For 2007, Lexus has focused on the GX 470's information and entertainment options. Its state-of-the-art rear-seat DVD system is enhanced with a 9-inch, wide-format screen. Nearly all the infotainment hardware and software has been improved, for the edification of young and old. The optional navigation system adds voice activation and enhanced display features. An input jack for iPods and other audio devices is now standard, and the optional Mark Levinson Premium Audio now plays DVDs as well as conventional and MP3/WMA-formatted CDs. Everyone, rear-seat passengers and the driver, can watch a flick on one of the screens, including the nav screen, while the GX 470 is parked.
In the GX 470, rugged clearly does not mean outdated, and that goes beyond the entertainment choices. Its full-time four-wheel drive features electronic traction control (A-TRAC) and automatically dispatches torque to the tires with the best grip. An electronic system called Downhill Assist Control (DAC) helps the GX 470 safely negotiate slippery inclines, while Vehicle Stability Control helps steady the GX 470 in slippery turns. Based on the Toyota 4Runner, a Lexus GX 470 is highly capable off road and can go practically anywhere its driver is willing to point it.
Lexus GX 470 ($46,635)
The GX 470 shares its basic five-door body shell with the Toyota 4Runner. Unique rear quarters give the Lexus a different visual personality, however. It looks cleaner and more contemporary, a bit more like a tall station wagon compared to the carefully calculated rugged-truck look of the 4Runner. Unique grilles and bumpers distinguish the two vehicles and give them their respective Lexus and Toyota identities, but a more careful examination reveals that they are more alike than different.
Details add visual richness to the GX 470. These include its peaky hood and grille combination, along with its nicely integrated body-colored bumpers, fender flares and side moldings. Massive headlamps and those complex, high-mounted tail lamps define its corners.
In this sport-utility vehicle, everything seems to be where it's supposed to be, and everything is clearly labeled. All of the gauges and instruments are large and easy to read, with simple graphics shared by other Lexus products. Switches and controls are large, straightforward, elegantly designed and easy to operate.
The navigation system has been upgraded for 2007. This is the fifth-generation Lexus system, and it includes voice recognition that allows the driver to enter a destination by voice command. The screen now features a high-resolution, 800x480-pixel display in 32,000 colors. Maps and roads are shown with 3-D shadow effects, and the system can even display graphic representations of buildings in selected cities. System functions include multiple route calculation, route preview, simplified highway-junction graphics and a dual-map screen option. Spanish has been added to English and French text-display choices.
The 2007 navigation system integrates Bluetooth wireless technology. When using a compatible phone, Bluetooth allows the driver to transfer phone books to the nav system and make calls through its touch-screen panel or voice commands.
The backup camera displays what's directly behind the GX 470 on the seven-inch navigation screen when reverse is engaged. Beyond helping the driver to avoid backing over obstacles, such as a tricycle left in the driveway, it's also useful when parking in tight spaces.
The standard audio system now includes an auxiliary input jack. The Mark Levinson audio option turns the GX 470 into a concert hall on wheels, with 14 speakers and 240 watts of power. The Panasonic rear-seat entertainment system ranked highest in overall customer satisfaction in a 2005 J.D. Power and Associates study, and it's been upgraded for 2007 with a nine-inch, wide-screen display. The high-resolution screen lowers from the headliner. Front-seat passengers can also watch a DVD with the Mark Levinson audio system, but only when the vehicle is in Park. The video plays on the navigation screen.
The GX is a space-efficient vehicle. The second row bench seat is roomy, comfortable and easy to get into. It splits 60/40 for versatility and folds flat. A family of four with a big dog will feel right at home.
Order the optional third row and the GX 470 can seat eight, sort of. The third row is suitable for children, but it's nearly hopeless for adults. On the positive side, the rear air conditioning included with the third seat allows separate temperature adjustment for third-row kiddies and dogs.
