Lexus Nexus

With racked-up credit card debt, New Year's resolutions that are always best started 'tomorrow', detox cleanses designed to ri...

With racked-up credit card debt, New Year's resolutions that are always best started 'tomorrow', detox cleanses designed to rid ourselves of the holiday hangover, and not much on the event front, Montreal in January can be a rather desolate place. Thankfully, there's the Montreal International Auto Show, a premier industry and consumer expo that gets thousands of enthusiasts out to the cavernous Palais des Congrès where every car brand you can name showcases their newest models, alongside some futuristic, downright ogle-worthy concept cars that won't hit dealerships for some time, if at all.

On the Thursday before going live to public there's the fundraising Charity Preview that's become, since 2005, the city's first post-New Year's social event, one around which yours truly routinely times his holiday vacay to attend. For this edition, the dress-code enforced soiree drew 4000 plus into a jazz-themed ambience enhanced by gourmet buffet stations positioned throughout, plentiful wine and beer, door prizes, and a silent auction for all tastes and budgets. Benefiting no less than five hospital foundations in Greater Montreal, the evening raised over $700 000 and gave ticket-purchasers, VIPs, and media the first eye-feasting of what'll be out on city streets AND jaunting within a day's drive from Montreal for some memorable winter getaways. 


This year, Lexus took us way beyond the display floor with a unique event that raised winter driving by many 'degrees of elevation', as they graciously invited us to hit the open road in one of their très stylé new SUVs for the four-hour drive to Quebec's postcard Charlevoix region, and Canada's highest peak east of the Rockies, Le Massif

Awaiting us at the summit was an interactive, and way-fun experience that brought frontline engineering into proven practice: the Lexus All Wheel Drive Thru, an expressly-crafted track that simulated the treacherous snow and ice driving conditions Montrealers know too well, and ended with a pop-up drive-thru window serving up specially-prepared menu items like ciabatta sandwiches and heart-warming poutine, all homemade for the occasion.

Both of these heartwarming classics were in order on a cold day.

Picking up a well-deserved order after a spin around the custom track.
Difficult choice from the Lexus fleet.
To illustrate the power behind Lexus' All-Wheel Drive (AWD) technology, media had first 'crack at the track', and chose their ride from the brand's latest suite of luxuriously crafted vehicles, all on-hand: the NX, RX, and GX. I opted for a spin in both the compact NX and full crossover RX. While both navigated the sharp turns, and varying terrain of deep snow and ice patches of the 60-second ride with ease and agility, the trimmer NX handled more nimbly between my hands and maneuvered the obstacles with impressive split-second response and remarkably minimal intervention on my part. 

Both the Lexus NX and RX took on the track with ease.

The Ride Up...
Of course, my experience at the drive-thru was perhaps bolstered by my journey up to the peak inside a shiny new silver NX 200t Sport with striking red interior.  Now I've often said that were I limited to driving only one vehicle while subject to Montreal winters, it would have to be an SUV, with proven winter drive capabilities to be sure, but also cutting-edge interior technology and an original exterior. In short, the total package.

Having tested a good number, my ongoing issue and reason I've yet to exclusively endorse any one is that so many chassis, whether crossover or compact, luxury or mid-market, not only largely resemble each other but are uninspiring, borderline boring to look atI was therefore glad to see my mindset altered as I arrived to pick up my weekend wheelsWhat I found was an eye-catching line, chiselled body, and bold, angular front grille. Nice, I thought, finally something that speaks to my squad of 30-something 'professionals-on-the-go' who seek a compact shell of upscale sporty good looks that get noticed.



The silver/red combo was fit for an auto runway show and went well with the LV Keepall bag I brought for the trip!
From there, the interior aesthetic flowed seamlessly with an interplay of gunmetal hard surfaces and flawless leather with accent stitching. The Sport package upgrade includes a remote touch interface, essentially a square trackpad on the centre console that serves as the vehicle's control hub and directs commands at the digital display above. For someone used to holding the gearshift with his right hand as a habit from his stick-driving days, the resting place was now comfortably on a padded cushion while my finger executed commands with a click. 

The longer I had the vehicle the more I realized that not only are ergonomics at the forefront of design for Lexus, the crossroads between safety and ingenuity are found everywhere in the Sport series thanks to add-ons like: a Blind Spot Monitor System, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Head Up Speedometer Display, Voice-Activated Navigation System, Rain Sensing Wipers, Automatic High Beams, Lane Departure Alert w/ Steering Assist and, a feature I used a lot: Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, decelerating itself based on detected cars or obstacles before returning to the set speed. All you do is steer and think of how the days of self-propelled cars stride ever-closer.

