Off-roading usually brings images of muds bogs, lifted vehicles and trucks buried up to the axle to mind. But in today’s automotive world, there is coverage in just about every single niche one can dream up, and Lexus keeps customers looking for durable construction, off-road abilities and a luxury interior satisfied with the GX460.
|Engine: 4.6-liter V8 with 301 hp and 329 lb-ft of torque.
2. Fuel economy: 15 mpg city, 20 mpg highway.
3. Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
4. Price: $49,995.
Who wants one?
First off, how many of us out there truly want to be coddled in a soft-leather interior while tackling treacherous terrain? Luxury off roaders are not unheard of, but they do present an automotive quandary. Going off road can be risky for your vehicle, and most don’t want to tempt fate in a vehicle worth more than their house downpayment.
Proving the point, Lexus moved just 12,136 of these luxury SUVs in 2013, making this beast one of the least popular in its segment, even being outsold by the pricey Range Rover Sport.
In 2003 however, Lexus managed to move over 35,000 GXs, cashing in on the SUV craze of the early 2000s. Ever since, sales have been waning. So is the new GX just a carry-over model that the brand hasn’t allowed to die, or does it deserve to wear the Lexus badge and exist in 2014?
Ready to Tackle the Trails
For starters, Toyota stays committed to body-on-frame construction, as the GX460 is based on the same underpinnings as the Toyota 4Runner, but shares more in common with its worldwide counterpart, the Toyota Prado. One of the few actual updates this year is the styling, which now includes Lexus’ signature spindle grille and makes the GX look like its snarling.
It is a big vehicle, coming in at 192.1 inches long, 74.2 inches wide and equally as tall. Its off road stats are pretty impressive too. It sits 8.1-inches off of the ground, and sports an optional air ride suspension that can boost the GX to give it a 28-degree approach angle and a 25-degree departure angle. However, in the base trim like we tested, the angles shrink to 21 degrees on approach and 23 degrees on departure.
Also like the 4Runner, the GX is always sending power to all four-wheels and a Torsen limited slip-differential is fitted in the center of the vehicle, complete with an electronic diff-lock. For drivers with trail-tackling ambition, the GX can be fitted with “CRAWL Control,” which is a system that will hold the GX at a desired slow speed, despite throttle input or grade. That means that the driver can simply put their foot to the floor and the vehicle will take care of the rest, leaving you to concentrate on wheel placement. Hill-start assist and hill descent control are also available.
Big, Heavy and Slow
And yet, even with all of this off-road gear, it is most likely that the GX will be found in well-to-do suburban driveways, so let’s talk about how it does on the road. Because of its construction, size and 5,305-pound curb weight, driving this land yacht is not for the feint of heart.
As mentioned, the GX is big, and it feels that way. It is a body-on-frame SUV with soft suspension for sopping up the bumps, not for cornering. It dips, dives and rolls through the corners and on take off, and the light steering lacks confidence. Comfortable cruising in a straight line is easily achieved, but that is the only dynamic characteristic of this beast worth praising.
While getting used to this driving experience isn’t too hard an obstacle to overcome, if you never need to leave the road, there are plenty of unibody luxury crossovers that offer tight steering, solid suspension and a more planted feeling. You could consider bumping down to the GX’s smaller cousin the RX, or even to some of its German rivals like the BMW X5.
Power comes from a 4.6-liter V8 that makes 301 hp and 329 lb-ft of torque, hooked up to a six-speed automatic. The engine always feels taxed, and no one will ever be caught calling the GX fast.
Fuel economy isn’t great either. Officially rated at 15 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway, we managed to an average 16 mpg in our time with the GX.
Just a Re-Skinned Toyota?
Jump inside the Lexus and it is all about understated luxury. This isn’t quite the opulent cabin that has come from Lexus in some of its cars like the GS or LS, and it simply lacks the “wow factor” that those cars present. Comfortable seating and plenty of usable storage up front make the interior a decent place to spend time, but it just doesn’t seem to fit with some of the other beautiful products Lexus has released.
The base model GX is outfitted with an infotainment unit that is identical to the one found in many Toyota products. To strongly bolster Lexus, you might expect that the company would fit the GX with the upgraded Enform infotainment unit as standard fare, but you have to spend roughly $1,800 to bump up to the better system. There isn’t even a navigation system in the bottom-of-the-barrel GX, which is just plain wrong for a luxury vehicle that starts at this price point. Add on that the infotainment unit is slow, and not laid out in clear way, and the tech in this SUV dissapoints.
More than any other Lexus, the GX460, especially the base model, feels a lot like a re-skinned Toyota.
Second row legroom measures in at 34.1-inches and is spacious enough for adult passengers. There is a third row, but is best left for children. One nice touch for the camping or tailgating crowd is a 120V three prong outlet located in the very back of the vehicle. And speaking of the rear end, the tailgate is worth mentioning, as the GX employs a side-hinged rear door. It requires a huge amount of space behind the GX to open, and the cargo area can only be accessed from one side. This seems like a carry-over design that has no place in today’s automotive market.
So, is it worth it? A base Lexus GX460 comes in at $49,995, actually offering a fairly good value. A Mercedes-Benz ML-Class will cost you at least $50,290, while an a BMW X5 sells for at least $53,725, and neither of those offer the same off-road ability or durable body-on-frame construction as the GX. Even fully optioned, the GX460 will leave showrooms for a hair over $61,000, while many of its competitors will climb to much higher price points.
Putting it simply, for the small subset of customers that want to off-road in luxury, the GX460 will be one of the cheapest ways to do it. But if you value on-road driving dynamics or a flashy modern interior, this is not the right luxury SUV for you.