Split 50/50, the third-row seat can be folded up out of the way or removed and stored. What starts as a 13 cubic-foot cargo bay can be expanded in steps to more than 77 cubic feet by folding or removing the lightweight rear seats and then folding the second row as well. At one time we would have said that this is not a lot of cargo space for a mid-size SUV. Now that some leaders in the field have sacrificed efficiency for style, however, the GX 470 doesn't look so bad by comparison. The Mercedes-Benz M-Class offers only 72.4 cubic feet, almost 10 feet less than the previous generation, BMW X5's offers just 62 cubic feet. Unfortunately, the GX 470's cargo door still opens from the left side. It might be great in right-hand-drive Japan, but it's awkward in the U.S., forcing you to walk around it when unloading curbside at the airport.
The 4.7-liter V8 delivers world-class smoothness and quiet. At highway cruising speeds it's barely audible. And as heavy as it is, the GX 470 is no slouch in the performance department, capable of full-throttle sprints from 0 to 60 mph in about 8.1 seconds, with a nice V8 intake roar to go with the rush. Toyota's sophisticated electronic VVT-i (for Variable Valve Timing with intelligence) improves efficiency and response at all engine speeds. VVT-i also helps the GX 470 run cleaner, earning the government's stringent ULEV-II (Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle) rating. Peak horsepower is 263 at 5400 rpm; torque tops out at 3400 rpm and 323 pound-feet.
That's strong torque for towing. If you're pulling anything up to its limit of 6500 pounds, this truck will handle it with ease. The bad news is that, even if you try hard, you'll probably never achieve 20 miles per gallon. EPA estimates are 15/19 mpg city/highway. And while the GX 470 will run on unleaded regular, Lexus recommends 91 octane (or higher) premium fuel for optimum performance.
The five-speed automatic transmission offers quicker response and better gearing than a traditional four-speed automatic. Like the engine, the transmission is very smooth.
The GX 470 handles well for a body-on-frame truck with a live rear axle. Like many truck-based SUVs, it feels heavy and ponderous, but it's never a chore to drive in the daily grind. Variable-ratio rack-and-pinion steering makes the steering quick and light in parking situations, but smoother and heavier on the highway, so the truck never feels over-assisted or darty. As a result, the GX 470 feels solid and well-panted at highway speeds.
The adaptive variable suspension, which comes standard, continuously changes the shock absorber damping at each wheel individually in response to road surface conditions and speed as well as steering and braking inputs from the driver. Four driver-selectable settings are available to tailor the system to driver preferences or situations. You might want to use the softest setting for a bumpy boulevard, for example, then switch to a firm setting for driving down a winding rural road. We did this and it works well. The system automatically increases shock absorber stiffness in transitional maneuvers. It also reduces dive under hard braking and squat under hard acceleration. Air springs in the rear can raise rear ride height in rugged terrain or lower the rear end when loading cargo.
Ride quality is remarkably refined for a truck with a live rear axle. Road vibration and pavement undulations get through, but they are damped. We found the Comfort setting produced a cushy feel, though it's no magic carpet ride as you can still feel the suspension reacting to bumps. Switching all the way to the Sport setting makes the bumps feel more pronounced, making for a less comfortable ride, but more responsive cornering.
The optional Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System provides more roll stiffness when needed for crisp handling response, without an increase in spring rate over bumpy roads. In other words, you get better handling without sacrificing ride quality. The system disengages the stabilizer bars for rugged, off-highway conditions, allowing more suspension travel and articulation to help the GX 470 step over obstacles. Lexus claims the system has been proven in World Rally Championship competition, which is another way of saying it's the real deal, not a fragile gadget.
The brakes are superb. They have a nice feel and are easy to modulate for smooth stops in everyday driving. The brake rotors are large, and all four discs are ventilated for long life and fade
The Lexus GX 470 is a good choice for buyers who want luxury, build quality and off-road capability. It's smooth and powerful on the road and can go nearly anywhere off the pavement. The cabin is trimmed in quality materials and features good ergonomic function. It's roomy and comfortable and can accommodate up to eight people when equipped with the optional third-row seat. Plus, there's the Lexus reputation for quality, durability and reliability. If your driving takes you off the pavement or deep snow is part of your annual driving, the Lexus GX 470 is an excellent choice.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw is based in the Detroit area.