Back in high school, I took my Tacoma PreRunner back into Holy Jim Canyon for three reasons: hiking, making out and off-roading. It was a rite of passage for us teenagers to take our trucks on the long dirt trail that led back up to the parking lot at the base of the canyon, hike the seven miles up Saddleback Mountain to the peak, return down and head back out, triumphant. It was a nice Saturday tradition, made all the better in the rare moments when one could coax a girl to come along for the ride, her white-knuckling the door handle as the suspension would bottom out on the trail’s ruts and crags.

Then, when it rained — which it seldom did — earthy pools begged for run-throughs, adding a deep shade of mud to the trucks’ glossy finish. We’d all leave the caked-on dirt long after it dried, a badge of honor to peacock to the other Tundra, Ranger and F-150 owners at my high school. Boys were boys.

So when I returned home for the holiday season this past year and picked up a 2016 Lexus LX570 to test drive, there were a few fleeting thoughts of returning to Holy Jim with the SUV. The real point though, now that I was in near-middle-age, was to grab a family-hauler large enough to haul my mom, sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew around (the LX570 fairly comfortably seats 8). The semi-aniline leather beckoned baby seats, while that Low 4 button tempted my still-juvenile ego.

2016 Lexus LX570 Specs

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Engine: 5.7-liter V8
Transmission:
Eight-speed sequential-shift automatic
Horsepower: 383 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 403 lb-ft @ 3,600
MPG (City/Highway): 13 / 18
0-60 MPH: 7.3 seconds
Towing Capacity: 7,000 pounds
MSRP (as tested): $96,065

For family hauling, the LX fit the bill. Power-folding third-row seats were easily handled by my two-year-old niece, and the dual wide-screen entertainment systems, which can accommodate separate inputs (different movies for the kiddos) along with wireless headphones, landed this screaming-averse uncle in his happy place. The digital display up front is wide and stately and all the small tech tricks — like adaptable cruise, lane departure alert and the multi-view, surround camera — makes navigating the behemoth uncomplicated. That said, if I’m about to drop six figures, I’d like to quibble for a few extra touches like cooling seats (the LX only comes with heated) and wi-fi.

The V8 engine handles the LX’s weight well, especially in Sport+ mode, and although it’s preposterous that, in a truck this size, a Sport+ mode exits, it doesn’t make it any less fun to push to the redline while paddle-shifting. The downside of that power, though, is fuel economy, and despite Lexus’s advertised 15 MPG combined, I registered at 12.5 in my driving. The SUV does do some work to keep MPG up, as it will automatically lower the body at higher speeds (and can raise the vehicle height up an additional 3 inches for off-roading), and this lowering became one of the more endearing parts of the truck. It appeared to bow, slowly, when stopped — an unnecessary conceit for such a stately beast, but with this much greatness, one can afford to be humble.

An early El Niño storm had passed through the day before I landed, and what was a fleeting thought of off-road time became a nagging desire. I was sure this $96,065 luxo-barge needed to hang out in the mud, at least for a morning. So, long before we set off to Christmas Eve services, I snuck out with the truck and high-tailed toward the mountains, with Dorothy blasting on the Mark Levinson system. Past the RC airplane club but before the road turns into the woods and narrows, Holy Jim opens into a wide valley, and the rock-crawler bunch has turned the space into a playground for the 4×4. My “Starfire Pearl” LX570 headed off-road in a proper caravan, following one of its older brethren out to the trail — an LX with the 2008 styling that’s stuck around prior to this 2016 refresh. I followed until the basin opened up and a trail called out to the right, then turned the new sheetmetal away from its past.

There’s a peculiar pleasure in piloting a markedly capable machine decked out in total luxury. Through river wash, puddles, thick mud, and small boulders (to take some poetic license), the LX handled all. And inside the cabin, with the “Climate Concierge” managing my temperature, the 450-watt Levinson system’s 19 speakers blasting chick rock, and the Cool Box in the center console keeping a water chilly, I felt like a total master of my domain — and entirely removed from the 21-inch alloy wheels sunk in the puddle outside.

The wily Frontier had long returned to the valley floor, and this boy, in this loaner, very much felt like he’d grown to be a man.

The LX’s show also gave a particularly satisfying finale when I put it in Low 4 and started up a mud-bathed incline. A few hundred yards ahead, a Nissan Frontier slipped and struggled to grab purchase, and I casually maneuvered the wheel to avoid its backwards path. The SUV does, notably, take wrangling around at the wheel, and you do feel the heft of the truck in the steering. I gradually took the LX up to a fitting vantage point, the Mud & Sand terrain mode doing most of the work, and when I reached the top, the hill assist held the beast in place. I hopped out to take photos. The wily Frontier had long returned to the valley floor, and this boy, in this loaner, very much felt like he’d grown to be a man.