Somewhere over the turn of the 21st century, badge engineering became such a taboo phrase that at a media roundtable discussion in Detroit a few years ago, I once blurted out the term to Bob Lutz who just about leapt on to the table. Taboo words and curses can turn innocuous phrases into no-nos, in isolation of cultures and societies, so that in America badge engineering can’t be uttered at a table, but in Japan you can shout it out loud in the street.
Fair enough. Americans have been badge engineering rubbish cars into rubbish-er ones for decades, but the Japanese haven’t really had that problem. If you look at the soaring climb of sales figures and customer-loyalty ratings for brands like Infiniti, Acura and Lexus, you’ll have proof.
And no customer is more faithful than the Lexus driver. So blindly resolute are they, in fact, that they’ll buy anything with a big shiny L stuck on the front grille, even if it normally rides around on a ladder frame introducing itself as a Toyota Prado. And here comes one of those right now…
The GCC-spec Lexus GX 460 is differentiated from our Land Cruiser Prado by a few minor exterior details. If you focus long enough, you’ll see that the front end is sharper, and the Lexus’s rear bumper more pronounced. But the key changes are inside and underneath, both in the supple leather covering almost every inch of the cabin, and the 4.6-litre V8 under the bonnet.
Toyota can only sort you out with a six-cylinder if you’re interested in the Prado, but walk across the road for some free coffee at the Lexus dealership, and they won’t just throw in free sugar, but a V8 too.
Over the next couple of months, we’ll find out whether badge engineering remains a term of endearment, in Japan.