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4x4's on the track and skidpan
Lexus RX300 and Toyota Hilux Legend 35

Broadcast dates : 13th February 2005
17th February 2005

We told Clint we had a special racetrack experience for this weekís show, but he looked a little non-plussed with our vehicles of choice.

There was a good reason for our offbeat track test. We wanted to see how different 4X4s are when it comes to handling in extreme situations, from a safety point of view.

The Lexus RX300 is in fact half-car, half-4X4. 
It can handle rough dirt roads, it has a higher centre of gravity than most cars, but its suspension is road-orientated.

The RX300 has exceptional road manners. Itís fitted with all the latest electronic driver aids such as traction control, individual wheel skid correction and ABS braking.

It does tend to dive when braking hard, but thatís to be expected.

But the accurate steering and all independent suspension keep things nicely controllable.

Clint tries to induce a skid but the electronic skid controls kick in. Thatís the warning buzzer telling him to cool it.

With a sweet-revving six-cylinder engine and a hundred-and-fifty kilowatts on tap, thereís plenty of temptation to hustle the Lexus along.

Body roll is higher than on a low-slung passenger car, but nicely controllable nevertheless.

The tyres are profiled to street-use, with low profiles, or narrow sidewalls, and a wide footprint. And being full-time four-wheel-drive, cornering attitude is very neutral, with a slight tendency to understeer. A safe package.

The Toyota Hilux is a different kettle of fish. This is a pucker off-roader, and extra care is needed when driving this, the Legend 35 on-road. Of course, the same rules apply to any serious off-roader.

The springs are more rigid, but thereís greater wheel travel on the Hilux, as itís designed to handle rough tracks. This means on tar thereís a greater inclination to dive when braking.
The racetrack is the place where you can really suss out a vehicle out in safety.

Itís well worth bearing in mind that pick-up orientated vehicles like the Hilux donít have much in the way of traction control and electronic corner assistance.

Additionally, when they arenít in four-wheel-drive theyíre effectively rear-wheel-drive vehicles.

With a hundred-and-eight kilowatts from the two-comma-seven litre engine, itís easy to break traction on those off-road rear tyres, which also have lots of tyre flex to handle rough rocks and potholes.

Even in a 4X4 drifting can be fun, but the place to do it is on the racetrack, with plenty of run-off area and more importantly, no on-coming traffic.

The Hilux is fitted with ABS braking, which has made it very controllable under panic stops. But itís heavy, it has a high centre of gravity, tyres that are compromised for tarmac use in favour of dirt roads.

All things considered, stopping distances were impressive.

The Lexus is almost in the luxury passenger car league in terms of its stopping power, very impressive for such a tall vehicle.

Both vehicles impressed in our braking test. The Lexus stopped in drama free fashion, its distances coming close to those of low-slung luxury cars.

Itís onto the skid pan, and with all its electronic aids, the Lexus comes into its own.

It simply refuses to break traction even if the driver floors the throttle as the electronics automatically back off the power and brake individual wheels.

Itís a basic under-steering vehicle, befitting its four-wheel-drive configuration, and drama-free in the wet.

The Hilux, on the other hand, needs lots of care with the accelerator pedal to avoid breaking traction.

It tends to understeer first and then hang the rear wheels out on the ultra-slippery surface.

Of course, what all this means is that in a 4X4, realize that you need to enter corners slower, keep a greater following distance, and brake earlier.

They say that ninety per cent of accidents involving 4X4s are on tarmac. No big surprise, but with these techniques most can be avoided.

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