True to the literature, the handling was peppy, reliable, adept, and the acceleration almost imperceptible.  On one stretch of open road I had brought her up to 140km/hour before realizing it, and had to brake somewhat abruptly after spotting a police cruiser in the distance! Rest assured I was not pulled over, but quickly set my speed to something acceptable and let the cruise control do its thing.

The remote touch interface and padded hand-rest (bottom-centre).
While most if not all of the same features are available on the other models, they'll appeal to slightly different segments. Those seeking an elegant, full-on crossover will opt for the RX, skewed to a slightly older, more established customer, while for the true SUV purists there's the 'grand body-on-frame 4x4' to take you off-off-road, or the almost limo-stretched LX with large-scale luxurious seating for eight. 

The Après-Drive...
Post drive-thru, it was on to the second leg of the overnighter, and a much-welcomed check-in at Hôtel Le Germain Charlevoix. Formerly known as Hotel La Ferme and sprouting up on the site of a farm belonging to the Petites Franciscaines de Marie congregation, each pavilion on the premises links back to the past and pays homage to the style of the historic farm buildings with clean and modern lines, contemporary decor, and upscale amenities. 

La Bergerie's comfy lounge.
For city dwellers looking to escape but not leave the comforts of home behind, it's the perfect blend of urban country chalet nestled in the majestic Charlevoix, a region inextricably tied to and defined by both the Laurentian Mountains and the mighty St.Lawrence river - so much so that it gained designation as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve in 1989.


They must have known to expect me as I had a room in La Bergerie, one of the buildings kitty-corner to the thermal experience spa. Comfortably settled in I was slightly peckish so couldn't resist an in-room cheese and charcuterie plate from Le Bercail, the lobby's lively yet relaxed casual restaurant serving snacks and light, 'great to share fare' such as pizzas, tartare, and Caesar salad with smoked chicken.  Be sure to try their homemade pickles as these are straight from the property's own organic garden!

Thankfully, La Bergerie is also where I found the hotel's fully-equipped gym, and managed to get in a small workout before the 8pm dinner reservation at Les Labours, the second-floor signature restaurant whose seasonal menus highlight the best of the Charlevoix terroir right on your plate. If travelling solo or in a couple, sit along the room's centrepiece, a vast kitchen open on four sides, and take in the chef and his team at work - you'll appreciate the savoury outcome even more! 


My perch to take in the view along the giant kitchen.
Although my room was at ground-level, the following morning I nonetheless had the joy of waking up to a breathtaking, spanning view of the landscape and property surroundings. The extra-mild weather had me standing outside on the small patio, under full sun, wearing a T-shirt and sandals to snap some souvenir shots. From here it was back to Les Labours for brunch and plotting out the day. Opting for a table overlooking the public square I enjoyed a delectable omelette with fruit and potatoes, thinking that morning or night, this is a restaurant on top of its game that deserves to take special pride in that exposed kitchen.



Having an inviting view of the outdoor pools from my room, and finding a few hours at a well-appointed spa to be the greatest form of indulgent relaxation know to man, I was quick to make a date for an afternoon at the property's Spa du Vergercomplete with a Finnish sauna, eucalyptus steam bath, hot and cold all-season pools, even a snow fountain for a cold blast without the full dunk or shower. For those uninitiated, the premise is to follow a hot (15-25 mins.) - cold (15 secs.-1 min.) - rest (15.-30 mins.) sequence three or four times for optimal relaxation and well-being. Trust me it works.


Massage, facials, body treatments, manis and pedis are all offered à la carte and make for a nicely complete offering, but my one issue with the set-up is that hotel guests incur a $25 charge just to have access to the baths, something that is free for paying clients at most (if not ALL that I've visited) hotels offering similar amenities. Nevertheless the resting areas are soothing and could easily induce dozing off, either inside curled up under a thermal blanket or out sitting on one of the Muskoka chairs around the crackling fire while taking in the expanse of fields behind the property.


The time for the drive back to Montreal had come, too quickly, but slipping back into the smooth, body-hugging leather seat behind the wheel I was reminded of just how reliable a companion I had, how solid yet smooth the drive, and how comfortable with every intuitive, user-friendly function at my fingertips. 



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