The frozen wastes of Siberia provided the setting for a sub-zero driving experience that tested the handling capabilities of two very different Lexus cars – the RX luxury hybrid SUV and the V8-powered LC coupe.
Not usually considered a natural environment for Lexus vehicles, the location for the adventure drive was Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest freshwater lake.
The lake freezes to a depth of 1.5 metres in temperatures that can fall as low as minus 60 Celsius. In fact, the ice is so thick and strong, it 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.
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.
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. “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.”
“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.”
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.