Travelogue: Putting In The Work…On The Road

May I present to you an overlanding champion.

When you think of overlanding, you're probably thinking off-roading with onboard camping equipment and some extreme equipment made for maximum adventure and exploration. It is a new level of the art of going off the tarmac and finding trouble – maybe.

As year ago, Lexus connected with a group of overlanding enthusiasts who were droving older GX models to accomplish their want of extreme exploration. Toyota's luxury division was fascinated by this group of enthusiasts that they celebrated their efforts with in creating a concept called the GXOR. It showed that you can do this in a luxury SUV that is highly capable of doing anything off the highway.

But, why the Lexus GX? How did we get to talking about overlanding in a truly capable SUV sold by a luxury brand?

Let me explain. In markets worldwide, the Lexus GX 460 is sold as the Toyota Land Cruiser Prado. The Prado is considered one of the toughest SUVs on the planet, found in places where you do not expect any vehicle to appear for miles. While it has diesel power, the Prado lacks the luxury of its Lexus brother – for practical purposes, mind you.

Since 2003, Lexus added its own form of rugged refinement to the Prado with the GX. Having worked with a few of these babies have proven that time and again. The bones are built for off-roading and overlanding, but the cabin is luxurious as any of the Lexus lineup. In fact, these bones are partly shared with the Toyota 4Runner. Now, we're talking off-road credibility!

Instead of a jungle/desert conquering diesel, we get the tough 4.6-liter V8 engine underneath the hood of the GX. With 301 horsepower on tap, it is certainly motivated. There is 329 pound-feet of torque that comes into play when the surface changes from tarmac to something worse than gravel. A six-speed automatic connects this power to all four wheels through a Torsen limited-slip center differential and an electronic differential lock.

The GX 460 is powerful – like an old school V8. Though, thoroughly modern. It motivates quite well. Great on the highway, with the ride height that felt closer to the ground. Perhaps it helps in achieving the task I have put this through – a road trip.

This is not the first time a Lexus SUV has been on a road trip. There had been the instance of an LX 570 that put the guy I was seeing at the time in shock. Then, there was the RX 350 L where the same guy was quite indifferent to it. I have driven an NX 300h over some distance without crossing state lines once. These experiences add to the long working relationship I have with the brand.

In this instance, I was driving to the Chicago area for some media opportunities. Toyota had a regional media drive at their sales office in Aurora, while the Midwest Automotive Media Association had a meeting over at Iron Gate Motor Condos in Naperville.

If you consider what I have driven over state lines in the past – in particular, the LX 570 – then you might not have to question the choice of driving the GX 460 down to Chicago's West Burbs for these media opportunities.

The route chosen is simple: Interstate 94 to Madison, then Interstate 90 into Illinois. I've done this route as a driver and a passenger over the past 19 years. As much as I try to shake things up, I cannot ignore this direct route into Chicago. According to Google Maps, it is the quickest way to where I need to be.

It is not a drama-free route. In fact, my drive down the Sunday before was absolutely drama-free. I left the house just after 5:30 AM to arrive before 1:00 PM in the Chicago Burbs – with a few stops en route.

My accommodations were chosen by playing Priceline Roulette. I stayed at an intermediary location for Sunday night. I will not name the place, only to say that it was very sketchy. I'm glad I did not wash the GX 460 for photos to make it a target for whoever wants to mess with it.

After I checked in, I got refreshed and headed to do photos for one of the stories I was doing. As much as the buzz around last year's inaugural Buffalo Grove Pride made news here in the Chicagoland area, I found the place very suburban. I did get some images for my stories, but they really don't look very enticing for tourists to visit. They might just stay nearby and attend the Pride celebration.

The good thing about this part of the story was that I interviewed the founder of that Pride celebration ahead of my arrival here. The story goes that a local teacher's daughter came out at age 13 and wanted to do something in her hometown. The year before kicking off Pride in Buffalo Grove, she got inspired by another similar community celebration in Aurora. This family kicked off the celebration in their hometown – with the blessing of the Village government – and it became news in this area.

It is an inspirational story. It shows that you can close the gap between the "gayborhoods" in the city with suburban communities by doing something for its residents. Suburban prides are not a new thing, but it seems to be catching on here in the Chicagoland area.

Based on the interview with the organizers of Buffalo Grove Pride, I grabbed dinner at the Buffalo Restaurant, which was up the street from my no-tell hotel. It was quite good. I got the upgrade with the soup. Would you believe I had their matzoh ball soup…with a burger?

