The Lexus GX shares its basic platform with the Toyota 4Runner, known for being capable off-road. Despite being a large luxury SUV and rarely driven off road, the GX is designed to hold up to regular use over rugged terrain, and is up to the task of challenging trails, and especially towing.
The task of freeways with hills and patchy pavement is another story. Its 302 horsepower engine doesn't blow us away like that 300 number used to, especially carrying 5340 pounds; and sometimes the truck chassis wants to dance on freeway curves, and the rough spots on the pavement travel through the black leather seats.
The GX 460 was all-new for 2010, to begin its second generation, and there have been no big changes since then.
For 2014 Lexus GX gets a garish new grille, LED headlamps, LED daytime running lamps, and LED foglamps on the Luxury model. At the rear there's new fascia with clear taillamps. Inside there's a new multimedia system whose 8-inch screen can display three functions at once: navigation (with 3D images), audio and weather. It's also the backup camera, Bluetooth and vehicle information display. The audio system uses cache radio which can pause and replay the last 15 minutes.
The Lexus GX comes standard with a 4.6-liter V8, hence the GX 460 designation, and a 6-speed automatic transmission. It's EPA-rated at 15/20 mpg City/Highway; we got 16.2 mpg during one week of driving city and freeway in the Northwest.
The GX seats seven. Inside is a luxurious cabin trimmed with wood and leather and equipped with heated and ventilated seats, rain-sensing windshield wipers, a power moonroof, multimedia entertainment and other amenities. Like other luxury SUVs, there is a carefully crafted interior lighting scheme, programmable preferences for a variety of features, and the use of powered equipment that goes well beyond windows, seats and mirrors.
With body-on-frame construction and low range gearing, the GX 460 is far more rugged and powerful than the Lexus RX crossover. Unlike the RX, the GX offers excellent off-road capability. It is equipped with enhancements to make off-road driving safe and easy. It's very comfortable in town and a great setup in the backcountry. The GX can tow up to 6500 pounds with optional hitch.
The GX comes standard with a full-time four-wheel-drive system with locking center differential and low-range gearing. It's a system that requires little or no input from the driver, and it's ideal for secure travel during heavy rains and on icy roads, or on dirt/gravel surfaces.
The GX 460 competes with the Land Rover LR4. It requires premium (91 octane) gasoline.
The Lexus GX is an old-school body-on-frame SUV. For 2014, it gets the trademarked Lexus spindle grille, sharing the design language with other models, so it doesn't look like a big Honda any more. The GX variation of the trademarked spindle grille is not one of Lexus's best, with chrome angles and bars running in different directions over gaping black honeycomb, so busy that not much body color peeks through, like a face that's all mouth and teeth, and no cheek or chin. New LED headlamps with three round lenses fly in from the fenders, wedge-shaped and wrapped in chrome.
The taillamps are also new for 2014, with more clear plastic. Big red taillamps seem to be a thing of the past. The new 18-inch split six-spoke alloy wheels painted Liquid Graphite, on the Luxury model, are a huge improvement over the old plain wheels.
The cargo door opens like a door, so the window pops up like a hatch, a big convenience, and more efficient because you don't have to raise a liftgate for something small, and you never have to duck or wait. The rear door swings out toward the sidewalk, with its handle hidden near the license plate. The LED taillights use a cluster of elements to generate their glow, with more white in 2014. The rear wiper is mounted under the rear spoiler, leaving the back window free of obstruction.
Luxury models get more chrome trim at the rear windows, and brighter wheels.
The angles on the body follow the driver into the seat. You can see the edges through the windshield and on the dashboard; everywhere you look there are abrupt transitions.
The Lexus GX seats up to seven passengers and comes with three rows of seating. The front row is spacious, with storage bins and pockets located overhead, in the center console, and side door pockets. The front seats are 10-way power adjustable, both heated and cooled. The four-spoke steering wheel tilts and telescopes, and automatically tilts away when the Power button is pushed to shut the GX off. There are adjustable armrests between the front seats.
The controls are nicely designed and integrated, with conspicuously high-quality wood and leather in the Base model. Our Luxury model had Linear Espresso wood with Abyss Black leather. The leather wrapped steering wheel holds redundant switches for cruise control, audio and navigation. The cabin is very quiet, so you'll be fully able to enjoy the sound system, nine-speaker, 6CD, MP3, satellite radio, streaming audio via Bluetooth.
The center stack is designed around a new 8-inch touchscreen multimedia system designed to offer expanded connectivity.
The new system can display three functions on the screen at the same time: navigation in 3D, audio (including HD radio and Bluetooth), and weather. The screen is also used for the backup monitor, HD Radio, phone book, and most usefully, vehicle information display. We like it when vehicle operating information is separate, located between the driver's eyes. The multimedia system uses cache radio which can pause live radio and automatically records each previous 15 minutes.
The backup monitor offers three different views around the GX, generated by two wide-angle cameras that display images of what's behind the vehicle whenever Reverse is selected.
Second-row seating is reasonably roomy and versatile, allowing for either three passengers or two passengers with a center armrest with cupholder, and overhead reading lamps. The outboard seats are full-sized, with available heating and cooling. The center seat is less accommodating. The second-row bench is split 40/20/40 and flops down easily.
Third-row access is from the passenger side, where the second-row seat moves forward to allow walk-in access to the third row. We found the process awkward, and the wayback seats, like them all, don't have much legroom. For smaller passengers or short trips, the rearmost seats will be adequate, but adults will be cramped.
