Module with integrated dog bowls and storage drawers holding a WARN Epic Recovery Kit accompanied with Zero Halliburton for Lexus Pursuit Aluminum travel cases
  • EVO Corse DakarZero Wheels with General Grabber X3 Tires and upgraded StopTech Brakes
  • Performance differentials; front and rear 4.30 Nitro Gears / ARB Air Lockers
  • Icon Vehicle Dynamics Suspension
  • TJM Airtec Snorkel
  • ARB LINX Accessory Interface to control off-road and accessory lighting, air lockers, compressor control, all controlled on a flush-mounted iPhone in the overhead console
  • ARB Twin On-Board Tire Compressor
Lexus J201 Concept

My take on the Lexus J201 Concept

These upgrades have taken an already highly-capable Lexus LX and turned it into an extreme overlanding machine. The suspension eats up rough terrain at speed and keeps the ride quality comfortable. The upgraded brakes allow for aggressive stopping power even on lose terrain, all aided by tires which provide tremendous all-around grip. Despite all the added weight from the upfitting, the supercharger more than makes up for the extra pounds. Side note, this extra power should be offered as an optional engine on the LX for sure. All and all, none of the refinement the LX provides as the flagship Lexus was diminished when upping the capabilities to what an overlander demands – making this a top choice for a luxurious adventurer if Lexus were to make the J201 a production vehicle.

People will always have the urge to explore the world by vehicle. The degree of exploration varies based on who you are and determines how extreme a vehicle you need. We, as a species, are explorers at heart.

Lexus J201 Concept

This is why Lexus decided to demonstrate what their flagship SUV is capable of and to remind us of what the LX was intended for: to explore, to go on adventures beyond the Whole Foods parking lot and give yourself the freedom to escape from the daily grind.

Kudos to Lexus for building the J201 Concept. Hopefully they’ll build a version of it, because regardless of EVs and autonomous driving always getting the spotlight, people have the desire to explore and many are just waiting for their next adventurous journey.

About the author

Charlie Schiavone is the Vice President of Product for the Autodata Solutions Division of J.D. Power. Charlie formally establishes product function and direction within the company to create and deliver data products and solutions engineered to scale for a large customer base. He leads a department of product development directors, managers and business analysts with the mission of optimizing product decisions on multiple concurrent projects in ideation and in flight.