What’s the best vehicle for drivers who demand utmost luxury, yet live on a mountain top that’s only accessible via an abandoned logging trail?
Engine: 4.6L V8
Power: 301 hp, 329 lb-ft
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
EPA Fuel Economy (MPG): 15 city, 20 hwy
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 15.7 city, 11.7 hwy
US Price: Starts at $50,780/$65,570 as-tested
CAN Price: Starts at $69,850
Some flavor of Range Rover is an obvious choice, but these British beasts are not known for their long-term reliability. Of course, a Jeep Wrangler or Grand Cherokee can venture far off the beaten path, though they’re not always appealing to clientele with truly discriminating tastes. What’s a well-off woodsman (or woman) to do? How about a trek to the nearest Lexus dealer?
This Japanese automaker’s GX 460 can go places and do things many motorists would never expect. Despite available mahogany-wood trim and acres of sumptuous leather, it can go wheel-to-wheel with the world’s best off-roaders.
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Unlike modern crossovers, this high-brow SUV features traditional body-on-frame construction and even has a live rear axle. From its very foundation, the GX 460 is built to take a beating, able to reach places no $66,000 vehicle should ever be driven.
Giving this Lexus mountain goat capability is full-time four-wheel drive. Unlike less-dedicated systems, every wheel is driven at all times. Additionally, a Torsen limited-slip differential varies the fore-and-aft torque split. In normal driving, it’s apportioned 40 percent front, 60 rear, though like a blackjack dealer, it can shuffle that around without batting an eye.
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Other dedicated off-road features include a standard Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System, which functions like a stabilizer-bar disconnect. On road, it limits body roll yet still allows for maximum wheel articulation when the pavement ends and things get crazy.
GX 460s also feature a dedicated low-range and Downhill Assist Control, the latter of which keeps speed in check while descending steep grades. Active Traction Control simulates locking front and rear differentials through individual wheel braking. There’s also something called Crawl Control, which modulates the throttle and brakes to keep you at a steady speed; think of it as cruise control designed specifically for off-roading.
And if all of this wasn’t enough, there’s also Adaptive Variable Suspension, electronically controlled dampers that adjust the ride quality to your preference.
Clearly, the GX has enough rock-bashing hardware to make even military vehicles envious, but none of this capability comes at the expense of luxury.
This rig’s interior is old-school Lexus and that’s not a bad thing. The dashboard layout and design is conservative and symmetrical, a far cry from the angles and curves that are a signature of its newer cabins. The simplistic layout may be a touch dull, but it makes various controls easy to find and reach.
This leather-lined SUV coddles up to seven passengers with all the amenities of an Edwardian-era smoking room – opulent leather, ample comfort and fastidious craftsmanship; about all that’s missing is a fireplace and some bear-skin floor mats.
Like other Lexus models, the GX 460’s cabin is super quiet. It’s also impeccably assembled of top-quality materials. The leather, for instance, is some of the softest on the market, though the light-cream color our test model featured is bound to get grimy in short order, especially if small children are in the picture.
As its name suggests, the GX 460 features an engine displacing 4.6-liters (what a sensible concept!), specifically it’s of the naturally aspirated V8 variety. Unfortunately, it’s a little bit weak, on paper, at least.
This engine only delivers 301 horsepower and 329 lb-ft. Fortunately, it feels a lot livelier than those numbers would suggest. A broad torque range and responsive six-speed automatic transmission help move all 5,200-ish pounds of GX around with reasonably authority; it’s even strong enough to give you a 6,500-pound tow rating.
As for fuel consumption, don’t expect this rig to keep pace with a Prius. According to the EPA, in city driving it should only be able to extract 15 miles from a gallon of premium-grade gasoline. Fortunately, its highway score is more palatable to the pocketbook, clocking in at 20. These scores result in a combined rating of just 17 mpg, which is pretty much par for the luxury course.
Off-road, the GX is an amazingly capable vehicle. It bounds over rough terrain with ease, laughing at rocks, ruts and other trucks that have gotten stuck. Its abundant suspension articulation helps inspire perhaps more driver confidence than it should, pushing you to tackle ever-more aggressive terrain, which is a problem since there’s no winch if things get particularly hairy.
Naturally, with all of this capability, there are bound to be tradeoffs, and there certainly are. The GX 460’s on-road manners are fairly clumsy.
Its ride quality is busier than a whole hive of bees. Putting its adjustable suspension in comfort mode makes everything floaty and jiggly, but switching it over to sport results in too much impact harshness; there really isn’t an ideal middle ground.
As for the steering, the GX’s tiller seems too light and has a weird, ropy feel to it, which is strange. Also, the power-adjustable column doesn’t telescope far enough for taller drivers.
Fortunately, the engine is pretty lovable. It’s absolutely smooth and offers plenty of torque. The only complaint is the old-school mechanical cooling fan, which makes a ton of noise when you first fire it up on a cold morning. How uncouth!
The Verdict: 2016 Lexus GX 460 Review
The 2016 Lexus GX 460 is a highly luxurious vehicle that can take you just about anywhere a rutted two-track leads. But the unfortunate truth is this vehicle will probably spend 98.2 percent of its life on pavement, which is too bad, since that’s where it performs the worst. Still, if you need capability and demand luxury, the GX can provide both.
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