However it's nice that the third-row seats fold flat at the push of a button, converting the GX to a five-passenger SUV with much storage, which is how it will be used more. The interior is vast because the GX is so long: we carried a 10-foot length of plastic electrical conduit totally inside the vehicle. Total cargo capacity with the seats folded is an epic 92 cubic feet.
The optional Mark Levinson audio system is for audiophiles and uses 17 speakers, powered by 330 watts with less than 0.1 percent total harmonic distortion, and can play DVDs or CDs in addition to files from outside sources. A rear-seat entertainment system, with remote control, is bundled with the Mark Levinson audio system as an additional option. The Mark Levinson system has enough clean power to allow for listening at very high volumes with practically no distortion. We didn't have a back-seat passenger during our drive, but we did listen from the back seat later on, and sure enough, the sound is just as good in the back seat as the front. It's an option that, while on the expensive side, will truly be appreciated by those who love their music.
Lexus Enform is the latest in Lexus telematic systems, and it comes standard on the GX. Enform is a subscription-based live-operator assist system that enables real-time assistance without having to fuss with navigation programming. To test it, we pushed the button, an operator picked up and downloaded directions to our lunch destination. We felt guilty asking a live operator to direct us to a burger joint, but it is nice to know that someone is standing by 24/7. Enform is optional, bundled with Navigation. Another system, Safety Connect, is standard on the GX and provides automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle location, emergency assistance and enhanced roadside assistance.
The Lexus GX cruises smooth and unstressed on the level freeway, turning just 1500 rpm at 60 mph and 2000 rpm at 80, with a long-legged overdrive in the 6-speed transmission. On freeway hills, the 4.6-liter V8 has to work more, as the transmission kicks down a gear, and when it does you feel gas being sucked to gain that acceleration. The engine makes 301 horsepower, and by today's standards that's not a lot for a vehicle that weighs 5340 pounds.
Its 329 pound-feet of torque peaks at 3500 rpm, well into the transmission kick-down territory. With torque coming that high in the rev range, it's good that the gears in the transmission are fairly close ratio, although that makes a bigger gap between 5th gear and that 6th gear overdrive.
Lexus says the GX 460 can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 7.8 seconds and will do a quarter-mile in 16.6 seconds, and maybe it will, but it doesn't feel that quick to the seat of our pants.
On patchy curvy freeway at 70 mph, the GX wanted to move in big, slow twitches, even with thick ant-sway bars. We got used to it. And it bounced more than we've come to expect from luxury SUVs; but that's old-school body-on-frame for you. The tradeoff is it's more rugged.
The chassis shows its truck roots in the city, as well. We would not call it nimble. Potholes and speed bumps are swallowed by the suspension. The GX is one of those vehicles that takes speedbumps better if you don't slow way down. But elsewhere in the city the chassis shows it truck roots. Patches and uneven pavement make it jiggle, not helped by 60-series tires on 18-inch wheels and the thick anti-sway bars used to control the GX in corners.
The truckness goes away when you put your foot on the brake pedal, as the four-wheel discs respond to light pressure. Under hard braking the nose dives a bit, but after all it is tall and heavy. We'd say the front-to-rear balance is good.
Cornering is good for a vehicle this size, as long as the road is smooth. The body roll is well controlled by the same stout anti-sway bars, allowing the GX to track through corners predictably without need for correction, and the stiff wheel and tire combination works to enhance stability.
The GX 460 uses electric power steering, whose feedback some say is less sharp than old-school hydraulic, but the system has big advantages in packaging and fuel mileage. The GX's speed-sensitive steering has a good range, delivering good turn-in at slow corners and stable tracking through smooth sweepers. The GX is not the kind of vehicle that inspires us to toss into corners, but it doesn't wobble.
The GX is always in four-wheel drive, invisibly. Even during slow maneuvering, there's no sense of torque steer, nor is there scuffing or binding at full-lock, which happens with some systems. The GX continuously adjusts power to individual wheels via its torque-sensing center differential. Traction is enhanced with the system Lexus calls A-TRAC, which quickly controls slipping on surfaces like wet grass or slippery pavement.
Finding a level spot, we actuated low range using a small lever just below the shifter, and saw that it nicked in and out of 4-Lo immediately. It's necessary to enter Neutral to access low range, but short of that, its additional 2.57:1 gear reduction is available practically on-the-fly. Because of the gearing, and the adoption of KDSS, the Lexus GX 460 is one of the very few mid-size SUVs with genuine off-road capability.
KDSS (Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System) has been in the Lexus toolbox since 2005. It's a remarkable electronically controlled system that unhinges one end of the anti-sway bars that would normally limit wheel travel. Limiting wheel travel is a good thing on pavement, but off-road, the opposite is desirable. KDSS offers a way to have the best of both worlds. It works automatically, without driver intervention, any time a wheel is lifted off the terrain while the vehicle is in low range. We've tested the system in the past on the Toyota Land Cruiser, and found it dramatically improves a vehicle's ability to avoid getting stuck while crossing highly irregular terrain.
The Lexus GX 460 offers excellent control over rugged terrain, and is loaded with safety features. It's a traditional SUV, built on the same truck-based architecture as the rugged Toyota 4Runner, with a suspension and drive system designed for the rough stuff. Inside it's luxurious. On the road it's quiet. It's not as smooth on bumpy roads as a car-based crossover like the Lexus RX. The 4.6-liter V8 gives good power but it could use more low-end torque.
John Stewart filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Lexus GX near Del Mar, California, with Sam Moses driving the latest model in the Northwest.