Jeremy Clarkson, Lexus RX300

March 14, 2004
Jeremy Clarkson, Lexus RX300
It all started with DJ Tim Westwood, the source and inspiration for the monster that is Ali
G. It was all a bit of a joke: nice white boys dressing, acting and even talking like they
were black; now everyone’s at it.
Two City types meet in a pub, both young, blond, Pink shirts and subtle suits. Everything
about them is very white except the way they shake hands. Both go for the West Indian
technique of balled fists and knuckles touching.
Next day, and a kitchen in west London: pine floors, Poggenpohl kitchen appliances,
Mark Williamson handiwork. The Persil-white 15-year-old son is coming home from a
night out with friends. “Man, it’s kicking out there tonight. It’s a war zone,” he says.
And then we have the so-called Lotto Lout, the young man with a criminal record who
won £9.7m on the lottery. He’s a white boy but he turned up at court the other day
dressed like Snoop Dogg — baggy trousers, chains as big as a Brunel backdrop and with
more gold than the souk in Dubai.
Now look at my daughter, for whom the world is divided into two parts: cool and not cool.
There she is, nine years old, at a private school in Oxford, modelling her life on the beach
vendors in Barbados. Dr Cool, the man with the aloe (and the cocaine) — he’s all right.
Prince Charles, he’s groovy for sure, but cool? Like . . . no way!
And your kids. Ever wondered why their trousers have to be worn so low on the hips that
you can see their pubic hair? The trend started in the jails of America, where the po-lice
would take your belt to stop you hangin’ yo’self. Low-slung trousers mean you’ve been
inside. And being inside is, well, cool.
Then there’s you. You didn’t buy Tatler when it had Naomi Campbell on the cover, but
you eat Dorset Super High Fibre cereal because Jamaican guys say it’s better than
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Viagra. You used to think plasma televisions were vulgar, but now that they’re “bling” you
want one. You hate rap, but love Eminem. You don’t want more immigrants but if
someone offered you a diamond-encrusted Mac-10 you’d buy it like a shot.
Recent surveys suggest that in the absence of any white subculture such as punk,
people are turning to black culture instead. Apparently we’re even starting to speak
Blinglish, peppering our everyday conversations with words like “buff” and “standard”.
This hasn’t yet happened in Chipping Norton, and that bitch ho at the post office has not
inquired after me mampi and me hench, but I’m sure she soon will.
If we’re all going to be niggaz, we’re going to need some appropriate wheels. In the past
that would have taken us straight to the door of BMW, an acronym for Black Man’s
Wheels. But that was then, and in the old days car firms didn’t like the association with
black culture. Now they love it. In America black rappers have taken to driving round in
Cadillacs and this has totally transformed the brand. Not that long ago, Caddies were
bought only by little old ladies in Florida retirement communities, and now they’re the
hottest ticket in town.
Bentley, too, is reaping the rewards after Wyclef Jean bought a Continental GT, but the
biggest winner, the ultimate rap-mobile, is the Lexus. The demolition job done on the
brand by Steve Coogan, who gave Alan Partridge an IS200 in his most recent television
series, has been overturned by the black man’s love affair with this Japanese upstart.
Sales are through the roof.
Check out song lyrics to see what I mean. Sarah Jones, in Your Revolution, talks about
“The Versaces you buy or the Lexus you buy”, while R Kelly says, “The way you do
things you do reminds me of my Lexus, cool”, and 2 Pac & Outlaws wrote, “She’s
snorting dope in the back seat of Trigg’s Lexus”. Then you have Allied Meta-Forces with
the unforgettable, “Get blast for ya necklace, leave ya brains on the dash of ya Lexus”.
So I borrowed one of the new RX300s and went for a drive with Nas’s Watch Dem
Niggas on the stereo — “Crime infected. Drivin’ a Lexus, with a death wish”.
This new quasi off-road car will afford you more respect from the brothers, and your
children, than a Porsche Cayenne V6 or a BMW X5 3 litre. But is it any good?
From the outside it doesn’t have the traditional Tonka Toy chunkiness you’d expect of offroaders, and on the inside, apart from a mildly raised driving position, it feels like a Lexus
saloon — there’s wood and leather along with the most beautifully organised dashboard
I’ve ever seen.
Then there’s the quality. Toyota actually employs a man whose sole job is to ensure
switches have a robust but smooth feel, and a satisfying click when you push them. It
shows. And the stereo is magnificent, while the ride comfort is extraordinarily good.
Like the Range Rover, the Lexus is of monocoque construction which — in top models
at least — is supported by adjustable air suspension. But unlike the Range Rover, or
any other off-roader I’ve driven, it doesn’t fidget or bounce. It would certainly make a
stable gun platform in any drive-by shooting. The old RX had an awful ride, but this one
gives no impression at all that you’re in something that’s designed for the big outdoors.
Perhaps because it wasn’t. There are no buttons to push if you get stuck in mud, no
transfer box or locking differentials, no gubbins to keep you moving when nature would
rather you didn’t. But what you do get is a camera in the rear tailgate to help you park.
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And it’s very clever: you pull up in front of a parking space then press “I agree” on the
dash-mounted TV. A box comes onto the screen showing you how much you need to
turn the wheel in order to park. Follow the instructions and you’ll slot into the space
This, then, is an off-roader designed for the urban jungle. Maybe that’s why the boot is
too small for shotguns and hunting rifles, but the glove box is large enough to hold an
So far as peeps are concerned, you get five beautifully trimmed leather seats and that’s
it. They don’t swivel or turn into sherry trifles, and nothing pops out of the boot floor.
Which brings us, in sepulchral silence, to the RX’s biggest problem: I don’t know what it’s
for. When we buy off-road cars it isn’t because we want to go off road, it’s because we
like the raised driving position and the sense of solidity, and we’re prepared to put up with
the downsides — the ride, the fuel consumption, the lack of performance, and so on.
But you don’t get any sense of chunkiness with the Lexus. As you drive it you can’t help
thinking: “This feels exactly like a normal car.”
So why not buy a car instead? It’ll be faster, more comfortable, and will do more than
23mpg. What’s more it’ll be the GS300, which is as cool as they come, the chilliest model
in the Lexus line-up. Nirvana for P Diddy, ambrosia for 50 Cent (or 28p, as I call him, to
annoy my kids).
Lexus engineers were probably hugely pleased with the RX300. “Rook at how such a big,
high-liding car is so sophisticated and smooth.” But in making it so, they’ve erased all the
appeal, thrown the baby out with the bathwater. It’s good for an off-roader, but only
because it isn’t one.
So what’s the alternative for around £37,000? I’m no fan of the BMW X5 or the VW ToeRag, the Porsche Cayenne V6 isn’t very bling, the Mercedes ML is 500 years old, the
Discovery is for murderers (they all have one) and you’re more likely to find an NHS
dentist in Scarborough than a Volvo XC90 on the roads. So that leaves the Range Rover,
which unfortunately is a deal more expensive.
Still, don’t give up hope. Simply study the teachings of BG in his song I Be Thinking. He
wisely says: “I be loaded, thinking of Range Rovers. Maybe I could get a Range Rover if I
stay my ass sober.”
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