Monday began with some meandering before meeting an old media/enthusiast friend at his workplace. Jo Borras runs the sales and parts section of Chicago Harley-Davidson, now located within walking distance from Rosemont's convention center. It is off to side from what I can best describe as Chicago's Las Vegas.

Jo wanted me to check out H-D's newest offering – the LiveWire. This battery-electric motorcycle is beyond what I would consider part of this brand's strategy. It has a sports bike stance, from what I gather from sitting on it. Yet, you can plug in a Fast Charger for a full battery recharge in an hour. It also has a range of 146 miles on a single charge. All of this…from Harley-Davidson.

Photo by Jo Borras

However, we talked about the state of the Harley brand and what Chicago area customers want from their motorcycles. The traditional demographic is still there, but Jo wants younger buyers to get in with the brand. He did point out that one of the problems with attracting younger buyers is the gearbox on most of H-D's offerings. Manual gearboxes are more common on motorcycles than automatic or semi-automatic ones. The LiveWire is a hit in Chicago because it has a direct gear to its electric motor. In fact, Jo had one retail unit available for sale with two demo LiveWires.

With more younger folks living in Chicago looking for a transportation alternative, most of them have never ridden a motorcycle before. Nor do they have a motorcycle endorsement on their license. There is a lot to overcome when it comes to encouraging motorcycle ownership in the city as part of an urban transportation strategy.

After some more meandering, I finally reached my base camp for the next two nights – the Indian Lake Hotel in Bloomingdale.

The Indian Lake Hotel tout their architecture as inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. At least it's near the Medinah Country Club, where several major golf tournaments were played.

The location was not exactly ideal, but it is within a decent drive to the Toyota and MAMA events, the media fleet center, and a couple of locations for a travel story I was working on for another two outlets. Yet, it is a very nice hotel with large guest rooms – like mine. I also like the surrounding community. Definitely much safer than the first night's sleep in town.

Tuesday would be the final day for the 2020 Lexus GX 460. It began at Toyota's regional sales office in Aurora with the morning filled with a regional program for the new 2020 Highlander. That was preceded by a continental breakfast at the hotel that was meh, a fraud alert on my main bank card, and me arriving with a Starbuck's coffee spilling on the sleeve of my shirt before meeting everyone inside Toyota's office.

Things recovered from there. It was a great presentation and drive in and around the western part of Aurora in the 2020 Toyota Highlander. But, I was not done with the far west suburbs of Chicago…

A quick stop into downtown Aurora yielded a few photos for the suburban pride road trip story. I have to admit that I like the old world vibe of Aurora, even with the Hollywood Casino/Hotel taking up both sides of the Fox River. This story is still being worked on, as I need to figure out how to write them for both of my LGBT outlets…

Nonetheless, it was back to my hotel. Two-thirds of my regularly scheduled program complete…with more work involving Minneapolis events from Thursday through Saturday…and, possibly, Sunday. I guess it's good to be busy.

Yet, I had one more night in the Lexus GX 460. I spent it for my final dinner in the Chicago area, as well as catching up on work. I know…boring stuff…

The next morning, I swapped the GX 460 for a more efficient vehicle – a 2020 Lexus RX 350 F Sport – at the media fleet's headquarters. From there, I attended a Midwest Automotive Media Association meeting in Naperville at the Iron Gate Motor Condo complex. Then, I headed home.

…and, scene.

What about the GX 460? I averaged 17.3 MPG – I can live with that. It ran on Premium, as required. I can live with that.

I can also live with the fact that I tried to squeeze and stretch a lot into a few days in the Chicagoland Burbs. Considering I did this ahead of my engagements in the Twin Cities is a small victory on my part. These burbs are becoming very familiar to me. Perhaps a bit too familiar?

Putting it all together, one thing is becoming clear: If you don't put in the work, you will never achieve results. You will never be on anyone's map or on someone's reading list. This is an example of the work needed to stay in the game.

My sidekick – the 2020 Lexus GX 460 – is exactly the right companion for this trip. Too bad I could not overland it for you. Maybe with a two-inch lift and BF Goodrich KO2 tires…

DISCLAIMER: Sticker price of the 2020 Lexus GX 460 Premium tester in this article came to $57,860. Vehicle provided by Toyota Motor North America

All photos by Randy Stern, unless otherwise noted

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