The frozen wastes of Siberia are not usually considered a natural environment for Lexus vehicles, but they provided the setting for an amazing driving experience that tested the handling capabilities of two very different models: the RX large luxury hybrid SUV and the V8-powered LC coupe.
The location for the adventure drive was Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest freshwater lake, which freezes to a depth of 1.5m in temperatures which can fall as low as minus 60 Celsius. In fact, the ice is so thick and strong, the lake becomes part of Russia’s national roadwork.
A great setting called for a great driver and Lexus recruited the talents of Nikita Shikov, one of Russia’s leading drift champions. His achievements include being a two-time Vice-champion in the Russian Drift Series, Vice-champion of Formula Drift Russia and a winner of the Auto Exotics Cup. Despite his experience, this was his first time driving the Lexus on ice – a very different surface from the race tracks he is used to.
The RX has an impressive heritage as the world’s original “luxury crossover,” but putting this stylish SUV to an extreme test was a new milestone in its history. Shikov admitted that before taking the wheel, he had doubts about how it would perform with its electronic E-Four all-wheel drive system.
“Initially I was sceptical,” he said, as the RX operates by default in front-wheel drive with the rear wheels coming into play only when sensors detect the wheels are starting to spin or slip. But once on the ice, I soon found out that the rear axle switches on very fast, so you can make a confidently controlled power slide with all four wheels.”
In fact, Shikov was able to execute some very dramatic manoeuvres, capitalising on the front-wheel grip. While straight-line speed reached more than 60mph, the driven wheels were spinning at more than 110mph.
The LC, with its 457bhp V8 engine and rear-wheel drive was a very different prospect and even before he reached the ice, Shikov was impressed with its character: “I was driving this grand tourer for the first time and it was amazing. Driving it on local roads to our camp, I got to know its character a cruiser for long-distance, high-speed journeys with its great aerodynamics, perfect handling, comfortable cabin and ideal driver’s seat position,” he said.
“When you are out on the ice, though, you feel the rear-wheel drive right away. Because of the car’s weight and the fact that we were running on standard tyres, the acceleration was not the main thing, it was all about driving technique, finding the car’s limits.”
Shikov revelled in the opportunity to drive the LC on the Baikal ice, which had a dusting of snow on the surface. “The grip came and it was almost like driving on Tarmac,” he said. “I was able to experience the car’s real personality, with wheel speed at around 170mph. The rear wheels sent up impressive snow trails, just like the clouds of smoke you get when drifting on a circuit.”
Strict safety measures are followed when driving on frozen lakes “in the wild”. Seatbelts must not be worn, the audio system must be switched off and the doors must be kept unlocked; the condition of the ice is also carefully monitored for any tell-tale signs of weakness.
For Shikov’s spectacular drives, all the electronic handling and stability systems were switched off, so the performance was down to the car in its purest form and the skills of the pilot.
Taking the RX and LC to Siberia was a true test of their quality. For the RX 450h, the double-digit sub-zero temperatures proved no barrier to the hybrid electric powertrain’s operation. Across the rough and icy terrain, it also proved to be a sure-footed performer with its E-Four electric all-wheel drive capability.
For the LC 500, a car designed more with great winding coastal roads in mind, the frozen lake became an arena for a display of expert driving skills. The drivers were free to explore the limits of the rear-wheel drive coupe’s potential, with no risk to the car or the environment.